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I’m separated from my wife because I had an affair, but we are trying to work on our marriage. Our 25th wedding anniversary is coming up soon and I want to do something to commemorate the occasion, but things are pretty tense right now. We don’t talk about our relationship unless we’re in counseling because she says that she gets too angry and wants to keep things civil. I don’t want to make things worse by making a big deal about our anniversary or by doing nothing at all. Do you have any ideas on how I can handle this?
As you correctly observed, wedding anniversaries are painfully agonizing for the betrayed partner. Wedding anniversaries are normally times to celebrate your bond, but when the bond is shattered, it’s unclear if there’s anything worth celebrating. It’s important for you to do something on your anniversary. Don’t just close your eyes and get through it. Let’s talk about some specific things you can do on this difficult day.
A betrayal like this will impact this and future wedding anniversaries, so you need to move away from whatever traditional ideas you may about how to celebrate a wedding anniversary and start thinking about what you’re actually celebrating now. Yes, you’re still technically married, but this year your marriage is on life support, so you need to do something different than the standard anniversary gestures.
Instead of buying a flowery card expressing your affection for your wife and your 25 years of marriage, I recommend you get right to the heart of the matter and celebrate your wife’s courage and willingness for giving you a second chance. Tell her how amazing she is for even staying married to you. This is a day to recognize her strength and validate how hard this must be for her.
You may be afraid to contaminate your anniversary with the depressing reality of this affair. But, her reality is already contaminated on a daily basis with the pain of the affair. Don’t leave her alone with these difficult feelings on your anniversary. Let her see your accountability for what you’ve done and how it impacts her, especially on a day that should be a milestone celebration.
Speak to her pain by acknowledging the reality of her situation and apologizing that you’ve caused so much hurt on a day that would otherwise be a celebration of your commitment to each other. You can’t make this day special, but you can let her know that her anger and confusion make sense. By talking about this so directly, you are making sure she’s not alone in her pain.
You can also share what she means to you. She may not believe any of it, but it’s still important to share how you see her and who she is to you and your family. One of the main casualties of an affair is that the injured partner experiences a loss of their entire sense of self. It feels like nothing is real or can be trusted, including how they see themselves. It’s helpful to be specific and concise. For example, instead of saying, “I love everything about you”, try saying something more specific about her qualities like, “You are so patient when you explain things to others.”
She doesn’t need gifts. She needs your awareness and accountability. She’s willing to work on this betrayed marriage and needs to see that you see her efforts, pain, and vulnerability. Keep it real, humble, and grateful. And, it will be important to have this type of acknowledgement for many years to come. This affair is now part of your marriage story and can’t be ignored. If you guys survive this crisis and build a strong marriage, then I think, at a minimum, an annual expression of gratitude for the rest of your marriage would mean a lot to your wife for her courage and strength.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
If you or a loved one are struggling with the devastating impact of pornography issues, sexual betrayal, and relationship trauma, I have created a 6-part audio program to help married couples strengthen their recovery. You can purchase the 6-hour audio program here for a limited time at the reduced price of $29 – https://geoff-steurer.mykajabi.com/marriage-recovery
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.geoffsteurer.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.