Question

I recently discovered my wife of twenty plus years was having an affair with my best friend. It eventually became an emotional affair with daily communication and frequent encounters during the past two years. I’ve decided to forgive my wife and try and make things good again between us, and she cut off all communication with him completely. I made that decision because I also had a few affairs over the years which I’ve since confessed to her about. I know that I was partly responsible for alienating her and driving her into an affair. But a more important reason was to protect my two high school daughters from the shame and humiliation they’d likely experience if our friends and neighbors found out that she was having an affair with this man (he was like an uncle to my daughters). Also, his wife does not know about the affair, and if she found out, since the four of us were all best friends, I’m afraid she would have a very violent oversized reaction towards my wife that would make this a legend in our community. So, I’ve decided not to tell his wife to protect my wife and daughters. I’ve also decided to cut him out of our lives completely. We spoke every day, including about my marriage and my past mistakes, so his betrayal cuts even deeper. My question is, how do I explain to my kids, family, and friends why two couples who did a lot together now no longer talk or do anything? I don’t want it to be something where everyone will wonder and probe deeper, but I’d also like it to be an excuse that frames him as being untrustworthy and that he harmed me.

Answer

I’m glad to hear that you are both working to face the challenges in your marriage and work to repair the damage you’ve both done to each other. It’s difficult to untangle a relationship that involves so many other uninvolved people. It’s clear that your wife and your friend understand why the contact has stopped, but I see how complicated it is to live your new life without raising a few eyebrows. Let’s talk about how you can sort this out peacefully.

It’s important to recognize that when you set limits with another person, you don’t get to control what they do or what others say. You’re trying to control the narrative, which is a recipe for misery. You are doing what’s best for your marriage and family by cutting off contact and focusing on your own healing. You’ll make the healing process more difficult for both of you if you’re constantly monitoring what he and others are saying. It’s tempting, but you’ll need to practice discipline and focus on what matters most.

I recommend you counsel with your wife to decide how you want to present this relationship change to your children and others outside your family. Even though people will naturally have questions about the abrupt change with this relationship, you simply don’t owe anyone, including your own children, an explanation for what happened. I recommend sharing as little information as possible with those who can’t do anything about this situation.

Elder Marvin J. Ashton reminded us that when we are faced with the temptation to bash others who have hurt us, we can call on God to fill us with charity. He explained further:

Perhaps the greatest charity comes when we are kind to each other, when we don’t judge or categorize someone else, when we simply give each other the benefit of the doubt or remain quiet. Charity is accepting someone’s differences, weaknesses, and shortcomings; having patience with someone who has let us down; or resisting the impulse to become offended when someone doesn’t handle something the way we might have hoped. Charity is refusing to take advantage of another’s weakness and being willing to forgive someone who has hurt us. Charity is expecting the best of each other.

It seems interesting that the first principles the Lord Jesus Christ chose to teach His newly called Apostles were those that center around the way we treat each other. And then, what did He emphasize during the brief period He spent with the Nephites on this continent? Basically, the same message. Could this be because the way we treat each other is the foundation of the gospel of Jesus Christ?[i]

You’ve been hurt by two trusted people who were supposed to have your back. They let you down and it’s natural to want others to know that this separation isn’t your fault. However, it is your choice to handle it this way. You can own that choice instead staying in blame toward your former friend. If you feel good about this difficult choice to create distance, then you can go forward with your decision without looking back and monitoring how others respond. Plus, in my experience, most people can roll with changes in alliance and friendships. We have all experienced gains and losses with close friends, so it’s likely not as scandalous as it may feel to you on the inside.

You can validate the confusion and pain your daughters may experience as they wonder why you don’t have this relationship anymore. Resist the temptation to put them in the middle of your pain by creating heroes and villains. Move forward, create new memories, build new relationships, and enjoy the blessing of saving your marriage and family from several near misses. You have much to be grateful for as you hold tightly to each other and build a strong future.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at ge***@ge**********.com  

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About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, host of the podcast, “From Crisis to Connection”, and creates online relationship courses. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.


[i] https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1992/04/the-tongue-can-be-a-sharp-sword?lang=eng