I lost my husband in June 2021. I think I’m going crazy worrying about an affair that took place 27 years ago. My marriage with my late husband was very good. I had no reason in all the years that went by after the affair to worry about his commitment to me. We had good years together. I don’t really understand why now I’m thinking and hurting myself over the past relationship.
I’m so terribly sorry to hear of your husband’s recent passing. Even though you’re plagued by the memory of this affair, I’m grateful you have a treasure trove of fond memories to help you stay connected to each other. Let’s talk about how to deal with the troubling impact of these memories.
Losing a loved one, especially a spouse, triggers a lifetime of memories that parade through your mind on an endless reel. And, like any replay, it’s going to show everything, including the victories and the faceplants. When your husband was alive, you didn’t define his legacy by the affair that appears to have been resolved. It’s unlikely that you’ll ultimately allow this to be his defining legacy in death. Please be gentle on yourself as you work through these painful and joyful memories that make up the story of your lives.
You’re working through the arc of his long life, which includes some painful injuries to you and your relationship. Thankfully, you both already did the work to integrate these dark threads into the colorful tapestry of your relationship. These memories add contrast and depth to your many other positive experiences. Instead of fixating on them or trying to eliminate them from your tapestry, I recommend you allow yourself to widen your view of your relational tapestry and see how everything begins to blend.
Please remember that moving through grief isn’t linear. You’ll have days when you regret things you said and things you didn’t say. You’ll feel hopeful about the future then suddenly feeling frozen about that very same future. Likewise, you’ll have days when all you can think about is the affair and other days when you can’t even remember the pain. These unpredictable rhythms of grief need us to allow for more movement instead of direction and control.
Much of our suffering around unwanted thoughts and memories comes from our resistance to them. We instinctively resist emotions that are painful. We deny, minimize, blame, obsess, project, and do countless other behaviors to cope with the overwhelm. Instead, I recommend you allow yourself to trust that these emotions will pass through you as they are ultimately swallowed up in the Atonement of Jesus Christ. You don’t need to bypass them, but you don’t need to fixate on them. It’s a gentle process of allowing yourself to feel them as you watch them move through you as you surrender them to God.
I believe that Heavenly Father wants us to partner with Him in our disorganized emotional states instead of trying to resolve everything alone. He honors our need to direct our lives while also inviting us to, “stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed.”[i]
You don’t have to only focus on the positive memories. You can remember everything and rejoice that you were part of a redemption story that gave both of you years of connection and joy. As you trust the movement of your memories, you’ll be less likely to get stuck on one memory.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
Download Geoff’s FREE guide to help you quickly end arguments with your spouse: https://www.geoffsteurer.com/3-steps-to-end-your-marriage-argument
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] D&C 123:17