By PT Staff, published on July 1, 2005 - last reviewed on October 11, 2005
Q. My husband cheated on me after 19 years of marriage. The affair lasted about two months. I found out when the woman called to tell me. He is very repentant and says he never thought of leaving but felt the intimacy in our relationship was gone. She was an acquaintance from college and started flirting, which made him feel good. We are presently in marriage counseling and things are going pretty well. I know that time will heal my pain, but how will I ever be able to trust him again? I want to but it is so hard. I thought I knew this person. The other woman has repeatedly tried to get my husband's attention by email (even after we've blocked her) but every time she makes contact it just opens the wound in my heart and I take two steps backward. We are working in the areas that were weak in our relationship and things are going well, but I cannot be with him at work where this all started (internet). He calls me and sends me emails. He also lets me know of any personal phone calls or emails he gets at work. I don't want to end up being his mother either. Could you give me some practical advice on learning to trust him again?
A. Flirting makes everyone feel good. It should be part of every relationship, even a long-term marriage. It's one of the best ways to keep the spark alive, to affair-proof a relationship in an age where old flames can reappear with the click of a mouse. Trust is always hard to build and even harder to rebuild. Of course, trust always has to be earned. Hopefully, your husband understands that his unilateral violation of the trust that binds your joint world together was terribly painful to you. It shattered the rules you thought you were both living by. Further, that pain gets awakened every time his time or feelings are unaccounted for. With concern for the pain he caused you, the obligation is his to work hard to restore trust. He should be willing to discuss with you specific steps he might take to help you feel safe in the relationship again. One possibility might be his willingness to show you his emails, even his work ones (accounts can be accessed on home computers, or he could give you a printout of his email log each day, for as long as it takes you to feel safe again). You and he need to talk and establish some measures for re-establishing trust to your satisfaction.
Q. From the day I get married two years ago, my husband has devoted five to seven hours a day playing games and chatting with his friends on the Internet -- all his free time. We are not spending time together as other couples do, sharing thoughts and activities. When I ask him to give me more of his time, he says, "I can't sit beside you all day and that being home is better than being out with his friends all that time. All our discussions end with me crying or mad for a day or two. I feel so lonely, especially since all of my family lives in another country.
A. Maybe your husband doesn't know how to be married. Maybe he never had a father around to show him how grown-up men are supposed to behave. Maybe he feels that in the absence of other family, you have placed on him too much responsibility for your happiness. Whatever the reason for his actions, it doesn't matter. You can make a noble effort to change the depressing dynamic on your own. It is important that you do something different from your usual strategy, which isn't working anyway. Try developing plans of your own. Surely there are things you are interested in; pursue them. Go to the library, to the movies. Go by yourself if you have no friends. Explore ways of meeting other women and making new friends. Go out for long walks. Whatever you do, make sure you are not home for some of the time your husband is home; you want him to notice your absence without you saying a word. And whatever you choose to do, do it bravely and with good cheer -- with no explanation whatsoever. "I'm going out" should suffice. I assure you your husband's curiosity will soon be aroused and he will want to know what you are doing and with whom. When that time comes, tell him -- kindly, with no tears -- that you waited a long time for him to do interesting things with you, but you can't wait any longer. So you've decided to do things on your own. This strategy has many advantages. It creates change, which may prompt him to change, all by itself. You start taking care of yourself, which every person needs to learn how to do. And you start saving your relationship. Often when one partner lacks any independent activities, the other partner feels too responsible for their happiness, and that creates an imbalance of power. It's time to redress that. Be sure to have an answer ready when he asks you what you would like to do together.