By Hara Estroff Marano, published on October 1, 2005 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016
My wife cheated on me for nearly a year before I caught them. We got past it and have, over many years now, strengthened our marriage. However, in her honesty with answers to my questions, while we were working things out my wife divulged that she had done certain sexual things with him while they were lovers. Two of those things she had steadfastly refused to do with me. This is one area of the affair for which she could not provide any logical explanation. When I asked why she'd do those things with him after having refused to do them with me, her response was, "I really don't know. I guess I got caught up in the moment. It just seemed like the thing to do at the moment, so I tried it." Why would a wife do sexual things with a lover when she had previously refused to try them with her husband? I have learned since then, via other persons, that this is not all that unusual of a phenomenon.
Affairs are not about logic. And "getting past it" must mean different things to you and me, because if you were truly "past it" the sexual infidelity wouldn't be rankling you these many years later. Getting past infidelity doesn't just happen with time; you and your wife have to fully process the experience and the pain it caused, decide together on ways to rebuild trust, and then renegotiate your own relationship so that it meets both your needs and defuses the threat of future infidelity. In short, you need to discuss ways to bring into your marriage the emotional and sexual excitement your wife felt she had to go outside it to get. A wife does sexual (and nonsexual) things with a lover because a) the lover sees her in a way that is supportive, which frees her and encourages experimentation, and b) the lover establishes a bond of emotional intimacy that provides a safety net for all kinds of new experiences. That your wife can't articulate the reasons sounds like there is still something in the nature of your relationship that keeps her from speaking freely to her own husband. Whatever that is, more than likely it's what drove her into a long-term affair in the first place. Whatever else it is, this isn't being "past it." This is being stuck in something that happened years ago. You wife may not be eager to reopen the discussion of her transgression, but the two of you need to process ALL the old hurt quite openly and she needs to grasp the pain it has caused these many years. But it is not fair to shift onto her the entire burden of describing what is/was wrong with your marital relationship. It's a relationship, and you're in it as much as she is, and you are responsible for diagnosing and fixing its problems as much as she is. You need to show her openness to information (however uncomfortable) about your relationship, some awareness that you might not be the most emotionally supportive or in-touch mate and a willingness to fix in yourself the barriers you put up to emotional (and sexual) intimacy. Fix the problems in emotional intimacy and you will solve the problems of sexual creativity.
After 14 years of marriage to a controlling man, I finally got the courage to divorce him and move on. Five years later, I married a man who turned out to be abusive. His malicious mental torture consisted of continually threatening to kill himself, with no intention of ever hurting himself—but knowing that my parents had committed suicide years earlier. After five years, I divorced him, returned to counseling and starting seeing a man I have now been dating for a year. He is romantic, loving, tender and caring, but he can be a "hard ass"—rough and belittling to others. Recently he told me a story about having hit his then-16-year-old son in the face and knocking him down. He said he didn't mean it. But the story scared me to death because my latest ex-husband was that way and that nearly sent me to the nut house. I know no one is perfect but how do I recognize a situation that I don't need to be in? How do I learn to trust again?
Your track record alone calls for supreme caution. You can't possibly trust another person again until you develop and learn to trust your own ability to judge the character of men. The world is full of control freaks of various stripes. You seem to home in on them. Why? Do you (mistakenly) believe this is the way "real" men are? Was your father controlling of your mother (or you)? Or are you so bowled over by "romantic" gestures that you don't even bother to look underneath and examine a man's true character? What could possibly be attractive about a person who belittles others? It's just a matter of time and circumstance before you become a target. Anyone who does that has a very shaky sense of self. Who knows whether your beau will get violent again in a threatening situation. Because this glaring flaw in your own sense of judgment is fundamental to your health and happiness, your therapist should be devoting considerable energy to helping you develop skills in assessing others. At the very least, you need to be given "homework" assignments asking you to identify signs of good and bad character in others. How do you make assessments of friends and colleagues? Shouldn't you apply the same standards to male intimates? When you can build and rely on your own judgment, the world will become safe again and you can easily figure out who merits your trust.