couples counselinginfidelitymarriage/monogamyMennarcissism

How Do My Wife and I Reconnect After Her Infidelity?

Reader Hurt and Upset asks,

I’m a 51 year old doctor who has focused on my career for my whole life. I married at age 30 a wonderful schoolmate that I knew for a long time. I was her first and only serious boyfriend and sexual partner, due to her strict Catholic education. We have 1 son (21) and 4 daughters (last 6 year old).  I’m a bit narcissistic, sometimes depressed and anxious since childhood.  The last few years I’m been particularly nervous at work (I’m the chief of the cardiology department), and also at home.  I didn’t always put her first. Two weeks ago I discovered she’s been having a liaison for two years with a friend of mine, who is gentle and empathic …  It may have been platonic but I don’t know.  

What do we do now? I’m consumed with anger and hatred.  I cry a lot on her shoulder asking how could it happened.  We are in crisis, please help.

 

recovering from infidelity is a long road

Dear HU,

Infidelity is a catastrophic emotional event, and I talk about it more here.   I commend you for reaching out for help, and it is great that you seem to be fully aware of what led to your wife being unfaithful.  You paint a picture of yourself as a narcissistic guy who mainly focused on work and your own feelings of depression (which is very hard on spouses) and anxiety.  You were surprised that she cheated, but from your own description of yourself and the marriage, it seems to make sense to you why things happened as they did.  There is no excuse for her cheating, sure, but we are not looking here at what’s “right” or “wrong.”  That doesn’t help your marriage at all.  You want to act as a team from this point on: you and your wife on one side, and the infidelity/self-centeredness on the other side.

I would suggest that you seek your own counseling to deal with two things: (1) your anger and hatred, and (2) your general tendency to focus on yourself and not your partner’s needs.  I would take this as a cry for help from your wife, particularly if it was “platonic.”  But emotional affairs are no joke.  Men don’t take them as seriously as women do, but this is a mistake.  Once your wife’s emotional needs are being met elsewhere, she will often want to leave the marriage.

Talk to your wife, don’t just cry on her shoulder.  Apologize for having been emotionally and mentally absent for years.  Apologize for having put your job and career progress above your marriage. With six kids, your wife must have been shouldering a lot of responsibility all this time, and it doesn’t sound like you were a terribly engaged helpmate in the home.  I understand you were the chief of cardiology, but you also need to take care of your wife’s heart (it was too easy, sorry).

You need to get to know your wife all over again, what makes her tick, what she felt when she turned to your friend for emotional sustenance. You need to work on forgiving her for her infidelity and understanding what made her lonely enough to look outside the marriage.  In return, hopefully she will want to get to know you again, and will see that you are trying to change and become more emotionally open and supportive.  She will have to work on forgiving you for being emotionally unavailable all of these years.

Couples counseling will likely be essential not only to help you move past the infidelity, but also to learn new patterns of connection and communication.  It can also help you see why you fell into the patterns that you did.  Did your own parents have a dynamic where the husband was the breadwinner/important person and the wife was the homemaker/facilitator?  Did you see reciprocal emotional expression growing up, or was one parent self absorbed and the other in the martyr role?  You sound like an achievement oriented guy; were you always allowed a lot of leeway at home because of how smart and high achieving you were?  Did you learn that you could get away with not being very helpful or engaged in the family or the home because your studies or other activities were considered more important?  And was your wife always in a caretaking role, like caring for younger siblings?

Anyway, I hope I have left you with a lot to think about, and thanks so much for writing in.  I hope that you and your wife recover from this and go on to have fifty years of happiness.  Or more, since I bet cardiologists are pretty healthy.  Till we meet again, I remain, the Blogapist Who Says, Also Read Esther Perel’s New Book.

Order Dr. Rodman Whiten’s books, 52 Emails to Transform Your Marriage and How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family, and listen to The Dr. Psych Mom Show on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or anywhere else you listen to podcasts. If you need therapy, check out her online group practice Best Life Behavioral Health.

This blog is not intended as medical advice or diagnosis and should in no way replace consultation with a medical professional. If you try this advice and it does not work for you, you cannot sue me. This is only my opinion, based on my background, training, and experience as a therapist and person.

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5 Comments

  1. SFlady
    April 10, 2015 at 2:26 am — Reply

    Curious how you completely neglect to give this man the same advice that you have given women who have suffered the pain of infidelity.
    Should I apologize to my husband for not providing him what he claimed our marriage was missing?
    Do you tell women whose spouses cheat that they should apologize for not being there for them?
    Cheaters all have the same excuses–you or the marriage wasn’t giving me what i needed–when in reality, they probably weren’t giving enough to the relationship.
    Yes, marital/emotional/mental health problems–where both parties share responsbility– can underlie infidelity. But I think men who suffer the pain of infidelity should be treated with the same compassion for their suffering as women. And then they can look at what the contributed to the marital breakdown.
    Frankly, cheating, usually involves a great deal of selfishness on the part of the cheater, no matter what the gender.

    • April 10, 2015 at 6:51 am — Reply

      the man already says he knows he was a neglectful husband. that isn’t erased by what she did. he did not “deserve” the cheating, but he has already begun to own his part in the marital dysfunction that is years standing. yes, he should own and apologize for that. both have to empathize with the other, as i say in every infidelity article. most people who are cheated on don’t know what they did wrong. this guy knows, so he’s ahead of the game.

  2. Joshua Flom
    February 19, 2016 at 10:25 am — Reply

    So every body that’s been cheated on “did wrong.” That’s your inference, and it is quite wrong.

  3. John
    February 19, 2016 at 3:33 pm — Reply

    Samantha,

    You advice to this man was pathetic at best. He has fault yes but the cheater is ultimately responsible. If the Cheater is unhappy the cheater should speak up and express themselves prior to cheating. If the cheaters wants and needs are ignored the cheater should leave the relationship. Not be unfaithful and hope not to be caught. Your worthless advice is what has made the world the moral wreck that it is. I hope you never get cheated on. You should be ashamed.

  4. Kirsten R.
    September 15, 2019 at 8:26 pm — Reply

    I love this reply. It is very true, unlike some commentators seem to believe. If you neglect a partner and don’t make them feel like a partner, you will not have a partnership (duh, but we all miss that sometimes). And that’s where things go horribly wrong. It doesn’t matter who throws the first stone, or what stone, it’s about both people taking ownership of their wrongs and working harder to meet each other halfway. He even notes it may have been platonic, one person talking to another when their partner wasn’t available, because life is hard and we all need to feel connected. If he considers it cheating, then it’s her wrong to own and her job to earn back his trust, but he does also need to address the not being there for her.

    Communication in the long-term is really, really hard.

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