There are some holes from which you can never dig yourself out of. Sexual and emotional infidelity in a marriage if often one of those.
Today, I’m having drinks with an old friend who is trying to do exactly that. For over four years she had an emotional and sexual affair with a man from her church. Her husband found out when their phone texts accidentally merged and he immediately left the relationship and said he would seek a divorce.
After a couple weeks of heated – but understandable – anger, they have decided to try ‘dating’ again. The situation – and this is not really the point of this post, so I will be brief – is that they really do love each other; neither had many other friends but both are attractive and could easily find other sexual partners; he travels for work and works hard so she is lonely; he has, understandably, lost his ability to trust her; he is acting like a bit of an ass, dating her but also dating other women and angrily bragging about his conquests; and finally, they were both virgins at marriage so the temptation to be, sexually, with someone else, is not insignificant.
So can they come back from this? This is – very specifically – what she wants to talk to me about today.
The way I am seeing it, the first question is – should they want to come back from this.
Should she? There is a reason she had a long term emotional and sexual affair. She is an emotionally available (and somewhat needy) woman with a lot of free time, given that their children are now mostly grown. He, on the other hand, works very hard, travels a lot, and is emotionally very closed except when he drinks (not atypical of a lot of men). As I said, there is a reason she had a four year affair.
Should he? This is more difficult. He really did/does love her and he didn’t really feel the relationship was lacking. He certainly expected less from a relationship than I would, but this met his needs. He had a wife who loved him, raised his kids with him and, every once in a while they would go out for drinks with old friends and they would have a good time together. And when he travelled, he partied it up and misbehaved a bit but nothing too crazy… he was never unfaithful. It was what he wanted.
So, I find myself in an awkward position. She desperately wants to be forgiven and to be back in a relationship that is likely not what she really needs. He, on the other hand, is less interested in being fully back in the relationship he really, really does want.
It all comes down to trust I suppose. He says he can never trust her again. Understandable. He says that overtime he looks at her and is intimate with her, all he can see is this other guys with her. Again, understandable… and awful. For a guy who has never been with anyone else (or for anyone for that matter) it must be hard to imagine your partner in the loving embrace of someone else for all that time, behind your back. And, he feels that all they positive memories over those pastor years are false, because she was keeping this massive secret from him. Again, understandable.
And on her side, it comes down to faith. Can he, or does he even what to, become the person she wants him to be – present, more emotionally available, able to have fun with her more than occasionally. She continually tells me she wants him back.. but she seems to want a version of him back that may never have existed.
So…. drinks with her this afternoon. To what extent do we owe it to our friends to tell them hard truths. This relationship is over… as it should be.