Ask Andrew – How do I get my confidence back after my husband’s extreme affair.
I discovered that my husband had been having an affair with a work colleague for six months while I was temporarily posted to another part of the country. I was totally devastated – we have been married for 20 years and have always both set the greatest store by fidelity. We had also had an extraordinarily close marriage, so the shock was even more profound. After I found out via an anonymous letter (and thank goodness for that letter writer), I confronted him and we then descended into hell for five months as he repeatedly told me that he could not live without her – but he never made any serious attempts to leave the family home. He said so many terrible things to me – that he couldn’t live without looking at her beautiful face each day; that she was the love of his life; he could not face ‘wasting’ the rest of his life with me; that he wished he had had his children with her, and not me. I did not recognize the man my husband had become – he was monstrous and unspeakably cruel verbally. But despite his awful behaviour, I sensed that to throw him out would be a serious mistake. He then left their mutual workplace to move to another job within the same company and has subsequently realised that he was in a state of limerence during the affair and after the discovery , as you so brilliantly describe in ‘How can I ever trust you again?’. He is totally mortified and has worked relentlessly hard since to persuade me of his love, his horror at what he has done and his profound regret. Our situation has not been helped by the fact that the other woman has pursued him constantly since via many routes to the extent that he has had to report it to the police, so persistent did it become. I know that he is genuinely and completely distraught now about his behaviour, Andrew, and we have worked hard to overcome our mutual pain – Relate, reading your books, endless talking. But 10 months after he ended it with her I am still in agony. I simply can’t get over the hurt of being told by him during those awful months that he couldn’t wait to marry her; that he had never known love like it; that she was everything I am not. They looked at property together and even visited potential schools for our and her children – his betrayal was total. He is now bitterly ashamed but despite that I feel as if I am going mad with the pain of it all and receiving letters from the other woman with copies of his intimate and very loving emails to her has been a further agony – not helped by the fact that within those same emails he is horribly disloyal about me. He is desperate for our marriage to continue and I love him with all my heart, but I struggle on a daily basis with forgiveness and we have many rows about it, usually caused by my inability to cope with my pain. In many senses our marriage has never been better – I had become complacent both sexually and in terms of our emotional intimacy – and we have both had a horrible wake up call, but I simply can’t imagine being able ever to forget the extent and depth of his betrayal. It does not help that the other woman is stunningly beautiful and younger than me and has repeatedly mocked me for my physical and other shortcomings in texts and emails. How do I learn to focus on rebuilding our marriage and banish the memories of his cruelty to me and all that they did and planned together?
The more emails I receive, the more I think there is another kind of an affair: Extreme Infidelity. And your experience certainly fits the bill: husband besotted and completely possessed with Limerence and having to report the other woman to the police. Horrible. Completely horrible. Under the circumstances, ten months is a blink of the eye and I wonder if you’re giving the true date for the nightmare ending (because there is a difference between him calling off the affair and her stopping harassing you). If you count from when you could breath easier, my guess is that we’re talking only a few months but your body is still on high alert.
So let me start with some reassurance, you will get over this. However, it will take time, support from your husband and learning some coping mechanisms. If you we were working together, I’d like to help you separate fantasy from reality. Because affairs are built on air and dreams, they need constantly to be underpinned with promises to make them feel real. So the language is blown up out of all proportion because words are all they have. (Whereas he has sold actions to support his feelings for you.) As all the talk about the future is just castles in the air, to make it seem real they go and look at property and, I admit an usual twist, schools for the children. Discoverying all this, your alarm bells go off because it make their plans seem to real. However, to me, it sounds pathetic, desperate and proof that their affair was doomed. Now you might not agree with my take on events, but you can see how it is possible to take the facts presented in their emails and from your detective work and build two completely different stories. One drives you mad. The second makes them sound pitiful. Other coping mechanisms include distracting yourself, trying to understand what is really worrying you (rather than be distracted by the surface stuff) and asking about that instead.
The other tip I’d like to give is next time you’re down and depressed, think what you’d really like – my guess is some reassurance, a cuddle and to be told ‘I love you’. However, it is tempting to take those worries, build them up into a tsunami of hurt (because that gets his attention), have a huge row and slanging match which finally ends up with a kiss and some reassurance. Could you sometimes ask for the hug rather than torturing yourselves?
Finally, I’d like you to read ‘Learn to love yourself enough’ and look at the techniques for challenging negative thoughts and building your self-esteem. It sounds like you’re doing really well but give yourself time and if nothing has improved in three months time, think about getting some individual counselling. This will help you offload and discover if there is any unresolved anger (against him, yourself and the other woman) that is driving all this pain.