Ask Andrew – My husband can’t explain why he had an affair
I discovered a year ago that my husband had had an affair 12 years ago whilst working abroad (for the first and only time). At the time I was pregnant with my third child. We were “in love” for 22 years – I know he loves me and is truely remorseful – but still I cannot get through the anger and hate. He says it meant nothing but cannot explain why it happened other than it made him feel good, it was exciting and he was living in a different setting. I need to know Why? and he can’t answer – so he says. I have read you book How can I ever trust you agian? but no matter how much he says he loves me and this will never ever happen again – I don’t trust him or love him in that beautiful open and totally honest way I did for 22 years. can you help?
I’m glad that you found trust helpful and I will do my best to help. I wonder why it is important for you to know WHY he cheated. It varies from woman-to-woman but here are some of the popular reasons:
1. Perhaps if I understood why I could move on and forget it.
2. I need to know why so I can stop it happening again.
3. My husband has turned into a stranger (not the person I thought I knew) and I don’t know if I can live with this man.
4. I think he’s holding back stuff and I feel I have to know everything.
As you can imagine, the solution will be different depending on what’s underlying these repeated questions.
When I counsel couples in this situation, I find the man – probably like your husband – has explained WHY but that their wife does not find it a satisfactory answer. How could he put so much at risk to ‘feel good’ and for a ‘bit of fun’? Because sex is centred on love for you, you wouldn’t cheat unless you had fallen out of love. So to you, it means ‘I don’t love you any more’. In contrast, many men treat sex as a bodily function – and I’m sorry to be crude – like going to the toilet. Of course, it can mean love, devotion and connection but it is also a biological need. So for him, being abroad, being alone and not having the social skills to fill all his time (because many men outsource their social life to their wives), he is vulnerable, empty and down – and some woman offered him a release, a bit of company and perhaps a home cooked meal and he jumped at it. Sadly, men and our approach to sex is not a particularly attractive side of us – that’s why we’re not keen on telling women. Basically, we’re rather ashamed and shame is a very toxic human emotion (so easier to hide behind ‘I don’t know’). Hopefully, you can begin to see WHY he had sex is more to do with him – his failings – than about you. If you can stop trying to look at this through your eyes and try and step into his shoes, it will make a bit more sense.
If you’re worried that it will happen again, you need to focus on better communication. So when he’s down – instead of bottling it up and getting more withdrawn and depressed – he can speak up and you can debate what to do. For this, I suggest ‘Resolve your differences’ and ‘Help your partner say yes’.
Next, I think you need to rebuild your connection to each other – which probably took a huge knock during the discovery of the infidelity and the aftermath. That’s why, I often work through the exercises in ‘Make love like a prairie vole’ with clients. If you tell your husband, you’ll stop asking WHY if he agrees to do the exercises, you’ll be amazed at how motivated he’ll be.
Finally, you need to allow yourself to mourn for the old relationship and your trust, you can open your heart to a new relationship which is based on honesty, the truth (however painful) and forgiveness (because none of us are perfect).