Dear Dr. Betty,
My husband of 43 years had a 17-year affair with a woman 20 years younger. It was only a friendship for 15 years before it became sexual, which only happened once. He ended it two years later. She was determined to get him divorced, so she wrote me a letter detailing those 17 years. I know it's over and I've stayed, but I still have ill feelings towards him every so often. Is this normal? He said he never wanted divorce, he wants our marriage to work, and he only considered her a friend to talk to. Any thoughts? --M.
You've been betrayed and had it rubbed in your face by the OW (other woman). That is obviously very painful. Your husband didn't just stray -- he went on a 17-year affair trip! Even though they didn't have sex until the last two years, for 15 years they were intimate, and sharing feelings and ideas can be more intimate than intercourse. When a spouse develops strong emotional ties to another, that's a major danger sign for a marriage and it is considered an affair -- period!
Unfortunately, affairs are common. Experts say as many as one third of all marriages endure infidelity and that after it's disclosed, 72 percent of spouses choose to stay. Science also gets into the act and evolutionary psychologists say we're designed to fall in love but not to stay there. Their message -- monogamy is not natural.
In reality, some damage to trust and safety in the relationship is permanent. No matter what you do, there will always be that little doubt gnawing at you. What your husband fears is that he'll never be forgiven, while you are afraid of never feeling safe, never trusting again.
The Steps to Healing: What you can hope for is a lessening of your fears and resentments over time--they will become more tolerable. Following is a 4-step scenario that might help. It is a general approach to healing that needs the full cooperation of your husband. Then, on the next page, you'll find suggestions specific to long-term marriages such as yours.
1. Tell and confirm. Your spouse needs to let you know the affair is over in no uncertain terms.
2. Express remorse. He needs to communicate how bad he feels, especially for the pain he's caused you and your relationship. Honesty is important.
3. Why did this happen? Together, examine your marital relationship. You must each be willing to talk, honestly, about his motivations for straying. You need the space to express anger and doubt and to question, maybe over and over, why he did this. The more patient your husband is, the sooner recovery will begin to take place.
4. Re-establish trust. On a daily basis, your husband needs to do those things that re-instill trust, such as helping around the house, bringing flowers, telling you you're loved, and showing it. That helps.
Source: Relationships & Love