Q: Last year, I confessed to my wife of 35 years that I'd had affairs with several women approximately 20 years ago. She's in the process of forgiving me. We have agreed to move forward and have both seen counselors, separately. However, I feel she's not really moving forward, due to the questions she has about my affairs. She wants me to share my story of infidelity with her: How was I able to do it? How could I do this? I don't think it's in her best interest to know more than I've already shared. I'm trying to help her recover from the heartache I caused, but is it wise for me to keep the details of my indiscretions to myself?
Dr. Pepper Schwartz: Therapists generally feel that however painful it is, the person who has been cheated on has the right to satisfy his or her curiosity and shock by asking questions. Personally, I think it inflicts more pain than it relieves, but many therapists feel the only way a person in your wife's position gets over the affair(s) is to dig into it, looking at all its awful moments and lies, and finally putting what happened behind her.
There may be some level of punishment in this for you and for her. I personally don't think this sort of examination is good for anyone: It is embarrassing for you (there is no way for you to rewrite that history) and it is heart-rending for her to envision you doing things to this other woman, lying about where you were, sharing things that were meant for only the two of you, and the like.
Ideally, I think she should let it go and concentrate on the fact that you didn't leave and now want to work to make your marriage stronger. If she just can't get to that point now, you will have to deal with it. You are asking a lot from her, and if she needs this to be part of her process of forgiving, then you must be patient and wait until she wants to concentrate on the present and not the past.
Photo by James Kendall.
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