It’s happened. The worst thing you could’ve possibly imagined in your marriage – your husband cheated.
He claims he is sorry and will never betray you again, and he is begging you to trust him. The problem is: You aren’t sure if you can do that. The bottom has fallen out of your world, and you’ve spent every ounce of energy you have trying to decide if you are willing to try again.
To make things worse, your husband has been sending you mixed signals. Much as he claims he wants to make the relationship work, he keeps doing things that seem shady to you. You’re confused, because he seems to be sincerely trying to recommit to you, but these particular actions make you question if he “gets” how much he has hurt you.
I’m going to assume you already know the basics. For example, if he’s still in contact with his affair partner, you’ve got reason to be concerned. Instead of dwelling on the obvious, I’m going to address three things husbands often do (after you’ve caught them cheating) that can muddy the waters. It is my hope that this helps you determine if your husband is sincerely recommitted to you or not.
1. You keep finding out more details through drips of truth-telling. You think you’ve heard it all. You’re trying to heal and move on and then wham! You find an old e-mail or letter that shows you more details that you didn’t get the first time.
You confront him about it and he admits to more than he told you initially. You get angry and deal with it, but boom! Repeat. You discover more evidence yet again.
This may happen time and time again, but in most cases this happens because he was afraid to tell you the entire truth all at once. He feared you might leave if you knew everything, and he truly wants to just forget what happened and move on.
When to be concerned: You find information that indicates the relationship with his affair partner is still continuing.
When *not* to be concerned: You’re finding information that is old news. Maybe he was more involved than he let on to you at first, but there’s no evidence on continuing contact.
2. He is upset that you are telling other people. It’s very natural for you to be upset when he gets angry that you’re telling people about his mistakes. You may feel that he has no right to dictate your reaction, given how deeply he hurt you. But if you’re trying to fix the relationship, it’s valuable to take a step back and consider that his desire for privacy might be grounded in his desire to protect the relationship.
He likely doesn’t want the information to get back to your children, who may be scarred for life if they find out. He certainly doesn’t want your family to know – even if you forgive him and move on, they probably won’t. He may fear for his or your family’s safety if his affair partner’s spouse finds out about the infidelity – potential danger or social repercussions could ensue.
When to be concerned: If he gets angry with you for confiding in a trusted friend or a therapist. You have the right to vent and get support as you work through the situation.
When *not* to be concerned: If he asks you not to tell his affair partner’s spouse, his boss (he could get fired, which hurts everyone involved), or the kids. He is probably just protecting everyone from serious damage.
3. He says “I don’t want to talk about it anymore.” You find yourself constantly trying to understand and to gain some closure or clarity on how or why it happened. To him, it sounds like talking in circles or like he’s being punished.
It may feel like he’s telling you to just get over it, but most likely he simply feels like you’re stuck and doesn’t know how to help you heal.
The best thing to do is to self-reflect for a minute. If you actually are asking the same questions over and over again, you probably need to see a therapist to help you move through this. You may need expert advice to determine if the relationship will work or not and to help you recover from the trauma of discovering the affair.
When to be concerned: If he actually says things like, “Get over it” or “The past is the past – let it go,” you should be concerned that he isn’t truly remorseful or doesn’t understand how much he has hurt you.
When *not* to be concerned: If he says he doesn’t know what else to say to help you, or that he has already answered your questions to the best of his ability, he’s probably truly at a loss. He knows you need help to work through this, but he doesn’t know what else he can say or do to fix things. He probably is afraid that discussing the same questions over and over will only make things worse, and he wants to repair the relationship with you, not rehash the painful past.
You husband may be doing some things that make you question his sincerity and/or ability to recommit to you. Something to keep in mind is that your husband is a man. He is doing things that he thinks will help you through this but that are actually making the situation worse. No matter how sincere he is, there are some things he just isn’t going to get.
Caroline Madden is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in private practice in Burbank, CA. She specializes in helping marriages recover after infidelity. Caroline is the author of several relationship books including: Fool Me Once: Should I Take Back My Cheating Husband?, Blindsided By His Betrayal, and After a Good Man Cheats. Follow her on Twitter: @CMaddenMFT
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