Dear Lovehacker, In the third year of my marriage to my husband, I slept with his best friend. It wasn’t emotional. It happened once and was a culmination of several factors (finding my worth through the male gaze, thinking that I needed to test his love for me by hurting him, several other small reasons that don’t really matter in the end). I told my husband a day or two later. We stopped communicating with his friend but my husband stayed with me.
Fast forward to present day – we’re on our 13th year of marriage, have a seven year-old son, and a nice, comfortable, loving life together. I can say without hesitation that we are BOTH very happy with each other. But it’s recently become clear that he hasn’t fully forgiven me and I’m worried he never will.
I’ve tried explaining to him that the circumstances that led to the cheating have changed (and, more importantly, I myself have as well). It’s not something that will ever happen again with anybody, no matter the circumstances. When I told him this, he accepted it with a sort of… angry amusement.
He told me that A) every year in the ‘anniversary month’ of my cheating he becomes very angry with me. Looking back, I remember Octobers being a tough month for us. During our worst fights I could see the unspoken anger at my betrayal in his eyes which he also confirmed. B) He says that he still hates his former friend with a depth of anger and force that is rare for my sweet, goofy husband. I pointed out that I, as his wife who made a vow to him, am the worse of the two and that it seemed unfair to hate a friend for sleeping with his wife and not hate the wife. He agreed that it was strange but simply said that’s how he felt.
I feel like, given his reaction, he hasn’t moved on. I understand we can’t go back to how it was before but at the same time, I’d like to do what I can to lessen his hurt. I’d thought time would help at least a little with that, but apparently I was wrong. Is there anything I can do to help him or should I just leave it alone? Thanks, 13 Years
Cheating is an emotionally fraught issue. It’s the sort of thing that can hit people straight in their insecurities. There’s nothing like finding out that your partner betrayed you to kick your soul square in the nuts.
The reason for that pain can vary greatly, depending on the person. For some it’s jealousy and fear, the worry that someone could take away this person who they love and care for and have invested themselves in. For others, it’s a primal “somebody touched my stuff” feeling that they may not be proud of. For others, it’s a fear that it means that they aren’t good enough; that they had somehow caused this infidelity by not measuring up to their partner’s expectations or needs. Or it could well be a feeling of loss of identity – their place in a couple being threatened because their partner isn’t the person they thought they were. Add in the simple pain of being lied to and you have a volatile mix.
While many affairs are relationship extinction-level events, not all of them have to be. After all, not all affairs are equal; serial cheating is very different from a one-time slip-up. In your case, it was the latter: a perfect storm of insecurities, mistaken ideas about love and a friend who should have well known better but did it anyway.
So you confessed, you’ve done your penance and you’ve gone out of your way to earn back your husband’s trust and repair the rift you caused. But based on your letter, I’m wondering how much things are actually healed.
The tricky thing about fixing a relationship after cheating or being cheated on is that it takes both parties to work in good faith toward healing. The cheater has to make their amends and earn back their partner’s trust. The person who’d been cheated on needs to be willing to forgive and let their partner earn that faith back. You’ve presumably done your part… but it sounds like your husband hasn’t. And that’s going to be a huge problem for the both of you.
It’s perfectly understandable that your husband was hurt and angry; you injured him pretty badly with what you did. That’s the sort of thing that’s going to leave some deep emotional wounds. But it sounds like he’s never actually let the wound close. Every October, he starts picking at the scab and keeping that pain fresh. He’s been hoarding his resentment of your actions like a passive-aggressive squirrel collecting hate-nuts for winter, and he’s unleashing it at you every year.
That ain’t good. That sure as fuck isn’t healthy, for him or for your relationship. To quote a wise man, anger leads to hate and hate leads to suffering. He may be your sweet and goofy husband most of the time, but unleashing on you every October and nurturing his hatred of someone for ten years is really troubling. That’s a ticking time bomb that’s been planted dead-bang in the middle of your life together and there’s no telling when that’s going to go off.
I get that his friend’s betrayal is galling. I can completely relate. To get personal for a second, my first serious girlfriend cheated on me with a close friend of mine. For months, even a year, I was angry enough to fuel a dozen Zynic albums and wouldn’t spare the fluid to piss on the guy if he were on fire. Two years down the line however, he was a non-entity to me. I didn’t hate him any more. I didn’t even think of him. He was just gone.
Your husband, on the other hand, is keeping that pain close, and that’s not healthy. Picking fights every October is him continuing to punish you for shit that happened a decade ago. Hanging on to hatred for someone who’s no longer in his life for that long is mind-fuckingly masochistic. There’s no good reason for any of it except to keep stroking one’s rage-boner.
If he’s taking your realisation that you’re not the person you were ten. FUCKING. YEARS ago as something that’s just going to stoke the fire out of coals he won’t let go out? I hope he has the emotional intelligence to realise that isn’t healthy.
If you want to help him, then you two need to start talking to a marriage counselor. Someone who can help you two talk things through and give your husband the tools he needs to start letting go of his anger. And if he won’t do that, then you two need to have a conversation about why he won’t let go.
Good luck, 13Y. And write back to let us know how you’re doing.
This story originally appeared on Kotaku.
Harris O’Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr NerdLove.