Has He Changed?

Q: For the past 11 months I haven't been the best husband and have put my wife through a lot of crap she hasn't deserved. I was scared about being a new dad. She asked for a divorce about 4 months ago and between then and now I have seen the error of my ways and have come to accept and appreciate things for what they are. I have tried everything to fix my marriage and she doesn't think I have changed. I'm only 22. I need some advice as to how to show her I was an idiot and have made the biggest mistake of my life. -- Rick

Dr. Susan: You're being a little coy with your question, Rick, but I'm sensing you may have had an affair. Or something equally serious, though not much comes to mind. I believe that you believe you have "changed." Now, the point is to get your wife to believe it, and that takes really changing your behavior, not just talking about it. Because you have a child together, I'm sure both of you would deeply like to make your marriage work. When I studied long-term very happy couples, I found that a surprising number of them had an affair in their past and had managed to get beyond it.

Here's what you do: tell your wife that your relationship with her is the most important thing in your life and you're desperately sorry for the pain you caused. Then discuss what you can do to prove your love, devotion, and above all, trustworthiness. If it takes calling her whenever you're away from home, letting her know where you are at all times, or changing all the baby's diapers for the first year (!), be big enough to do it. And then expect her to be upset with you anyway for at least a year to come. Plead with her not to make any final decisions for a year or so. When she wants to talk about her distress, let her, and listen non-defensively. You may need a counselor to help you learn to talk in ways that don't make the situation worse. We all make mistakes, and some of them are excruciatingly hard to live down. I wish you luck.

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