His Wife Wants Out

Q: I'm 38 and have been married for 18 years. I made a mistake in my marriage about 14 years ago. I finally told my wife the truth two years ago. It hurt her, but she wanted to work it through. I know it will take a long time to rebuild our love, but recently she told me it was over, that she loved me but didn't have feelings for us as a husband and wife anymore. I was devastated and am seeking therapy now. She wants to stay married for now and live as friends for the sake of our children and maybe in time we can move forward either together or separately. She says that she needs to find out who she is and what she wants. I love my wife and children and I want them both for all my life. What's happening to me here? -- Bob

Dr. Susan: I hope that you'll consider seeking some counseling for the marriage as well as for yourself. It's very likely that your wife was hurt far more than you know by your very belated admission of infidelity (I assume that was the mistake you made 14 years ago?). When a woman finds out that someone has been keeping a secret of this sort for so long, it brings everything that has been going on under suspicion. Your wife probably felt that her whole life with you has been a lie, that she acted like a fool every time she was nice to you, and that everything nice you did for her was meaningless in light of this new information. I'm not saying any of that is accurate, just that it's typical to feel that way when an affair is discovered.

What I have to wonder is why it's taken two years for her to realize she doesn't feel wifely love for you anymore. Your admission may have thrown her for such a loop that she totally shut down and isn't able to let any warm feelings surface. It's a good sign that she's willing to stay together with you for now. She doesn't hate you. But something is in the way of a full reconciliation. Some people are more resilient about getting over the feeling that their marriage is "broken" forever. Others need lots of help to get past that feeling.

Be patient, and let her know you very much want her to have what she wants in life too, that you wouldn't dream of standing in her way -- but that there's no reason you can't both work toward your deepest dreams together, just as you promised to do when you first got married. You may have to keep reassuring her that what happened all those years ago was truly an idiotic mistake, and the fact that you've confessed is a sign of how deeply intimate you now feel towards her. Meanwhile, as "friends," maybe the two of you could explore some fun new activities. That might help revive the old feelings.

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