I recently was asked the following question:
“About 6 months ago I discovered my husband had been leading a double life. We’d been married for 23 years, and for almost half of that time he had been viewing and chatting with cam girls. From time to time he, he had also gone to strip clubs and massage parlours. I had no idea this was going on. It was a told shock when I learned the truth.
The revelations – the uncovering of my husband’s shameful secret and extensive secret life – affected my husband deeply, too. From D-day onwards he has been serious about getting help, and becoming the person he really wants. As far as I can tell, he truly is sorry, and wants to rebuild our relationship.
I would like to believe we could put all this behind us, and have a deep and trusting relationship again. But I really wonder “is that even possible?” Will there ever be a day when this is just a memory, and we feel very close, and I really truly trust him?
I’d love to hear what you, the, reader thinks. You have experience that might be helpful here.
Here are a few of my own ruminations.
1. Everyone’s situation is different. Our attitudes and reactions are likely to vary depending on whether or not you had a secure and loving childhood; whether you have experienced betrayal, rejection or abuse in the past – in this or other relationships; how long you had been together before you made the discovery; whether you’ve contracted an STI from your partner; and whether your partner takes full ownership for what they did. (Any excuses or attempts at blame-shifting are definite red flags.) Additional factors affecting other couples could include how extensive the betrayal was, and whether it involved someone known or related to the betrayed partner.
2. Recovery also depends on how willing your partner is to be completely transparent and accountable (now and in the future), and to face and work wholeheartedly on their stuff.
3. In addition, your partner has to effectively communicate that they really get how shocking and devastating this has been for you, and that they wish they could take all the pain away. That is, the remorse shouldn’t just be about regretting who they were or who they have become. More importantly, they must experience and communicate genuine remorse over hurting us so badly, and for trashing the trust you placed in them.
4. Forgiving is not the same as forgetting. I think it’s only wise to be vigilant. Perhaps your spouse has changed, and you can trust them now. But we’ve all heard the stories where they cheat again. That’s why we can’t assume they’ll keep their word. (“Once bitten, twice shy”, and all that …)
5. A further word on trust. I’ve heard it said that trust is a bit like a bank account. When you first get together as a couple, you basically judge this person to be someone who is trustworthy, and who will treat you well. If you didn’t believe this, you wouldn’t make yourself vulnerable to them. Period. Then, day by day and year by year you make trust deposits in that bank account. As you do this, you are repeatedly reinforcing the belief that, yes, this person seems to be trustworthy, and seems to care for you. The trust in this account can build up for years. And that’s why deception is such an awful shock.
And when betrayal occurs, the bank account’s completely emptied. All those savings disappear in the blink of an eye. And it’s worse than it was when the relationship began, as you believed they were trustworthy when you joined your life to theirs. But that was way back then, and things are very different now.
6. However, THERE STILL IS HOPE. I believe some people do change, and change permanently. It’s very difficult. It’s takes time and hard work. It takes a huge amount of time and a huge amount of hard work.
7. If you both hang in there, and do the work required, and there’s still a bond of love, and you want to be together, eventually the feelings should start to return. (But you’ll still feel hurt and angry from time to time.)
In addition, as the month and years go by, you’ll accrue more “evidence” that your spouse is genuine and appears to have changed, and be someone you can trust. But you’re going to need to watch his life like a hawk, and judge for yourself that his words and life line up. Without changed behaviour there is no lasting hope.
8. I suspect there will always be some twinges of regret – for the pain that you’ve experienced, for the way things have turned out – compared to what you hoped your experience would be. Even so, I believe you can feel close again, enjoy their company, and have a genuine love for them.