How to forget an affair?

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Today, in our “Dear Therapist” column we will discuss a story about infidelity. 

“Hello. Please save me.” 

Hello! I will comment on your letter paragraph by paragraph. To begin with, I need to point out that your very first phrase indicates you have a somewhat infantile mindset. It is obvious from the phrase “save me”. 

  • “I have been married for many years. We have children, money, so overall things are good.”  

Overall things are good… I will jump ahead a little bit since I already read the whole letter. Do you really think that the situation that you are describing below, that what is happening with you and your relationship, is good overall? How did you make this conclusion? 

  • “However, a couple of years back my husband and I had a big fight, and he left.” 

From your letter I can tell that you and your husband are not able to resolve problems effectively, otherwise, a fight would not lead to a breakup. Or maybe your husband wanted to leave, and he accomplished it. 

  • “As I learned later, he was having an affair at that time. While we were apart, he was having a good time with a young and pretty woman. He introduced her to his family and friends. But regardless, with some convincing from me, he came back, but didn’t break it off with her… I sort of forgave him, believed him, and started rebuilding the relationship.” 

First, I want to ask – how did you start rebuilding the relationship, if he was still having an affair? And second, you wrote: “I started rebuilding the relationship”. And he? The relationship is a two-way street. 

It looks like a somewhat sad story – looks like you took all the responsibility for the relationship on yourself. 

  • “I was following him, and I learned that he is still seeing that woman. We fought again, I cried, and we split for a month, to figure things out.” 

It looks like you haven’t forgiven him, and you didn’t believe him. When we trust someone, we don’t double-check, and we don’t follow them. 

  • “My husband came back, and he asked for forgiveness. Not with words but with his actions. With words, he told me:“ It is your fault, you didn’t love me, you would yell at me, you would throw tantrums.” 

This is a very bad sign. How can you trust a person who doesn’t take responsibility for their actions? You can’t… 

Your marriage is dysfunctional, and, obviously, both you and your husband are responsible for that.  

But the responsibility for having an affair and for lying about it is entirely his. 

You know, it looks like some strange story: he sort of came back, he started doing something. But he hasn’t acknowledged his fault and his responsibility for what happened. He is telling you that you forced him to do that.  

This indicates that your relationship is codependent.  

“So, three years have passed, and all this time as if I am in hell. I am following him, controlling him, demanding reports about how he spends his time, and where he was. I am looking through his credit card statements to see where and how he is spending money.” 

This is one more confirmation of the conclusion that I made above. You are hoping that if you exercise tight control he will not cheat, and he will not leave you. Seriously?? Do you really think that you can control another person’s free will, their desires, their feelings? You are wrong.  

The person who wants to cheat will do it. It doesn’t matter what kind of reports you are demanding, and how you are tracking his geolocation. It is quite easy to fake all these checkpoints.  

The essence of the matter is that instead of solving the problem, you are swiping it under the rug. Instead, you are spending your efforts trying to control something that can’t be controlled – and this gives you a diversion. 

“From time to time, I blame our friends and family for their betrayal. So, my relationship with them is tense.” 

It would be good to understand why you do that. Do you want reparations from them? Or do you want revenge? What is your goal? 

“I understand that this is not normal. But I feel that for everything to be OK my husband just needs to stay home so that I could video call him. So that I could control everything.” 

Yes, you are correct – this is not normal. But let me be honest. If your husband will sit at home all the time – will it really improve your emotional state? 

No. Because then you can worry “what if he is THINKING about her”, etc. The issue is not that he is cheating. The issue is that in your relationship there is an old unresolved crisis. This crisis, like an ancient chicken filet in the fridge, is rotting and stinking.  

“I understand that he is being good. He is tolerating me, trying to calm me down, trying to convince me.” 

I disagree that he is being good. You both are playing a two-player game. Today, you are a prison guard, and he is a guilty kitty-cat, who at the same time does not admit his guilt. 

“But I realize that this cannot continue forever. One day we will just leave.” 

If he leaves – it is not the worst. In your situation, this is not the biggest issue. What is going on with you is, first and foremost, damaging to your own nervous system, to your and your children’s health. Your children are observing these toxic codependent patterns, and as a result, they are building a corresponding image of what family life is like.  

“I have no strength to manage myself, my emotions, my resentment, and my anger.” 

Of course, you don’t: all your resources are being spent on controlling. Instead of working on your own emotions, you are choosing to check your husband’s geolocation. But. The thing is that, while you are stuck like this, holding tightly onto your husband, you will not feel better. 

“I cannot go and run my errands, to take care of myself. I neglect my children. All I want is to stay at home and “hold him by the hand”. I understand everything rationally, but when it comes to action …” 

I think you are not able to leave this state just for one reason – you are not ready for a difficult journey. You want a simple solution. You want things to get better without making a lot of effort. Just like you started your letter – “save me”. It is already revealing that you are looking for an easy way out. But in your situation, it doesn’t exist. 

“But my husband wants me to be pretty, to have high self-esteem, and to be an intellectual. (I need to mention that I have many degrees, I am good-looking, and I’ve accomplished many things on my own.)” 

And what about you? What do YOU want – from yourself, from your life, from your choices? What do you want for yourself? I think you need to consider these questions. 

“Thank you! Help me to forgive, to start believing, to overcome this, and to keep my family.” 

Unfortunately, nobody can forgive, except you. Forgiving is a choice. And for you to make this choice, the other party needs to ask you for forgiveness. But he hasn’t.  

Good, adequate apology, that can really launch a new phase in your relationship after this crisis would look like this: 

  • Accepting responsibility (I did something wrong) 
  • Admitting the harm that he caused (I understand that I hurt you) 
  • A proposed solution to the situation 

I didn’t see any of this in your story. 

  • “I love my husband, and I am grateful for everything that I have.” 

Here again, you are lying to yourself that you are grateful for everything. Why? 

  • “I wish I could forget, just erase this affair from my mind, I really want it…” 

We don’t have an option to forget. We have an option to live through, to work on, and to let go. And in the context of infidelity, it is better to do this together – if you are trying to keep the relationship. 

To summarize, you personally, need to seriously focus on: 

  • Your codependency 
  • Your anxiety and desire to control 
  • Strengthening your self-esteem. 

To be honest, judging by your letter, I think it will be hard for you to deal with these issues without professional help. You have enormous resistance. And enormous denial – “as if I am in hell, but I am grateful”. 

So, take yourself by the hand and go visit a good psychologist. 

Regarding your relationship, here you also only have one route – to a family therapist. Your relationship is codependent: your husband is denying the problem and not accepting his responsibility. In your contact, there are many various toxic “hooks”. The therapist will need to identify and untangle them.  

I hope that you will have the courage to see the situation realistically and you will seek professional help. 

Take care of yourself.  MindSpa Cofounder