Q. I just found out that my husband has been having an affair. He says it’s over, he’s sorry, and it won’t happen again, but I’m ready to call a divorce lawyer. My friends are telling me to slow down. Why?
A. When one discovers that a spouse has been unfaithful it triggers powerful emotions. In a moment of heightened distress, we are likely to make decisions that are unwise and often hurtful to those we love most.
First of all, do not take revenge against your husband or the other party. This may bring you satisfaction at the moment, but will only hurt or embarrass you later. Give yourself some space. Insist that your husband spend a few weeks with friends or family members.
Second, you should seek advice from someone who is neutral such as a therapist or a counselor. Some experts suggest that one should consult your minister or priest; however, be certain that your spiritual leader is non-biased and can maintain confidentiality.
If you decide that you want to continue in the marriage, then you and your husband can begin to discuss motivations and other complex issues that may have led to the infidelity. Do not attempt to discuss these issues until you feel ready.
Many marriages involving infidelity can be saved if both parties are willing to resolve their problems and reestablish a commitment to one another. If you make the decision to remain in the relationship, you should both consult a marriage counselor who will help you to forgive and restore trust. Be patient. It takes time to achieve both of these objectives.
Q. I’m uncertain, but I think my wife is cheating. She’s dressing more seductively, says she’s working late more often, and is critical of the way I look. Should I be suspicious, or am I just being paranoid?
A. According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, 15 percent of wives and 25 percent of husbands have had sex outside of their marriage; however, being unfaithful in not inevitable as prime time television would lead us to believe. According to Frances Cohen Praver, a clinical psychologist and author of “Daring Wives: Insight into Women’s Desire for Extramarital Affairs,” most women give warnings that they are cheating. Addressing these issues as they occur can often prevent infidelity and save a marriage.
There are several warning signs that a spouse is being unfaithful. One of the most obvious signs is when one partner says “I’m unhappy” or “this marriage isn’t working.”
If your wife is saying she is unhappy, ask why. Many people do not acknowledge their partners cry for help. A common sign of infidelity is sudden unconstructive criticism. If your wife has been pleased with your body, income, or job in the past and is now being critical, this could be a sign that there are problems. Another telling sign of possible infidelity is a change in habits. If your wife is on the computer more than usual or talking on the phone in another room, these could be warnings that the marriage is in trouble.
Trust your instincts. You should address the infidelity issues with your wife even if you have no evidence. The three things you have mentioned arouse suspicious, but are in no way proof that she has any intention of being unfaithful.
You also mentioned paranoia. If you have experienced any episodes of unfounded mistrust of your wife and others at various times in your life, this could be your problem. Should that be the case, seek professional help immediately or your marriage may be dissolved by suspicious and not infidelity.
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Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City where she maintained a private practice. She now teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College. E-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. The questions will not be answered personally, but could appear in a future column. There will be no identifying information and all e-mails remain confidential.