Forgiveness

18 years ago his wife confessed guilt to something moderately inappropriate on the cheating scale. It was awkward and painful, but they got past it and life continued on without anything similar happening again. There were kids, careers and and a home. She got sick and had a total hysterectomy, and that’s turned a lot of her sex drive down. He’s frustrated, so he searched the Internet and came here.
But having read MMSL… he knew in a sickening flash from the past that the something moderately inappropriate 18 years ago, was in fact very likely all the way inappropriate. He told me the details and it fit pretty well that she had been all the way. I told him so.
But it seemed to me to be an isolated incident, followed by nearly two decades of faithfulness. There were no STDs, no pregnancy issues. Just the most horrible WTF-did-I-do experience for her. We emailed back and forth about what to do. Deep down he always knew anyway. He forgave her long ago, just never told her for fear of upsetting the apple cart.
Finally I told him…
“She’s kept the lie because she loves you and didn’t want to risk losing the relationship. You’ve not exposed the lie because you love her and didn’t want to risk losing the relationship.

If there is a way… pull each other’s thorn out.”
I may very well have advised something different to him 18 years ago. But it’s now. 18 years is a long time to carry such a burden.

Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Good God, if that isn't one of the most difficult choices a man makes.

    I keep thinking, "If I were in this guy's position, could I do it? Could I forgive?"

    I always think doubt would consume me. "She broke my trust. She could do it again."

  2. Miles Anderson says:

    Kids are out of the house or close to it? Relationship is taking some bumps. The foundation has some cracks. Does he want to go for a soft fade into the distance over the next 30-40 years or does he want to have a good relationship. Apply the ideas in Athol's book with the knowledge that you might have to fix the foundation at some point. Be looking for that moment but don't feel like you have to make it happen immediately. I see roughly 3 paths. 1) Things get a lot better and the cracked foundation doesn't seem like a big deal. I actually think if you get to this point fixing the cracked foundation would be easy. 2) Things get worse. Use fixing the foundation as a final effort to head the problem back in the right direction. It probably blows up in your face but you were already going that way right? 3) Things get better but either stall or are progressing really slowly. This is the hard one. If communication is good enough to talk I'd consider fixing the foundation as a way to transition your relationship forward.

    They both are different people then you were 18 years ago. I think that if the relationship has the life to survive another 30 that you should be able to get yourself into the spot where the foundation fixing question isn't a black hole.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Or the scenario could be, she stuck with him because he provided a stable financial life but in her heart she was always pining away for the Alpha she cheated with? I wonder how his life would have been had he split with her and took a shot at finding a woman that would have been loyal and loved him? Maybe it would have been better, maybe not.

    How do you overcome the thinking that you've spent 18 years with someone who was maybe always thinking of someone else and wishing they were with them but you were an OK backup plan? If you divorce and take a chance on someone new, you might get in the same boat or you might not.

    I dunno, it's a tough call because the cheater is counting on using your feelings and your loyalty against you to maintain what they have or to at least minimize the negative impact to them, often at your expense. They think different.

    If you stay with the cheater you know for sure you are with someone that will lie right to your face about big ticket stuff [re: this story – 18 years of deception and minimizing – is that love?].

    Possible she kept the lie because it's not that she didn't want to risk the relationship, it's that she didn't want to risk losing the benefits he provided in it. If she didn't want to risk the relationship, well then…

    IMO, So she lied, and continues to lie about the truth of it, not to protect him out of love, but to protect herself from consequences. If she loves him so much, wouldn't she tell him the truth so that he can make an informed decision about his future, not hide the truth so that he makes major life choices with partial facts?

    I guess what I find frustrating reading this story is that she lied for 18 years and effectively stole those years from him under false pretenses in her own self interest. If he had had the truth 18 years ago, maybe he would have left, perhaps not. Now, he can never get those years back.

    Do people change? Do they truly? I just don't know anymore. I think they go chameleon to suit their current circumstances to CYA more than anything else.

    I know I'm negative and jaded. Working on it, working on it…I'm trying.

    Sorry for the dude, been there, done that.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Been married thirty five years,when first married, wife's sister cheated on her husband, she didn't tell him everything,the sister went to counseling and was advised to tell everything to husband to clear her own conscience. When husband found out marriage was over.
    I told my wife that if she had an affair and wanted to stay married to me it would be best not to let me know.
    My wife on the other hand, feels if anybody is going to cheat they should come clean right away.
    Interesting perspectives taken on this issue, you just never know what path to take, but you can't always be looking back.

  5. Anonymous says:

    @Anon

    I think the wife's sister did the right thing. Not so much to clear her own conscience [another selfish way to look at it] but because it gave her husband the chance to make a decision based on the truth or at least as much as she told. It wasn't the telling that ended that marriage, it was the fact that your wife's sister was gobbling up another dude's penis. People get that confused. "Man, if I would have just kept this secret I wouldn't be divorced." Ummm, no if you would have not got your secretary pregnant you would not be divorced.

  6. Thag Jones says:

    The ego takes a beating in these situations – that's the hard part. I have found this helpful (can't remember where I found it now):

    The word “forgive” means to wipe the slate clean, to pardon, to cancel a debt. When we wrong someone, we seek their forgiveness in order for the relationship to be restored. Forgiveness is not granted because a person deserves to be forgiven. No one deserves to be forgiven. Forgiveness is an act of love, mercy, and grace. Forgiveness is a decision to not hold something against another person, despite what they have done to you.

  7. Thag Jones says:

    I think when you genuinely forgive someone in this way, it helps them see their error better than going on the attack or making them too responsible for your feelings. I don't mean that to sound heartless; just that after 18 years, even if you don't have the whole truth, you desperately need a path out and I hope this is helpful.

    Your wife also needs to know that she may have to give out the gory details in order to help you move on. She has to pay her penance in that way. She needs to understand that you're not doing it to punish her, but to help both of you. If you're stuck, so is she. She has to agree to answer any questions you have honestly, even if it's painful, and you have to agree to take some time before reacting to any new information.

  8. Thag Jones says:

    One last thing, there's really no way to know how this will play out. It's the fear of the unknown that stops people at an impasse like this. Take a sort of uncomfortable peace? Or risk breaking the vessel for something more meaningful and deep? 

    Yeah, relationships are hard. My feeling here though is that if this really was a one off 18 years ago, in the meantime she has given you 18 years and seems to regret that mistake. That should say something.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Evo Psych Question:

    Is taking back a cheating wife the ultimate beta supplication move?

    I recognize the higher ideals of forgiveness, that you list there Thag and know that it's really for your own mental health you need to forgive. But forgive and reconcile are two different things.

    In terms of LTR Game though, does taking back a cheating wife forever put the man in a black hole of beta-dom because no matter what he does, his wife will have always gotten away with the ultimate shit test. She cheated – you stuck with her.

    Maybe you need to bang her friends to get back to a level playing field.

    My struggle…

  10. Thag Jones says:

    Anon 11:10,

    It may be that this sort of thing is more difficult for a man than for a woman, since the natural inclination is for the man to be, to use Athol's analogy, the Captain. Of course, a good Captain might also know when to put his own ego aside for the sake of the ship. Then again, if the First Officer has betrayed the Captain, where's the good of the ship there? Tricky.

    She probably needs to come clean and give him the space he needs to decide what to do. And then she has to accept his decision. I don't think it necessarily ends up being a horrible supplicating beta move to forgive one indiscretion. Hard to say though isn't it.

    This is the problem with giving out advice though; no one else can know someone else's relationship.

  11. Anonymous says:

    That is the tricky thing for a man.

    A loyal woman is a woman with high value if for nothing else than the avoidance of cuckoldry. Men really value loyalty.

    So if a man cheats and the wife sticks with him despite his asshattery, her loyalty in the face of it, actually increases her status. Even among her female friends, she is the long suffering martyr who puts up with "that man" for the sake of the family.

    But, what to do as a man, when one of the prime biological drives, the avoidance of cuckoldry, or simply the avoidance of pairing with a disloyal woman is violated.

    Plus you have the complication that another man effectively asserted dominance over you by having your wife. Your wife was a co-conspirator in letting another guy make you a chump. It's an affront that even the most mewling beta will recognize as a shot to the core of whatever manhood he has.

    Dunno, maybe that's one of the many reasons that if the woman cheats, the percentages of of there not being a divorce are much lower.

  12. Thag Jones says:

    From my reading around it definitely seems that it's more about the core of a man's being whereas for a woman it's more ego-based hurt. I'm sure I've heard women being derisive (at least on the Internet, where assholes gather) about a man's fragile ego yadda yadda…. Projection I suppose.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Yes and if you stick with her, how in the heck are you supposed to maintain a cocky-funny, dominant, "you're the man", you're the captain frame in the relationship? Is that even possible after this?

    If not, then I guess there is no way you can meet her needs in the future and maybe you are just in a negative feedback cycle to get setup for another round of her cheating.

    I imagine once the threshold has been crossed the first time, to get to the point of doing it again won't be such a jump.

    Sigh.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I hope I will never have to face this.

    My answer is clear: Walk away.

    But to do so myself. That will be one difficult task.

  15. Maybe you need to bang her friends to get back to a level playing field.

    I've seen this! I know of 2 women that cheated on their husbands after their husbands' affairs were discovered. They seemed to be attempting to reaffirm their attractiveness & sexuality. They weren't long affairs – just a short sexual relationship. I'm not close with them anymore so I don't know if they're happy or not but they are still married.

  16. Athol Kay says:

    Taking a woman back can very much be the worst Beta move possible. Properly framed however, plus with her geniune repentance, it can be possible to move forward. There's no requirement to extend grace to a cheater and it must be understood as such by the cheater to move forward.

    Many couples can recover from affairs and be stronger for it. Some cannot.
    Banging her friends won't level the playing field. Just increase the pain.

  17. I didn't make this clear earlier and I should have….

    Both women appeared to regret their dalliances. I assume this is why the relationships were short lived.

  18. knightblaster says:

    As you say, forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things. One can (and should) forgive another person their wrongdoings against you, but that doesn't in any way mean you have to "just move on" and stay together.

    It's a tough issue after 18 years. Only that person can really know what seems best for him under the circumstances, really.

  19. Athol Kay says:

    Knightblaster – exactly.

  20. Anonymous says:

    This is Jen

    It seems like this woman is convicted without having a chance to tell her side. Not that I think there is ever a reason to cheat…but it appears Athol and the husband have come to this conclusion, it isn't what the wife has said at all.

  21. Thag Jones says:

    Jen, it's definitely possible that it was what she said and not more. Of course, the husband may have his reasons for suspecting otherwise.

  22. Trimegistus says:

    Jen: this isn't a legal trial, with defendants and evidence and the Fifth Amendment. We're discussing a situation, which could just as easily be hypothetical.

  23. Candice says:

    Some points – in any circumstance one needs to be really careful in guessing what might have happened and in this case there are real people involved even though people feel they are discussing a hypothetical situation.

    Encouraging suspicion can create really difficult situations and a spouse inclined to abuse and bullying could use the things they imagine to justify their nasty actions. It is also possible a viable and happy marriage could be derailed.

    The transition during middle life is difficult for many people. Leaving behind the past may be something to be considered – personally I've left behind the issues of the past and focus on the future. It has taken me years to do so, so I can understand if someone needs to take time to think things through and work out what is best for them.

    I think one of the main issues for any couple is how to grow closer and happier even when facing the challenges of illness and unequal decline in libido. It's good to feel driven to learn about relevant matters and experiement.

    I faced decrease in libido after menopause and my partner is getting older too, but by recognising all the other aspects and benefits of sex, we manage a joy and frequency that most younger couples might not experience. I've try to explain this on my blog.

    I am looking forward to Athol growiing older and experiencing the evolution of his own relationship – I see many new chapters for his book – perhaps a whole new book to help older couples! :-)

  24. Anonymous says:

    @ Jen:

    The Husband has a nagging feeling, given the information he has from that time (I'm guessing it hasn't come up in a long while). That worry builds up over time, and he likely ended up here because he felt like he was doing something wrong in the relationship. The previous, even if 2 decade ago, affair is a serious worry that's festered for years.

    Now, it's likely the doubt has just been there for years and compounded itself. It's the male version of the Rationalization Hamster. But if his impression from that time left doubt, then there's a very legitimate reason for that.

    Basically, the word we're looking for is "catharsis". He's never quite gotten rid of the feelings associated with the affair. As he's trying to improve his relationship, I'm guessing it's becoming a road block for his own mind. While the trust was mostly patched, it wasn't completely. Some people can work through them and solve the emotions, others can't. It all depends on the person.

    I have a lot of sympathy for the man. This isn't some conversation you can easily start or work into. I'm not sure how you start it, but his own approach is really important. He'd have to frame it well, in a "little part of me is holding onto some hurt and that part feels like I didn't get the whole truth; I didn't want to bring this back up again, but it's been gnawing at me for a long time and creating friction in our marriage for a long time." Or something akin to that. I don't envy him, but he's going to have to at some point. Not solving those emotions will eventually just eat away at you.

  25. Anonymous says:

    @Athol

    Taking a woman back can very much be the worst Beta move possible. Properly framed however, plus with her geniune repentance, it can be possible to move forward. There's no requirement to extend grace to a cheater and it must be understood as such by the cheater to move forward.

    Many couples can recover from affairs and be stronger for it. Some cannot.

    I can't figure out how to properly frame this so that I can do this. How do you move forward and be the captain after a mutiny?

  26. Athol Kay says:

    Anon 1:35 – I'll be writing posts toward addressing that over the next few days.

    The most important factor is her frank admission of wrongdoing and that she needs to earn your trust back. If that isn't there, I wouldn't advise allowing her to stay with you.

  27. I obviously have nothing near the scope of this guy's issue, but…

    In the late stages of my recently-ended LTR, my girlfriend spontaneously revealed to me she had contracted chlamydia when she was with her previous boyfriend.

    I didn't say anything (I was almost certain a breakup was imminent, so I didn't feel the need to press this issue) but inside I was blown away. When we first talked about getting hot and heavy, we went to get tested together and she revealed she had been previously diagnosed with cervical changes almost certainly due to HPV. Her tests were normal the whole time I was with her so I am guessing I was not exposed.

    Now chlamydia is serious for PIV/fertility reasons, but it was more the principle of the thing. She knew sexual health history was important to me (I didn't ask for partner numbers but wanted health info and revealed mine) so I felt I had ultimately been deceived.

  28. Athol Kay says:

    Badger – she may have been forcing the issue.

  29. Anonymous says:

    @Thag Jones
    It may be that this sort of thing is more difficult for a man than for a woman, since the natural inclination is for the man to be, to use Athol's analogy, the Captain. Of course, a good Captain might also know when to put his own ego aside for the sake of the ship. Then again, if the First Officer has betrayed the Captain, where's the good of the ship there? Tricky.

    How does being the First Officer make it lees difficult?

    The betrayal is equal it's only more difficult based on the individual not by what's between their legs.

    If the Captain has betrayed the Fierst Officer where's the good of the ship there? Following a Captain who betrayed you either leads to resentment, matryhood,or another statistic(why didn't she dump him, guess women love being treated badly)

    From my reading around it definitely seems that it's more about the core of a man's being whereas for a woman it's more ego-based hurt. I'm sure I've heard women being derisive (at least on the Internet, where assholes gather) about a man's fragile ego yadda yadda…. Projection I suppose.

    So the core of a woman's being isn't hurt by? So women don't think have I lost my looks, was it the getting older/wrinkles/sagging breasts/stretchmarks? Is it that he just seeks variety and I will never be enough or he'll have to fight this heroic battle to not relapse every day?

    Yes even today a woman's being at the base is her looks.

    It wouldn't be so reaching to add a factor to any guy/girl in a relationship is if their partner finds them sexually appealing (men who have been sexually rejected should understand this) and capable of being sexually faithful.

    So what are you projecting with oh you're a woman being cheated on is less difficult for you to handle and it's mainly an ego thing anyway?

    Wow just wow

  30. Thag Jones says:

    Take it easy anon. Just thinking aloud. Or is it no thinking allowed? Or is everything I say on the Interwebz lately a "projection"? Amateur fucking psychologists. Please, tell me how attempting to see something from someone else's point of view is a projection. Pretty ridiculous.

    If the core of your being is your looks, you got a world of hurt coming to you unless you're planning on dying young. Also ridiculous. "Even now"? More like "especially now", in the age of the shallow slut. Only a moron would make something that inevitably fades into the core of her being.

  31. Thag Jones says:

    Oh, and due to my new policy of not endlessly answering the complaints of angry retards on the Internet, that's my final answer. Go ahead and have the last word anon, if it makes you feel better. You'll still be idiotic.

    And since it probably escaped your notice, I am a woman. Is it still projection? Oh wait, I don't care what you think.

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