Dear Dr. Jenni,
I read last week’s column about affairs. I also had an affair, but I love and respect my husband deeply and want to stay in the relationship. I’m nervous he will leave me but I can’t live with such a secret. How do you suggest I disclose and repair our relationship?
-Afraid After the Affair
He may leave you. He may not. If you feel genuine remorse and regret, then absolutely express this to him. Then you must rebuild trust. This may take time, and you may want to have the help of a couple’s counselor to help support the repair process.
Expect your husband to feel a range of emotions, including the possibility of intense rage and grief. This is very normal. Allow him to express these feelings, and be open to answering questions about the affair. He may want to know why the affair happened, including exact details, and what steps you are taking to disengage from this third person. He may need a lot of reassurance in the beginning.
As for your part, you will need to take extra measures to protect the relationship and prevent future affairs. You may even want to extend yourself and allow your husband to now see your text messages, recent calls and e-mails. Be radically honest as you rebuild trust. Feelings of betrayal run deep, and take time to heal. Expect the process to test your patience, and expect anger to emerge from both you and him. Eventually you will want to open the door to a conversation about the changes you would like to see in your marriage.
Healing and repairing trust will require you both to keep talking. That said, if you talk about the affair around the clock, it will consume you both. Therefore, I advise couples to section off about 15-30 minutes each day where they are allowed to talk about the affair and ask questions. Then, use your time in couple’s therapy to dig into deeper issues that are particularly thorny and sensitive.
Continue to offer reassurance of your love and respect for your husband. And remember, transparency is key to rebuilding trust. Sometimes affairs are the best test of a relationship, and make you both grow stronger and deeper.
Dear Dr. Jenni,
I feel really stuck. My husband and I have been fighting a lot recently. I’m an Italian woman with a fiery temper so I yell lots, and I yell loud. My husband doesn’t yell at all. He just sits there silently and eventually leaves the room. This makes me want to yell louder! Then, about an hour after our fights, he wants sex. WTF!? First of all, I don’t want to have sex angry. Secondly, I’m totally clueless as to why he does this.
-Are Men Really From Mars?
It sounds like you and your husband are stuck in a classic pattern where you are the pursuer and he is the withdrawer. When angry, you get excitable and reach out to him, while he gets quiet and withdrawn, and eventually isolates. You reach, he withdraws. The more he withdraws, the more you reach. The more you reach, the more he withdraws. Again, it’s a classic pattern in which many couples find themselves.
The withdrawer in this pattern, in this case your husband, often uses sex as a way to intimately connect. Sexual intimacy is a nonverbal way to say: I’m sorry, I love you, and I want to feel close. Because the withdrawer may operate with less of a verbal vocabulary for how he/she is feeling, sex tends to be an easier and safer outlet to express these emotions.
Next time your husband wants sex after a fight, try asking him what sex means to him right at that moment. Your ultimate goal is to break the destructive pattern. Take a step back and offer him the space to re-engage. Good luck!
Send questions for Jenni Skyler, PhD, to firstname.lastname@example.org. Skyler is a sex therapist and board-certified sexologist who runs The Intimacy Institute in Boulder, www.theintimacyinstitute.org.