Part 3 of 3
Want to know what to do when your wife is caught cheating? Read the story of Sharon and Robert. Marriage therapist Gail Saltz tells the story of this wife caught cheating in the article, Could You Be Having an Emotional Affair?, published in The Oprah Magazine.
Now here's what to do when your wife is caught cheating:
Increasingly, I find people are already enmeshed in an affair of the heart by the time they contact me, and they are terribly torn. They have a very hurt spouse but can't bear to lose their "friend." Marital implosion is close at hand. My approach seems like tough love, but I'm convinced it saves a lot of grief. The first and most important task, from which all the other things these clients must do will follow, is to take responsibility for the affair—same as if they'd had a sexual liaison. Denying it or blaming their partner's inattentiveness prevents the couple from reengaging. The only cases where it might not be best to fess up are the rare ones where the partner has no suspicions: Revealing hidden feelings just to absolve guilt is not a great idea.
Second, the affair must end. Yes, it hurts. And no, it's not possible to disengage partway and still be pals. Things get trickier if the infidelity began in the workplace, but all future interaction must be purely professional and kept to an absolute minimum.
Third, I try to help clients unearth the reasons they got overinvolved. Was their marriage failing? Did they need to build their self-esteem? Were they repeating the pattern of a parent who cheated? To prevent an encore, they must be brutally honest with themselves.
Finally, they have to build back the trust, which is the biggest obstacle to saving the marriage. I'm constantly telling people that it requires a lot of time, openness, and accountability (for example, being clear about whereabouts and coming home right after work).
What I find to be remarkably consistent is that most people don't appreciate the relationship they do have until they're about to lose it. This is what happened with Sharon. When Robert found her e-mails to Todd ("I miss you so much…I can't wait to see you," along with complaints about her home life), he was shattered and wanted a divorce. As soon as Sharon realized her husband might leave her, Todd didn't seem quite as thrilling. But saying goodbye to him, which she ultimately decided to do, was wrenching, and Robert isn't sure whether he can forgive her. The three of us are still working on understanding why the affair happened and whether they can agree to rebuild their relationship.
It's much more difficult to make your way back from a betrayal of intimate feelings than to try to refresh a marriage that may have become flat and distant. When you ignore anxiety-inducing thoughts like "I feel stuck—I wish I could run off and have fun or I feel old and dumpy—if only someone would make me feel young and sexy again," you cannot examine or deal with them in a productive manner. Instead, you unwittingly act them out, with potentially devastating results. Any good relationship takes an investment of time, effort, and emotional energy. What few people want to accept is that we can all become Sharon and Robert, and that marriage, while potentially tremendously gratifying, is always a work in progress.
Dealing with a wife caught cheating is very difficult and complicated. Don’t make the mistake of responding without the expert guidance of a marriage counselor. Also be careful that your emotions don’t cause you to react in a way that just makes things worse. It’s understandable to feel hurt and angry when you have a cheating wife, but allowing those emotions to affect how you respond is a big, big mistake.
Read how it all started in Part 1: A Cheating Spouse - How an Emotional Affair Starts; what the signs of a wife cheating look like in Part 2: Cheating Spouse Exposed - Warning Signs of an Emotional Affair.
* This is the third of three posts examining a wife caught cheating. Sign-up for our Blog on the right side of this page and be sure not to miss the other posts about an affair and a cheating spouse (you can get notified by email or RSS feed when the next article is published).