Dear Neil: About four years ago I was working out of town. Over the two weeks I was away, my wife had a brief romantic fling. Except she lied about it, telling me they were only friends. However, the younger kids told me of a night when Mommy wasn’t home at 1:45 a.m, and they had to call her on her cell phone to get her home. After repeated questioning she admitted she had gone to the beach one night and “necked” with a man—although that’s all she admits to. She told me she was afraid I was going to leave her if she had told me the truth from the beginning.
We have a great marriage in all other aspects. We have now been married ten years and have four great kids—two of hers that I adopted and two of our own. We are all quite close. She remains steadfast with the story she is telling now of the necking, and has asked for me to forgive her and put all of this behind us. I want to trust her again, but I’m not entirely believing her because she repeatedly lied to me about it, so I don’t know what to believe. How do I let this go?
Want To Let it Go in Connecticut
Dear Want To Let it Go: You let this go by choosing to believe the story you’ve been told. Otherwise, you will forever torture yourself (and her) about what really happened on the beach that night, you’ll drive both of you crazy—and the tension and mistrust will eventually wind up pushing the two of you apart.
It sometimes gives us comfort to know that we have something we can hold over someone else’s head—a feeling that you owe me. Examine whether that dynamic is even subtly influencing you. If it is, it will keep this issue alive within you and you’ll never completely be at peace with her. Ask yourself what you gain by not letting this go. (Hint): Look at what you still fear might happen.
Also explore with your wife the following questions: What led to this incident back then? How can the two of you prevent its recurrence in the future? What is the role you played in this whole incident? Are there any constructive lessons you can take from what happened?
Redirect your attention from the hurt and mistrust—to what type of relationship you want with your wife. What would your wife need to do, and what would you need to do, if you were going to be closer, more engaged and more deeply connected to each other? What’s preventing you from taking action to make it closer? What will help you (and her) feel more cared for, valued, treasured?
From now on express your feelings and verbalize your needs in the relationship—especially those related to monogamy, fidelity, commitment, fear of abandonment, trust and attachment.
When you cannot forgive, you cannot fully love either. So ultimately, not letting this go is self-defeating.