My wife and I have been married for 14 years and in a committed (I assumed) relationship for 17 years. Sex between us (often kinky) has always been great. We have a wonderful life together and two perfect children. I thought we were good; turns out things were too good to be true. I learned recently that my wife has been unfaithful to me throughout our marriage. She began an affair with an older man soon before we were married, and they were physically intimate for five years, including bondage and a Master/sub relationship. The phone sex and online flirting continued up until I discovered this two weeks ago. There’s more: She slept with another man (just once, more bondage) but also flirted with him online and met up with him while I was away. She slept with yet another man she works with (just once, vanilla this time). She had phone sex with at least two other men and flirted with still more on Facebook. This came out because I was jealous about something that now seems minor and checked her email. (Not proud of that.) She is repentant and relieved that I finally know, and she promises that she will be faithful from now on. I’ll always love her, and I know she loves me. We had one session with a counselor and another is scheduled. Results were mixed. One thing that came out was that she has never been faithful to a romantic/sexual partner. I cannot process it. I thought she had always been as loyal as I’ve been, which is to say completely. For the sake of our future, the love we still share, and our children, we are committed to fixing things, but we’re not sure how.
Heartbroken And Devastated
I’m going to preface my response with what someone in my position is expected to say and what, given the circumstances, may even be true: Your marriage is over. The scale, duration, and psychological cruelty of your wife’s betrayals may be too great for you to overcome.
But you didn’t need me to tell you that, HAD. You knew that already. So I can only assume you wrote wanting to hear something else.
I’ll give it my best shot. A long-term relationship is a myth two people create together. It’s a story, HAD. And sometimes it’s a story we have to revise.
Right now, it feels like the story you’ve been telling yourself and others about your marriage is a lie: not partly, but wholly.
But loyalty isn’t something we demonstrate with our genitals alone. You were married to this woman, and you describe your marriage as good, loving, and wonderful. And it somehow managed to be all those things despite your wife’s betrayals. She must have been loyal to you in other ways or you would’ve divorced her long before you discovered her infidelities.
I’m not trying to exonerate your wife, and I’m not trying to minimize her betrayal or your pain. But if you want to stay together, HAD, you’re going to have to tell yourself a new story, one that makes room for contradiction (loves you, cheated on you), betrayal (shitloads), apologies (shitloads from her), forgiveness (shitloads from you), and... some accommodations going forward. If I may paraphrase Maya Angelou: When someone finally shows you who they are, you should believe them. Your wife has never been faithful to you or to anyone else, HAD, at least not sexually. Adjusting your expectations and making accommodations accordingly is more realistic than expecting your wife to become a different person.
Finally, HAD, a little bonus advice. I ran into Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence, the day your letter arrived. Perel is a psychotherapist and couples counselor whose most recent TED Talk (“Rethinking Infidelity”) is one you’re going to want to watch. I shared your letter with Perel, and I’m going to post her thoughts as the Savage Love Letter of the Day when this column comes out. So you’re going to get a second opinion from an actual expert, HAD, and — spoiler alert — it’s a hopeful one.
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