Relationship Connection: My wife cheated on me 7 years ago, should I tell her how I feel?

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Question

My wife had an affair years ago and I’m now wondering if it’s normal to not deal with those emotions for a long time. And, will it help me to ask about the details seven years later?

I worry that it’s too late to bring it up again. I’ve been okay for years but it continues to hinder my trust for her.

Answer

It’s very normal to avoid dealing with painful experiences. Numbing pain is something we do quite reflexively in our weak and fallen state.

We numb through distraction, substances, food, working, anger, money or avoidance. Eventually, however, the numbing wears off and we have to do something about it. We can increase the numbing or we can square up to the difficult emotions and begin exploring the reality we’ve been avoiding.

Dr. Judith Herman wrote that when it comes to atrocities, the “ordinary response is to banish them from consciousness.” She continues:

“Atrocities, however, refuse to be buried. Equally as powerful as the desire to deny atrocities is the conviction that denial does not work. Folk wisdom is filled with ghosts who refuse to rest in their graves until their stories are told. Remembering and telling the truth about terrible events are prerequisites both for the restoration of the social order and for the healing of individual victims.” – Herman, Judith. Trauma and Recovery. Basic Books, NY, 1997, p. 1)

I’m glad you want to bring this up with your wife. It’s never too late to talk about your emotions. These feelings aren’t expired just because it’s been seven years. They’re current, fresh and active. Since you’ve never discussed these feelings with her, then you don’t even know how she feels about what you’ve been through. You have both missed out on important opportunities to heal and build intimacy. You need to speak, she needs to hear, and both of you need to have a chance to heal from these terrible events.

If she hasn’t ever provided you with a complete disclosure of her behaviors, then rebuilding trust is going to be more difficult. Work closely with a qualified marriage therapist who specializes in working with infidelity so they can help structure this disclosure. A proper disclosure provides you with a chance to unite realities instead of living with walls between you. It also allows her to bring you the whole truth instead of you having to extract it piece by agonizing piece.

Her willingness to open up and turn to you with the truth sends a clear signal that she will protect you and the marriage instead of protecting herself and her secret life.

There’s a principle I learned years ago that goes something like this: “If you can name it, you can tame it.” In other words, you will cope better with the difficult emotions you’re feeling if you can name them.

Perhaps you’ve forgiven her for what she’s done, but you still worry about certain aspects of the affair that still leave you feeling unsettled. Maybe she’s maintained some distance from you since the discovery and you wonder what changed for her as part of that experience. Whatever the reason, you are experiencing feelings that won’t resolve until you have a chance to organize them and share them.

Your wife may long to talk about the relationship as well. She may feel that she doesn’t get to discuss her concerns because she violated her marriage. Both of you need permission to explore what this affair has changed for each of you and what you want to do now in the aftermath.

You’re worried about bringing this up because you don’t want to make things worse for the marriage. You can tell your wife that you are worried about making things worse, but that you have questions and concerns you’d like to discuss.

Let her know how important she is to you and that you only want to talk so you can get closer to her. If you get stuck and don’t know how to move forward, then, as I mentioned earlier, seek specialized help so you can rebuild the fractured marital bond.

Stay connected!

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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10 Comments

  • Lastdays April 19, 2017 at 8:02 am

    Man up dude, you should have talked about this 7 yrs ago !
    No sense bringing this up now, unless that’s your “inner woman” wanting to come out and dig up stuff that happens years ago just to create tension.
    Also, affairs are like DUI’s. It happens many times before they are caught that “first” time.

  • Sapphire April 19, 2017 at 8:07 am

    This advice doesn’t make any sense to me. He obviously still has a grudge and wants to start another fight about it. He will never trust her which is normal after an affair, but he chose to stay with her anyway. He needs to accept what happened and move on. But now 7 years later he wants to rehash everything including intimate details. Sound sick to me and I don’t know why a counselor would encourage him to feed his curiosity about her affair and ruin the stability she thought she regained and promote a hostile environment. She knows her actions hurt him. He should be building what they have now, not perpetuating his wounded ego. It is long in the past and should be left there like most of the mistakes people make. If God allows for sincere repentence, shouldn’t we? If he wants to make a statement, he should take her some flowers and tell her how glad he is that they are still together.

  • ladybugavenger April 19, 2017 at 9:25 am

    Oh my! He’s been bitter for 7 years. It’s important to talk about your feelings right away. But with anger it could get real ugly so he shut down instead of dealing with the pain and anger? Probably been shutting his feelings down his whole life, I wonder if she’s cheating on him right now. He probably wonders that everyday. It’s best to walk away and get a divorce in an adultery situation.

  • comments April 19, 2017 at 11:36 am

    It’s been so long I think you may want to just let it go. Any details you learn will likely make you feel worse and her worse for telling you. If to this day you don’t trust her or suspect she had multiple affairs that’s another story. Don’t know if I could forgive a cheater very easily if at all. This is an extremely vague question.

  • Rob83 April 19, 2017 at 12:18 pm

    I heard a story from a friend, it might help you. Her husband cheated on her, she was so hurt and bitter so they seperated. She became involved with another dude and made out with him and when her husband heard about it he was so hurt and she felt bad, so they reconciled their marriage and are stronger for it. An eye for an eye maybe?

  • comments April 19, 2017 at 3:35 pm

    Another thing: why dredge up these old issues? Leads me to believe there’s more wrong with the marriage than just this. If the guy can’t get over the resentment it needs to be dealt with either with couples therapy or possible separation.

  • anybody home April 19, 2017 at 3:40 pm

    Maybe it’s just me, but I have a strong sense that if this has been a woman writing about the same situation with her husband, the advice would have been for her to let it go after this long time. I get the feeling the guy wants to rag on her and that the therapist here is saying, “go right ahead.” I’d say this guy needs therapy on his own to find out why he didn’t face it 7 years ago. Doesn’t sound like he’s forgiven her or wanted to move on. Bet he mentioned it to one of his buddies or his bishop or somebody and they told him to confront her now…Pitiful.

  • Hope April 19, 2017 at 4:16 pm

    Working to strengthen and repair a marriage is never a bad choice. (Unless there is abuse) The advice given in this article is good sound advice. I have personally seen relationships where the trust has been broken and years later is still broken then the couple gets help and find that their relationship is able to heal and they are able to find a closeness that they never had before. There are studies that show that time alone does not heal all wounds. Bringing it up now may seem like a bad choice to some, however, keeping the emotional walls in place is much more detrimental to their relationship than to talk about it and get it fixed. From the sound of it he loves his wife and wants to be able to learn to trust her again and that is great. To rebuild that trust their relationship is going to have to be a lot more open than it currently is. Get the professional help you need, your marriage is worth it. Don’t listen to the negative comments telling you that it is no use. Your marriage is worth fighting for. The counselor that wrote this article sounds like he would be a good one to go to, or you could try Dr. James Otterson. Your marriage can be happy and you can find trust again. Don’t give up.

  • klarsen April 19, 2017 at 8:27 pm

    I can’t relate. That has got to be the ultimate betrayal. Seven years of living with that nonsense is enough. Cut it loose.

  • ajwaldron June 27, 2017 at 12:41 pm

    I Basically think we all don’t have to face all these deceit and lies from our spouse and partners…in a
    case of mine when i got sick and tired of all the lies and deceit so I disclosed a spy which works to look somebody text messages,online access and carry out other hacking services.
    hacknspytech atgmaildotcom…hacknspytech atcyberservicesdotcom….you can try him too
    It was a wonderful experience.

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