My 26-year marriage has seen many ups and downs, but we love each other and adore our son. We were struggling through a major financial crisis that had left us feeling distant. We were just muddling through, not happy but not ready to throw in the towel. Then I became aware of an excessive amount of text notifications that my husband was receiving. Something didn’t feel right. I noticed other behaviors: he seemed to take his phone everywhere — it was never left unattended — he took many trips to the store in the evening, he rushed me off to bed at night claiming that he had work to do and needed quiet to concentrate.
I was sure that something was going on. I found a trove of “sext” messages from a local woman. It was filthy and ridiculous. I would have laughed if it didn’t hurt so much. I reviewed the phone data and found that they had been spending an hour to two hours on phone calls per day.
This has caused me deep emotional pain, but it has revitalized our marriage. It made us realize that many things needed to change or we could lose all. We are doing well, but I am still furious and hurt more by the words of love than the sexual content. It hurts deeply. Through all our years together and challenges to our marriage there has never been infidelity.
I want to send a letter to her boss. Am I crazy? How do I leave this behind and move forward? Am I a fool?
— Hurt Deeply
Let’s start by stating the obvious: you are not crazy and you should not send a letter to her boss.
What you are experiencing is an attachment injury (regardless of whether the affair ever got physical). Your secure attachment to your husband — the trust you and your amygdala had that he was going to protect you and keep you safe — has been damaged. When we try to forgive and reinvest in our relationship, but we still feel pain, it’s the injury to our security that is wounded.
That is not something that time heals. We need deliberate repair work to launch that process, but taking out your anger and frustration on Other Woman and her livelihood won’t make that happen. (It would feel great in the moment, but you would regret it later, so spare yourself that heartache.)
Your insight that this was a wakeup call is crucial. Affairs can either mark the end of a relationship or the beginning of a new, improved version. It sounds like you and Husband are choosing the latter, and I commend you. Our culture makes little room for those who want to work to accept the reality that we are usually partnered with other flawed humans.
We assume that the only way to move through the pain is to blow up the whole room, but sometimes that just makes a bigger mess for you to clean up later. Repairing this will be hard work, and I strongly urge you to get outside help as you start. Work to remind yourselves of why you want to salvage this, and refocus on those reasons daily.
Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed professional counselor in Georgetown. Visit her on the web at stacymurphyLPC.com. This column is meant for entertainment only and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. Send your confidential question to stacy@stacymurphyLPC.com.