I am married and I had a one-night stand two years ago. The relationship with the woman was meaningless, but the experience showed me exactly how isolated and distant I was within my marriage. It took a while, but my wife and I started couples therapy earlier this year, looking for new communication tools and help in improving our relationship. I have told no one about the indiscretion, not my wife and not the therapist.
My wife has always said that infidelity was a deal breaker for her (her parents split up because her father had an affair), but I am wondering if I should tell her anyway. I just don’t feel like the couples therapy is really helping and think it might be because I haven’t been totally honest. At this point, I am actively thinking about leaving the marriage entirely. I just don’t think we are compatible anymore and I don’t want to spend my life in a stagnant relationship. What would you tell me to do if I were your client?
— Tell the Truth?
You want the truth about what I would tell you? Let’s hope you can handle it. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
The truth is that if you tell infidelity-wounded Wife about a two-year-old, meaningless, one-night stand, you are not doing it to improve the couples therapy. You are doing it to blow up the marriage. If that’s the truth you want to be living a month from now, go for it.
But please acknowledge that ending the marriage is what you are doing. Don’t tell Wife under the guise of being “totally honest” and hand her the reins, saying: “Your move.” You already know she has been deeply wounded by infidelity in her past; don’t use that against her by making her act on that “deal breaker” she mentioned during better times in your relationship.
First of all, inexperienced people say a lot of things about what they would and wouldn’t tolerate in a relationship. Once you’re in it for a while, expectations naturally adjust for mature adults. Second, please don’t romanticize what a divorce will look and feel like. Breakups are devastating for both parties and there’s no expiration date on that pain.
Instead, I would tell a client in your situation to please try to focus on building more empathy for Wife, both in the counseling room and at home. That’s the first step in restructuring your bond to her and moving toward a relationship that maintains your interest.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.