How to Let Go of Wife’s Past Infidelity?

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Reader’s Question

Four months ago I discovered evidence that my wife had an affair with a co-worker that went on for 2 1/2 years. The cards and notes were from 24 years ago. When I confronted my wife, she admitted the affair and said it happened because she was unhappy in our marriage at that time. I agree that our marriage was not perfect at that time. Nonetheless, the news shocked me, and for weeks I could barely eat and could not sleep.

I believe my wife has been loyal since the time she had the affair, and she is trying so hard to prove to me that she loves only me and that what she did was horrible. The affair is a new wound for me, whereas for her it is decades old. Strangely, we have become much more intimate since the discovery, and both of us truly want somehow to get past this.

My problem is that I keep going back to that time period remembering things we did while her affair was happening. The triggers are anything from that time — movies, family photos, etc. And when we are intimate I get mental images of the two of them together. I just don’t know how to get it out of my head. I am eating OK now, but sleep is a still a problem because I think about it while trying to fall asleep.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Psychologist’s Reply

Moving on and healing after an affair is almost always difficult, but there are some things you can do to make the ordeal easier as well as to help ensure that the event can be constructive as opposed to destructive with respect to your relationship.

Do your best to engage in frequent, honest, and open discussion. This honesty must necessarily include your feelings about the discovery as well as your wife coming clean about all of the factors and motivations involved. But avoid focusing on the unpleasant, gory details of the actual affair. When images pop into your mind, divert your attention to something else. The longer your head is filled with disturbing images, the longer it will take for you to heal.

Keep in mind the two principal tasks that each one of you has. Your wife’s main task is to restore credibility and trust. Your main task is to forgive and let go. Neither is easy, but both are essential.

Both of you can use the pain, hurt, disappointment, etc. that led to the affair in the first place and which now open new wounds as a result of its discovery as motivation to work on the things in your relationship that need attention, nurturing, and repair.

It’s often helpful to secure the assistance of a seasoned marital counselor to help address the necessary issues. Your present hurt is understandable, and you probably won’t secure easy or quick relief and closure. But with steadfast commitment and a willingness to forgive, your relationship can not only survive but advance in depth, caring, and understanding.

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