I sometimes hear from couples who are having a very hard time putting the affair behind them for good. Often, the cheating spouse is more than happy to move on while the faithful spouse just can’t seem to leave the past where it belongs. I heard from a wife who said: “a couple of years ago, I made the biggest mistake imaginable. I cheated on my husband with my boss. I have taken responsibility and I fully admit that the fault completely lies with me. We have gone through a lot of counseling and we managed to save our marriage, although that same marriage is far from perfect. I love my husband. I want for our marriage to work. I can even accept a little bit of anger and resentment from him because to be honest, I absolutely deserve it. But, him always throwing the affair up in my face is getting very old. He takes all of the details that he knows that I’m not proud of and brings them up anytime he gets angry with me. For example, if there is some tension between us and I try to show my husband affection to make things better, he will rebuff me and bring up the affair. I could make a comment like ‘there’s no reason for us to argue. I love you and I’m on your side.’ He will respond with something like ‘well, you weren’t on my side when you were sleeping with your boss in the penthouse of the local hotel.’ There is nothing I can say to respond to this. I never stopped being on his side but he will never believe that. But he will never miss the opportunity to remind me that I will always be trying to make this up to him but am unable to. I love my husband and I want to remain married to him. But I’m not sure if I want to spend the rest of my life constantly reminded about my shortcomings. What can I do?”
Believe it or not, I could identify with this wife. Although I was the faithful spouse, I do remember the beaten look on my husband’s face when I used to throw the affair back up into his face after the event was long over. And, most of the time, the cheating spouse can understand why this is happening. After all, infidelity is probably the worst betrayal that many of us can imagine. In a perfect world, we imagine that our spouse only has desire and affection for us. And when we have to face that the what we counted on is the not the truth, well that is just a very harsh reality. And even after we have tried to move forward, sometimes the anger is still there because the pain is still there. So sometimes, those hurtful little comments aren’t intentional. They just pop out of our mouths before we can censor them. Of course, this doesn’t make it right. And neither one of you should have to continue to relive the affair for years after it’s been over. So now, I’ll offer some tips on how to handle this.
Bring The Comments To Your Spouse’s Attention: Often, the cheating spouse gets in the habit of remaining silent because they know that they deserve some of the comments. So even though what their spouse is saying hurts them very deeply, they will just sort of sigh and take it. The thing is, your spouse may not be aware of how much this his happening. That’s why you should bring this to their attention in the most gentle way as is possible. You don’t want to sound defensive. You don’t want to make them believe that you felt justified in your cheating. You just want for them to be aware that they are continuing to lash out. And, if you handle this correctly, you might actually be able to improve your situation.
A suggested script might be something like: “honey, that really hurts me. I know that in the past, I have deserved that comment. But, for the last couple of years, I have done everything in my power to make this right. Our marriage can’t heal for good if we keep on hurting one another over something that is long in the past. Is there anything that you’re still angry about that I can help you with? Because I just can’t help but notice that this is happening quite a bit. Can you share with me if there’s an issue that I haven’t yet addressed? I’ll be glad to offer you any reassurance that you might need, but we can’t keep on like this. I take full responsibility for my actions, but it hurts both of us and our marriage when the anger just keeps on coming. What can we do to move past this because it’s very discouraging to me that I’m having to relive something that I really want to leave behind?”
Do you see how you were trying to approach this with a spirit of cooperation and understanding. The last thing that you want to do is to become angry or hint that you won’t tolerate this. Because frankly, your spouse is reacting out of insecurity. If your words make them more insecure, then the problem will become worse instead of better.