Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Her honest answers to tough questions can start the healing
Washington-Baltimore metro: How long does the hurt from marital infidelity take to heal?
Wife cheated some years back, finally admitted to the affair two years ago. I kind of knew during the affair, but put blinders on.
After the admission I felt like I got squashed by a falling piano.
We've talked about it, and her attitude is, it is in the past, let's move on.
I don't normally like to pick scabs, but sometimes I feel the need.
What's the best way to deal with this, and how long before it is truly in the past?
Carolyn: I don't think it can be "truly in the past" until you are satisfied that your wife has been honest with you.
I don't mean (ack) gory details, I mean honest about:
• Where her mind and heart were when she started this affair.
• Why it ended; what she feels about you now.
• Whether she regrets anything, what she regrets and why.
• What you and she can do now to avoid this mess or other messes in the future.
These are the materials you need from her for both of you to start building trust all over again, since the old foundation was wrecked.
If she doesn't give you these things, then all you have is the fact that it happened and it's not happening anymore — and that's the building equivalent of a rubble-strewn hole in the ground.
"Let's move on" is not a fair answer to that.
Now, if she has given you these things, and you believe in them — you "kind of knew" about the affair, so your gut knows whether she has come clean with you since — then the onus is on you to fix the problem.
Even though she is the one who betrayed you, it's not fair to both keep the marriage going and keep punishing her in perpetuity.
If you're on that fence right now, then you need to make up your mind: Has your wife expressed credible regrets, can you use that as grounds for forgiveness, and can you start trusting her again?
Or, do you have reason to believe that the rest of your marriage will involve wondering when she's going to cheat and/or lie to you again?
It may seem like a tough call to say which of these is going on, but it's not.
If she raced through the truth-telling and straight to "It's in the past, get over it," then you have grounds to tell her you need more.
She has every reason to want this to go away, but you have a right to know about the conditions that led to her betrayal, because you can't make peace with what you don't understand.
If, instead, she has answered your painful and awkward questions and now just wants to be free to be more than just "the wife who cheated," then she has a right to that, too, whether she does so as your wife or ex-wife.
As misplaced as this sounds, if you can sympathize — if not with her actions, then with the frailty of hers that precipitated them — then your wounds are more likely to heal.