Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Wife reveals long-ago affair and says no big deal; he thinks it is
D.C.: So, I'm married over 25 years; two kids out of the house; completely faithful during our marriage and even the three years leading up to marriage. I thought my wife had been equally faithful. Never been a question . . . until a few nights ago when, while watching a movie, she admits she had a "brief relationship" in the early years of our marriage.
Whoa . . . can't even begin to process this information. It was a long time ago, and it was no big deal, says my wife. Silly me, I'm thinking it's a really big deal. So, what's next?
Carolyn: You're right, it really is a big deal. Your wife had feelings for someone else, and acted on them — and you're reacting to it as if it just happened, regardless of when it happened. That's normal.
And, she has already processed it and moved on, so she won't appreciate on a visceral level what you're going through.
And, you have the bonus pleasure of now sifting through a period of your life that time has reduced to memory fragments, and trying to see what you missed, and whether things you filed under "happy marriage" and "who I always thought my wife was" now need to be filed under "things were rocky" and "I was sleepwalking" and "this is who my wife really is." It really stinks.
There's an element to it that I hope will also be grounding, once your mind has gotten around the more disturbing aspects: Because this was so long ago, it changes where you used to be, but not necessarily where you are now. Or, to put it another way: It changes the path you took to this point, but doesn't change where you are.
Unless, of course, it all somehow uncovers sides of both of you that 25 years of marriage haven't.
Regardless, I do think you need to spell out to your wife that even though the affair happened two decades ago, your hurt feelings are happening now. It's only realistic for this to take some time.
She has a huge incentive to "get past this" and minimize it — she doesn't want to feel bad all over again (assuming she felt bad then) about something that no doubt feels remote, even alien now. But since she hurt you, and since that pain is new, she owes you sympathy, and she owes you time to get over it — not 20 years, but enough for you to recover on your terms.
Enjoy his company — as long as you enjoy it
D.C.: I've been dating this guy; I like him a lot. I knew we were not exclusive yet. I just found out he is seeing other people casually — at least one other person on a semiregular basis. He is technically single, so he is allowed to do this, but now I don't know how to keep dating him without feeling like I'm competing for his commitment. What should I do?
Carolyn: Exactly what he's doing. Enjoy his company for its own sake, unless and until you find you aren't enjoying this arrangement, for whatever reason. Those reasons can include waning interest in him, annoyance with the "competition," impatience with life in the casual lane, the color of his shirt, whatever.