(And Peggy's Responses)
This is a sample of Peggy's correspondence with readers of "Beyond Affairs." These letters are from Peggy's files, written more than twenty years ago. They are offered only for the purpose of getting better perspective on this issue.
Since my own story in the book discussed how my husband had affairs, the letters were from women who identified with me. In later years, following the publication of "The Monogamy Myth," I've heard from almost as many men whose wives had affairs as from women.
About two years ago I found out that my husband was having an affair with a girlfriend of mine. My husband didn't tell me this. I found out about it from the husband of my girlfriend. At that time I was very literally sick. Up until that time I had every trust and respect for my husband. I loved him very much.
My husband won't tell me anything about the affair. He said it's none of my business and to keep my nose out of it. He thinks I should just forget and forgive and live on. I'm just not able to do it. I doubt everything about him; I don't trust him and I really don't know if I love him or how to tell anymore.
I have gone through a lot of hurt and pain, a lot of grief. I feel like I have been used and humiliated. I also feel betrayed. I also feel a lot of self-hatred for myself that I've been a failure. If you have any advice or suggestions, please forward them to me.
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Your situation is very typical. Most wives want to know the facts, the truth, whatever it is. And most husbands want to say as little as possible. Unfortunately, the male code calls for "not talking." There's even a joke that a man is to deny, deny, deny—even if he's "caught in the act." There's the belief that the less a wife knows the less she will be hurt—which most wives, including me, will say is false.
Another factor in men's silence is that they naturally want to avoid facing your emotions and facing seeing themselves as responsible for your pain, thus denying the hurt they are causing and hiding it from themselves in order to continue feeling OK about themselves. (I'm not trying to analyze your husband in particular, only to share some general observations that might help you make sense of his silence.)
As to your "feeling like a failure," it may help to keep in mind that for most men who have affairs, the affairs are seen as an addition to their marriage, not specifically related to any "fault" or "shortcoming" of their wives. Of course, nothing will quickly take away the pain, but I would hope you can overcome the tendency to blame yourself. You're not to blame for the past, and you need all your energy to focus on dealing with the present and considering your best course in the future.
I am in desperate need of some help. Yes, I am trying to cope with an affair—without much success. After twenty-three years of marriage I discovered that my husband had been having an affair with this "lady" for five years. It is destroying me. I have even contemplated suicide.
We have no family doctor and I don't have a friend dear enough to share my heartache with. My husband and I have discussed this over and over. He says it's over, he never loved her and he didn't mean to hurt me. We have to forget this and go on from here. It is easy to forgive but how does one forget? How does one get the trust back and repair all the damage it has done?
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I know how alone you can feel in dealing with the memories and how difficult it is to confide in anyone else. I also felt very alone. I know now there are millions of us who are struggling "alone." That's part of the reason I wanted to write the book—to let other women know they're not alone and that it's a bigger issue than they might imagine, affecting millions of women.
James was willing to dig inside himself to try to explain his thinking process through all this. This continuous examination allowed me to "understand" and therefore "accept" what happened in a different way. It took a long time. It's been many years since we first confronted the issue between us. The first couple of years were the worst. Since then it's gotten progressively better. I now feel a stronger, better person and feel that our relationship is a stronger, better relationship.
As to "forgetting," I used to wish for amnesia. There seemed no other way to absolutely forget. But you don't have to forget in order to forgive. I believe understanding and accepting the fact that it happened are the goals to strive for—not forgetting. The harder we try to forget, the more the memories cling. But it is possible to remember things differently once you get a clearer perspective of your situation. You can't stop thinking, but you can change the way you think. And trust can only return as a byproduct of ongoing honesty between the two of you. Don't give up hope. Time spent actively working to come to grips with this whole situation can eventually pay off.
My husband has had one affair that he told me about and I suspect he is still having them. He travels a lot in his business and has lots of opportunities. We did get a strange telephone call a few weeks ago and he acted very strange about who it was calling.
Would you advise my checking into this call further by seeing the long distance charges on the office telephone bill? I am really not sure how I will react if they call was what I suspect. I have told him that I really don't have to go around like a detective because eventually it will tell on him like it did in the past.
Any advice you can give me will be greatly appreciated.
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Your dilemma is very common. As to whether or not to "try to check up on your husband" or to confront your suspicions, no one can advise you on that. It's a very personal decision. My own experience of suspecting James's affairs for seven years before I confronted it is typical of how critical it is to do it at the right time, in the right way, and for the right reasonsand when you're prepared to have the confrontation be only the beginning of deciding how to address the situation, not feeling like you have to automatically react one way or the other.
For instance, if I had checked out my suspicions at an earlier point, I don't think I would have even begun to try to understand all the factors involved in the situation. I would have been so overwhelmed at the extent of his affairs that I would have just automatically reacted out of pride and hurt and would have gotten a divorce.
Of course, in your situation you don't know for sure what facts would come out if you confronted it, (and I'm not suggesting that you would find that he has been having affairs). However, even if he has, it is unlikely that simply checking the phone charges would prove anything—and he would probably just deny it anyway.
At whatever point you're sure you're ready to confront this, you need to convince him that you really want the truth. Most women find that a straightforward questioning (not entrapment) works best. And asking just once won't usually do it. The male code calls for denying it the first time, and maybe many times thereafter; so it calls for persistence. None of this is easy. And I don't want to give you an specific advice about what you should or shouldn't do. You'll know when you're ready, or if you're ever ready, and you must be your own guide.
I felt I had to write and see if you could offer any help for my particular situation. I found out that my husband was involved in a five-year long affair—with my long-time "friend." After a long series of "clues" that I questioned and numerous lies and denials, the truth finally came out only when I got a phone call from her telling me she was pregnant. It turns out she had gotten pregnant once before by him and had had an abortion, but now she wanted to marry him.
He tried to persuade her to have another abortion, but she wouldn't. We recently got word that she had healthy twin girls. We are scared that she will take him to court for child support. My husband was married before and already pays child support for his children from his first marriage, and there is no way we can afford any more support. In fact, we were always so short of money that we never had any children of our own.
It really helped to read about your feelings regarding your husband's affairs. But my own experience deals with two things you indicated you weren't sure you could have stood—having it be with a close friend and having a pregnancy involved. I'm not sure I can deal with it myself, so anything in the way of thoughts or advice where this situation is concerned would be much appreciated.
I'm not sure I want to stay married to him. He went for counseling at my suggestion. I'm having a real problem having any trust in him. I didn't think he knew what the word trust was anymore. His truths sound the same as all the lies I heard. The whole thing has made me quite sick. (It's great for the waistline. Ha Ha.)
I hope to have as good a relationship as you and your husband developed—when I get over this. Thanks for listening.
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I was moved by your situation and your thoughtful writing about it. I understand how hard it is to figure it all out and how much you hope for something or someone to help you find the best way. But I don't think I or anyone can tell you what you should do. However, I will tell you some things I noticed about your letter.
The time and energy you put into it tells me that you don't give up easily. This means you are likely to give it every chance to work if that is actually possible. It also means that you are likely to feel confident that you gave it your best try if you reach the point where you decide it just won't work. Not all relationships can be worked out, and far be it from me to determine whether or not yours can. I also noticed the ending note in your letter was one of hope for a good relationship when you get over this. Again, this tells me that you are giving it your best try and can know that you did your best no matter what happens.
You mentioned that you are dealing with two of the things I said I didn't know if I'd be able to stand. However, you also may recall that I corrected myself and said that I really shouldn't have said that—because nobody knows what they can stand until they're in the particular situation. That's why I don't think other people can tell you what they would do or what they wouldn't do. You have to be in the situation before you know what you'll do—and even then, of course, it's hard to know.
I know what you mean about feeling sick and finding it's great for the waistline. I've never read a diet book that mentioned it, but extreme emotional stress does make pounds just melt away. (But it's not a diet I'd recommend.)
Since you and your husband didn't have any children together, this at least lets you address the possibility of whether or not you can have a future together without that complication. (Many women tell me they don't think they can leave because they can't make it alone with kids.)
You sound like an exceptional person, and either your husband or some other man should come to appreciate you. You deserve a lot. Don't settle for less.