(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.
Dear Peggy and James,
I was very fortunate to read your book—and did it ever hit home! Not only was it comforting to know that Peggy knew how I felt but also I began to see my husband's point of view. The answers he gave me to some of my questions were so much like James's that I almost wondered if he had already read the book.
It was extremely helpful to me. It's uncanny how although our circumstances were different—how very similar my thoughts and actions were, as were his. We are presently separated—in the process of divorce.
At any rate, I want to thank you for writing the book. It helps to have someone say I know, I've been there, and I care.
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Thanks for your letter. Your comments are the kind that make us feel so good about sharing our experience—having people identify with the feelings and know they're not alone. I feel blessed by the additional perspective I've gained from having other people share their experiences with me.
I'm also glad to see that you recognize that our attempt is to help people understand this whole confusing situation better—whether or not they stay together. You mentioned being in the process of divorce. Many people think we're only interested in promoting how people can stay together, whereas we see the main issue as one of dealing with the impact this can have on your life no matter what decision you make.
Thanks again for writing, and good luck.
My husband, too, has had an affair. His was short in duration and very intense. I noticed it because of the obvious changes in his personality, and began to check it out. My surprise and pain was so great that I nearly went into shock—couldn't eat, and couldn't sleep without medication for months.
Circumstances and reality forced my husband to face the situation we were all in. I insisted that he share his experiences with me, since we had always been close and honest friends, and I didn't feel I could subtract that part of our relationship and still live with him.
My husband has always been a person with very high standards and he, too, was shocked by his own behavior and his own feelings. During the course of the affair, we talked extensively and for long hours about our feelings.
When my husband began to reestablish the patterns of his life around our family, he did so without explanation or apology. And this is where the talking has ended.
I'm amazed that he could expect that I would easily accept him back without working through the feelings I have verbally. I am quite bitter; I feel that we have come to some different conclusions, he has not given me his own insights and expectations for the future. Mostly he ignores my suggestions for "a talk" or for counseling—and hopes that it will go away.
It is easy to see why he would not look forward to talking with me—because I have mostly negative things to say and I have so much anger to express. And yet, if I do not express these feelings, I will probably carry them with me and they will fester. Also, I want to regain the respect I once felt for him. It is not just the affair itself that troubles me. It is the changes in his personality which disturb me. He is far less responsible, I feel, about all matters that have to do with our home, our family, and our future. He is happiest when he is pursuing his personal interests, and in trying to please people outside of our family. He has become less and less so, but he still is operating very much apart from us. I feel that I am forced to be the stabilizing force; I do not feel that any plans are being formulated together for the happiness of myself or our children. And I value my own life enough, that I can't face a future where my own personal goals are submerged. Also, I am very resentful that I am the one who is left to labor over how to get things right—that I seem to have to carry a burden for finding solutions—when his actions are the ones which upset the apple cart.
I am so tired and depressed by the effects of all of this, that I am not cooperating with my husband on a day to day basis. My interest in pleasing him is at an all time low, and I often think his behavior is very childish. Also, I perceive that when he focuses on our home and the people here, he becomes very dulled and unmotivated, and when he's cheerful and enthusiastic it has to do with outside factors. I feel terribly resentful and unimpressed. I don't feel pain so much anymore, but I do feel that I'm involved in a type of endurance.
For us to truly come together, I think will involve a lot of effort on both parts—a lot of giving and expression on both parts. An attempt to UNDERSTAND and to empathize. So far my husband is giving his time and he is doing very mice things to me, taking me out and buying me things, accounting for himself, helping. But because he will not talk—I have felt that he not meeting the issue, the real person, the feelings...and I have so little patience left that I am not handling things in a very healthy manner either.
I admire the way you have dealt on a human level with your life—and all of the time and effort you've put into it.
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Your letter is one of the most thoughtful and thorough in describing your situation that I have received. There are so many things you describe that are similar to the experiences of so many other women—especially the problem with husbands who won't continue talking. This is an almost universal "need" for most people in your situation and a universal "avoidance" for the person who had an affair.
It's understandable that they don't want to keep talking about your feelings. It's tough to have to face feelings that result from your actions; people would usually prefer to avoid that. And it's also a way for them to continue feeling OK about themselves. To fully face the feelings is to make it more difficult to accept themselves. I'm not trying to analyze your husband specifically, but this is the general motivation behind men's resistance to talking. Also, there's a very strong code among men that you simply "don't talk" about affairs unless absolutely necessary, and that if you do, you say as little as possible. So your husband is acting out the very strong conditioning in the male society when it comes to how to deal with this issue. They "honestly" believe it is better for everyone that the talking not go on and on. But their perception of what's better for everyone is naturally biased by their strong desire to avoid dealing with it.
While I don't think our book has THE answer to this problem, many men who have read it have been able to see more clearly the benefit from continuing to talk. I'm convinced that's the only reason our relationship lasted and the reason for the comfort we have with each other now—and even the "joy" we have in our interactions. There's "staying together" and then there's "staying TOGETHER." I sense that you want the real vitality and energy of a relationship that is together through knowing and dealing with each other's feelings. I want to offer you encouragement in your ongoing struggle to getting beyond the strong feelings that tend to linger from this experience.