I had a brief sexual affair with a guy I met in a class at my gym a few months back. As I am married and want an honest, committed relationship, I realized I wasn’t doing the right thing and cut it off after a few weeks. I subsequently told my wife Amy about the affair because I didn’t want to deceive her.
We are having a hard time moving forward. While I am mainly attracted to women, I am also attracted to men and was immediately drawn to Scott when I first saw him. I don’t really have any excuse for crossing the line. I could say that my wife and I have busy careers, kids, and scant couples time, but that doesn’t justify cheating.
I’ve told Amy how sorry I am and I’m no longer in contact with Scott. I started working out in the morning instead of after work so that I won’t run into him. I’ve been arranging for Amy and I to spend more time alone together (babysitter, date nights).
I know I’m not going to cheat on her again, but Amy is still angry and concerned that I will.
She’s asked me to quit the gym on the grounds that I can’t be trusted and now is giving me a hard time about my friendship with a close male friend I’ve known since childhood. The friendship has always been totally platonic but Amy says our closeness makes her uneasy and she’ll feel better if I don’t spend time alone with him. So what’s the big deal?
Well, I don’t want to stop going to my gym and I certainly don’t want to give up an important friendship. But Amy says that if I want her to trust me, I should be doing everything in my power to reassure her that I won’t cheat on her again.
As the partner who cheated, am I obligated to do whatever she says, no matter the cost to me?
What would make you think you are obligated to do whatever someone wants at your own expense?
Yes, you should be doing your best to be a loving spouse whom your wife can trust going forward. But that does not mean you must fulfill all of Amy’s requests, no matter the cost to you, because you had an affair.
Relationships work best when both partners have room to be individuals as well as part of a couple. This means you each get a say in how you want to live and what is important to you.
Obviously, because everyone is different, both of you aren’t always going to agree about everything, including who does what and what’s OK to do.
The big challenge of commitment is figuring out how to make room for and tolerate the differences. As long as you can do so in an environment that’s usually suffused with mutual love and respect, you’ve got a relationship.
You might decide to give up something important to you, because your doing so is important to your spouse. Generosity is a good thing in relationships. Given your affair, you would be wise to be especially generous right now.
But if you give up what is important to you under duress, or because you are threatened with consequences unless you do what your wife wants, you’re likely to be resentful and bitter going forward.
It’s up to you to decide if it’s more important to accommodate your wife’s wishes or to keep your gym membership and your longtime friendship. This has no easy answer. The same action can be taken from strength or capitulation. Only you can figure that out.
In any case, your wife is in a tough spot. There’s no way she can know for certain that you won’t cheat on her, no matter how many assurances you give her and no matter how you curtail your behavior. She, like everyone else, has to tolerate living without a guarantee.
If you can get past the gym/friend issue, both you and Amy will have to accept that healing takes time. Your efforts to hold yourself accountable, to live up to your standards, and to make sincere amends are impressive. And you are going to have to continue to show your dedication to this marriage in order for Amy to regain her trust in you.
Amy will also have to show her dedication to this marriage by finding ways to soothe herself that don’t involve keeping you on a short leash. That approach is bound to backfire.
Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with LGBT couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at michaelradkowsky.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@michaelradkowsky.com.