Q. Eight months ago, my husband, Tom, confessed that he had a "brief affair" with a woman in his office, but that he had ended it. He said that he deeply regretted it, and that nothing like that would ever happen again. He obviously believes the problem is behind us, but not a day has gone by that I haven't thought about it. Up to that time, I believed we had a near-perfect marriage. Now it seems ruined. Yet whenever I bring it up, Tom gets angry about my "keeping this thing going." He refuses to see a counselor and tells me that I'm the one with the problem because I won't "let this go." I still love Tom and he is not abusive in any other way, but this is driving me crazy. Sometimes I feel like having an affair myself just to show him how it feels. Please help!
--Ann, Vancouver, B.C.
It's important to recognize that a deep marital bond is not absolute protection against an affair, and it would be helpful for you to consider that Tom's mistake is not proof that he loved you less than you believed. This does not justify what he did, but it is possible that he loves you deeply and sees and regrets his mistake. What he obviously doesn't see is that he is still accountable.
Affairs occur in more marriages than most couples realize. We ourselves had to work through this problem. Depending on what study you read, in up to 80% of marriages, one or both partners have an affair, yet only half of them confess. Marriages in which the affair is confessed are more likely to break up. It's important to recognize that confessing to an affair is like lobbing a grenade into the heart of your relationship. And if, like Tom, you walk away emotionally after confessing, you leave your partner to deal with the devastation you caused.
For confession to be effective and healing, it must be accompanied by a complete willingness to assume responsibility for the heartache your partner is going to feel for as long as he or she is going to feel it.