His Cheating Heart
A humiliated wife weighs whether to stay with her husband in the name of family
BY: Joseph Telushkin
My husband and I have been married for 24 years and have two teenage children. Up to now, we were prominent and respected members of the small Jewish community in our city. However, nearly two years ago my husband told me he no longer loved me. He'd been having an affair with another woman for some time and wished to start a new life with her. I was completely shocked, and our family was thrown into turmoil.
Unfortunately, the community recently found out about his "dalliance," and his affair is the preferred gossip subject of the day. We have been to marriage counselors, but so far he hasn't moved out of the house, only into another bedroom. He says he still intends to move out, but the time isn't right. I have been trying to preserve the marriage, but he won't tell me whether he still loves this other woman or what his relationship with her now is.
The main reason he's still here is because our teenage daughter has been terribly affected by this whole event; until this happened she worshipped her father. He says he's sorry he's hurt me but not sorry for what he's done. I've worked so hard to create a family, and I don't want to see it destroyed. Some people say I should stay and keep trying. Just tell me: Purely on moral grounds, should I keep working at preserving the family, or should I kick the b-----d out?
I truly sympathize with how devastated you must feel. I strongly believe that it is worth trying to save a marriage when there is a marriage left to save. However, in this case, your husband is not even willing to express sorrow for what he has done and leaves you no reason to assume he won't act in the same way in the future. So he is not giving you much to work with.
You mention that you and your husband are actively involved in the Jewish community, so it is fair to assume that Jewish values matter to you both. Jewish law is very strict -- much stricter than Western ethical tradition -- on the great sin of humiliating another; it regards this as an offense that is virtually unforgivable. The Talmud declares, "Whoever shames his neighbor in public, it is as if he shed his blood" (Babylonian Talmud, Bava Mezia 58b). If the facts in your letter are as you describe them, your husband's involvement in an adulterous affair that has become general knowledge and for which he refuses to apologize is an act of tremendous aggression against you and an act of public humiliation.
You say that some of your friends are encouraging you to try to keep your marriage together. Their advice might be more revealing about them than helpful to you. A woman once told me that when she started confiding in friends about her unhappy marriage, she found that those who were happily married advised her to leave her husband (the thought of remaining with someone who mistreated and/or didn't love them seemed too awful to contemplate), while those who themselves had unhappy marriages were threatened by the idea of her divorcing, since such decision would force them to reconsider the decision they had made to try to preserve a marriage that was so problematic.
Finally, you must ask yourself if the current relationship models a healthy marital relationship for your daughter. What is the lesson you wish to convey to her? That she should stay married even if her spouse tells her that he no longer loves her but loves someone else, and that it's fine if the whole community knows about it? I'm sure this is not the future you wish for your daughter, and not one you should wish for yourself. You deserve better.
One final thought: Since I have not heard your husband's account of what has transpired, I must emphasize that what I have said is applicable only if the situation as you have described it is fully accurate. If, for example, he is more repentant about what has happened than you have conveyed, and if he wants to work at saving your marriage then, of course, my answer would be different.