Ask Abdi: How do I deal with my partner’s ongoing infidelity?

QUESTION: I met and married my husband at a very early age. I soon realized I had may not have made the most realistic decision. However, I was (and still am) a very strong willed person and refused to fail. Obviously 20 years on, I realize what I thought would have been a failure (ending my marriage), would probably have been the best thing.

My husband has cheated on me from the day I met him. I always found out. I never had the strength to leave, but ultimately I always wanted to be the one he would “choose”. Each and every time I found out I would be desperate for his affection and wanted to be the one. I would contact the girls, his mother and anyone I could to both embarrass all involved, while staying the victim. My husband would beg for my forgiveness and be charming once again. Until the next time!

(Several paragraphs of numerous occasions of infidelity)

During all of this we both thrived professionally. However, my husband’s infidelity began to hurt his career. I contacted the HR department of his firm when I found out about another affair. They both were forced to leave. Next company he hated and made enemies from his anger issues. In the meantime we had a 3rd child earlier this year. He is always doing something, running around somewhere – but NEVER satisfied.

Last week I found emails, to both men and women about sexual encounters. (More details of infidelity). So you can imagine my despair when I found them. I am still numb. But feel so sorry for him. I am sick to my stomach because he has been ultimately living a lie – for the entire time we were married. I am not distraught for me, because I am such a strong person and I can see beyond the utter stupidity of his actions.

I guess after this long email, my question is, am I crazy to have stayed? Am I crazy to still love him and think that he can get help and everything be okay? Am I crazy to think I can keep this dirty little secret from the world? Please help she’d some light on this situation that has my stomach in knots.

ANSWER: There is so much pain in your writing, my heart goes out to you. You need to understand that you are totally blind to the amount of grief and anger that is inside of you. Several times you mention how strong you are and that you feel sorry as well as fear for your husband. Where is the sorrow for you? Where is your fear for you? You say you are numb and of course that is a coping mechanism but you have to dig deeper, much deeper. You have written ten paragraphs on painful events and yet are not in touch with how much pain you actually are suffering from. You have to call up the courage to face your self and feel what early wounding in you is so frightening that you can tolerate so much pain instead of facing your self.

First and foremost, look up the definition of co-dependent relationships as you are a text book example. The full focus of one’s attention on another is the root of this dysfunction. We are all helpless in controlling the behavior of another. Yet many of us have to learn this the hard way because it seems easier to displace our own pain by focusing on another. Your have used your will power to push away all feelings over many decades. How successful has this coping mechanism been for you? Absolutely disastrous I think we both would agree.

Your husband is an addict. That is how he is coping with his own pain. You can replace serial infidelity with drugs or alcohol: it literally is a way of pushing his pain away. And like all addictions, one is either working towards healing or falling in deeper. You are helpless in making him change his behavior. All you have control over is to examine your own unconscious material that has put up with this for so many years. We make matters worse by trying to understand the addict, wait for them to get better or change their behavior with out they themselves taking any steps. This enables the addict to continue with their destructive patterns as they learn to manipulate and then use our energy to continue with their addiction. You are trying to apply logic to the behavior of an addict. Addiction is not a disease ruled by logic. Only your husband can address this issue.

You only have one course of action here: muster up the courage to look deeply into your self. Keep the focus on you, something you have not done so far. Get into therapy and start getting in touch with your feelings. Find an Al anon or Coda 12 step meeting geared towards co dependent recovery. It will be easier to see your own patterns when seeing others share theirs. I know this all can seem so overwhelming especially with children involved. Thankfully a part of you is finally waking up to how off this whole relationship is. It is normal to want relief by taking radical action or wanting immediate change. Or feeling paralyzed and not doing anything. Really take your time and examine this whole thing clearly with the help of a therapist. Here is an opportunity for you to finally start an honest and true relationship with yourself.