I was talking to a young woman recently and she was telling me about her marriage predicament. She explained that when she and her husband got married, things seemed to be working out really well for both of them. But now she and her husband are having problems and she wanted to know what she should do to make him happy again.
She said that her husband is a special guy and is very attentive to her needs. Sometimes, she elaborated, he would bring home little surprises and it just made her feel so happy and cared for. She explained that he would frequently go out of his way to ensure she was happy and that these acts of kindness made her feel loved.
After a couple of minutes of listening to her relationship story I was starting to wonder to myself, “so what is the problem here”. She told me that he was a good man….a considerate spouse and all she wanted to do was make him happy in return.
So, I ask the obvious question: “Why don’t you think your husband is not happy“.
Then she dropped the bombshell on me. She explained that her husband of two years came home the other day and told her that he thought he was not happy with the direction of his life and as a result made a terrible mistake.
At that point I called for a “time out” and asked her to explain what happened between all of those good times where he would lovingly bring home gifts and frequently show you affection to get to a place where he marches into your apartment and says he wants out.
Sometimes we can feel lost in marriage. I wrote a post about this recently. Take a look…
Anyway…let’s get back to the story.
At that point, my client started to cry and haltingly told me the story of a marriage that started with a gusto, only to lose its acceleration and descend to a place where the couple was in crisis. She said it started about eighteen months into the marriage. I asked her, “what started?”
Then she told me.
About a year and a half after tying the knot she learned that her husband was having an affair. She explained that immediately she was overwhelmed and filled with uncertainty and doubt. She wondered how her marriage could come crashing down so soon.
She said that her husband has since told her that he realizes that he had made a mistake and that he was totally at fault. Still, she could not help but think she had done something wrong. She agonized over what it was that caused her husband to stray and what she could do differently to make him happy….to keep him from ever wanting to be with another woman.
Of course, emotions about such things are tricky so while she was saying these things….she was also angry and resentful that he would commit such an act.
So I told her, first let’s peel back the layers a bit more. But before doing so, let me make it clear that we also need to to turn back the pages a bit. “What do you mean by that”, she inquired?
I explained, your first order of business is not to ask what you can do to make your husband happy. While it is always good to know the things that can lead to fulfilling moments with your spouse, that is not the primary issue we should be tackling.
By the way, while we are on the subject of finding fulfilling moments, I should call your attention to an article that I wrote that deals with how important it is to have enriching experiences and relationships in order to have a successful marriage.
The Victim Becomes Victimized by False Guilt
She told me that she really wanted to focus on what she could do make her husband more satisfied so he would stray again. So I asked the obvious question, “Before the affair, did you think you were making your husband happy?“. She replied that she did believe she was a good wife and that he often would tell her as much.
She went on to tell me many of the things she would do for him. Whether it was in the sexual department or agreeing with all of his choices for what movies to see or what they should do over the weekend….she would go out of her way to agree and support him.
U hmm, I murmured to myself.
She was very upset with the whole circumstance and told me she and her husband had spoken about the affair multiple times over the past month.
According to her, he was very apologetic and explained to her that it was a big mistake on his part and that it would never happen again. He told her that he considered cheating to be one of the worst vices in a marriage or relationship and could hardly forgive himself. He described that the whole affair was casual and meant nothing to him. He said that he had been drinking too much on a business trip and “things just got out of hand“. He asked her to trust him again and assured her that he was completely devoted to her emotionally, spiritually, and sexually.
She said that while she was very upset about the whole thing, she believe she should forgive her husband and give him another chance. But she explained that occasional thoughts of his affair would return and she struggled with understanding what she may had done to trigger his behavior. She believed if she could find more ways to ensure her husband was happy in all respects, it would prevent any potential future occurrence.
I listened carefully to everything she told me, taking notes of some of the points she made. Finally after I thought she had gotten it all out, I gave her my impressions of what I would say could be best characterized as the good, bad, and ugly.
In other words, there was some good in the things she was telling. I explained to her very gently that there was also some “bad” things I was hearing, particularly in the area of how she was processing and responding to her husband’s admission of his affair. Though I didn’t use the word “bad” because I did not want to create a lot of negativity.
For starters I explained to her that she did absolutely nothing wrong. I emphasized the it was her husband who strayed from a marriage that was working and highly functional.
I explained to her that her focus she not be on self blame or seeking to do more things to make her husband happy. Based on her husband’s own admission along with her statements about all of these things she does to make the marriage work, the focus on doing things differently in the hope that her husband would not ever repeat his behavior was the wrong approach.
It was her husband that has work to do, I explained. He was the one that failed his wife. And while his statements of expressing regret around disappointing his wife is what you would want to hear from a spouse who has cheated on his wife, such admissions do not simply dismiss his actions.
Now, I am not one for punishing a spouse who has cheated, but nor do I think things should be quickly forgotten. I don’t think it is a good reaction to move quickly into the mode of forgiveness. And that was what I was seeing from the wife in this situation. I suspected that her fear of losing her husband and the insecurities that were mounting up in her, was causing her to impulsively cling. Again, let me make it clear. Forgiveness is a powerful relationship principle. But reaching that place is a process and should be predicated on the repair of trust, coupled with a period of time where the husband’s actions matches his words.
I told her I think there are still some unmet issues that have to be addressed. I explained it is not normal to so quickly lay aside the underlying anger and resentment that is bubbling under the surface. I explained that while she may not realize now, she may be acting out of her emotional need for stability. I told her that when a spouse admits to cheating, even if he apologizes profusely for his sexual philandering, there needs to be a healing process.
When we push to the back of our minds the impact of a husband or wife’s decision to cheat, something is gotta to give eventually. So what I told her was it time to think much less about what she needs to do to make her husband happy, but rather it is her husband that needs to work on rebuilding the lost trust.
What Should Happen Next
Going forward, I suggested that she sit down with her husband and open up about how her trust in him has been wounded. It sounds like he genuinely wants to try and repair his broken vows. But I explained to her that it won’t happen overnight.
Whatever she may be thinking consciously about her husband’s fling with this other woman, it is not likely her unconscious mind is willing to simply set aside her husband’s affair.
That is sometimes how it works. We need time to process through our pain and hurt and resentment. Many times, we cannot cope with the news of our spouse’s affair and our emotional reactions can be delayed. In my client’s case, the discovery of her husband’s affair and her fear of the impact it could have on the marriage caused her to lose some perspective.
Without some meaningful time allotted to work through some of her feelings, it is possible that there could be some emotional aftershocks later. It is not unusual for the one who is cheated on to have bouts of anxiety or obsession over whether their spouse will re-enter the affair. This a common fear and something proactive needs to be done to stem the tide of these kinds of feelings.
In this regard, I suggested she discuss this concern openly with her husband and ask him what he can do to assuage her fears around this concern. Sometimes, upon understanding the insecurity and lack of trust created due to his past actions, the husband will open up his life for examination. This could include sharing all of his emails, billing statements, phone records and anything else that can help restore trust.
Another matter that should be addressed is the importance of gaining the husband’s commitment to cease all contact and communication with the other woman.
In most cases when infidelity has struck a marriage, it is absolutely necessary for the offending party to stop all contact and communications with the other woman. A husband’s emotional and physical temptations to seek out the other woman can be a problem. During a long and protracted affair, a bond can grow between the man and the other woman. This bond can be both emotional and physical and is cemented by all sorts of brain chemicals and repetition of certain behaviors.
So in such matters, the affair can relapse unless steps are taken to cut off the prospect of the extramarital affair from re-forming. This is what I wanted to impress upon my client. Having this discussion with her husband would not only be important in reducing the probability of her husband being lured back into the arms of this other woman, but it also helps the wife in regaining trust.
In this case, her husband worked with this other woman. So the question on the table was to what extent would it be possible for her husband to immediately cut off all contact with this individual. Since her husband’s cheating episode was a one time event…..and since his ex lover did not work in the same building, it was not impractical to insist upon the complete separation of her husband and his lover.
The important thing is that the couple talk opening about their feelings. I explained to my client that it sounds like her husband really does want to do all the right things.
He seemed very motivated to win her trust back. So in this case I suggested that it would be helpful if they did something together to renew the marriage faith. I emphasized again that while she may not have fully processed all of her emotions yet, the work around rebuilding trust was very important. I asked her to discuss this with her husband and that they should together come up with an act or vow or a plan that could symbolize his commitment to her emotionally and sexually.
After all, that is really the crux of the problem when cheating in a marriage occurs. In this case, it does not sound like there were any meaningful underlying issues that one could point to and say, “this is what is wrong in the marriage”. As she explained, the relationship was strong in many ways and what happened was a product of a terrible mistake her husband made.
Nevertheless, such a mistake can create a fissure in the marriage. Two people who are married should see themselves as “one”. They are in it together to help each other as they pass through their lives.
This does not suggest they cannot have their own individual life and challenges. That is important to a marriage as well. But a couple should think of themselves as a “union”, never to be broken.
So in my client’s marriage, that union has been fractured and I explained to her the break, while not complete, is far deeper that she probably realized based on her immediate reaction to his admissions of the affair.
So I wanted her to explain to her husband that she may not fully appreciate and understand the extent of the damage at this time. That is why it is important for her husband to get on board with actively re bonding with his wife and proactively working on rebuilding and strengthening the marriage trust.
Rebuild The Relationship With a Change in Scenery!
I also told my client that sometimes it is helpful to put some distance between themselves and their current environment. The memories of the revelation of the husband cheating ways is still very fresh and can just seem to hang in the air.
If the topic of your partner’s infidelity first came up at home, then that sour memory will tend to linger in that environment. It is better to wash it away. So to help get back on track, change the environment.
When the timing is right, plan a trip together and go some place else to re-connect and bond. This could be something like a bed and breakfast or a weekend trip to a nearby vacation resort. Or an outing in the country where long walks and bicycle rides may for some pleasant experiences.
Now I am not advocating that a couple, where one has admitted to cheating, immediately go on an outing together. It it not normal to go rushing out in those early days to try and reset the deck.
But it can be part of the future plan, a few weeks down the road. Remember, it is not just one thing that your husband will do that will repair the lost trust. It is a series of things. So among the obvious actions that help with regaining trust such as the things I have already discussed, do consider spending time together alone outside of the present environment. Sometimes a change in scenery in every respect can make a difference.
Straight Talk With Your Husband
I have one last suggestion on how to ensure your husband does all the right things to avoid ever repeating his cheating ways. And this one may be somewhat controversial.
Sometimes a dose of sheer honest realism can help shake a guy to his core. Sometimes a guy needs a wake up call. While it may not work for all situations where an affair has occurred, reminding the husband in clear and no uncertain terms that if he ever repeats his adulterous behavior, he will lose you forever.
I think of this as straight talk. It is something you should deliver without threatening tones, but rather a solemn promise. For example, “you promise to be a good and loving husband and I will be a good and loving wife. Break your bond with me by cheating again, then our relationship will collapse forever.”
It should be conveyed not as a warning, but in a matter of fact way with the clarification that if adulterous behaviors should ever come between the marriage again, you don’t see how the marriage would survive.
In this respect, you are referring to your marriage from the third person perspective and if you should have such a conversation with your husband, it would be done in the spirit of revealing what you really believe. So in effect, you are raising the stakes and rationally pointing out why he should never entertain such an activity. Otherwise, he would be actively destroying the marriage.
Some guys live in a world of denial and if you give them enough rope, they may be tempted to use it. So “straight talk” about your zero tolerance for adultery in marriage clears away any delusion they may have. It is a truth arrow right into their brain. The idea, is that it gets lodged in there and the fear of losing you forever outweighs in future temptation they may have.
Now if you still insist on some ideas around how you can go about making your husband happy, then here is my advice. If you ever face a situation similar to what my client experienced, then the best way you can make your husband happy in the marriage is if he can see that “you” are happy and content.
He has to see that your trust has been restored. Your words will not suffice. He will need to see these things from your every day actions and behaviors. And by the way, you cannot fake these kinds of feelings. The sooner your husband realizes that you are willing to work with him to rebuild that bridge of trust, he will be motivated to do the important things on his end to convince you that he will never risk losing you again.