Advice on Intimacy and Relationships
I am writing about something that happened several months ago, but it’s not getting any better, so I thought I could use some outside perspective. Things were not going well for me. My job was stressful thanks to a jerk boss. My wife was pregnant with our first child and was having a very difficult pregnancy (uncomfortable most of the nine months, then on bed rest for the last five weeks). Our finances were stretched after we took a loss on selling our condo and moved into the bigger house that she wanted before the baby came. I was anxious all the time, had insomnia, was on the verge of panic attacks nearly every single day. I want to set the scene because I know I will look like a jerk after you hear what happened next. Basically, I was miserable and not myself at all.
Then I had an affair with a coworker’s wife. It began as a flirtation, and moved into intense online chatting and texting. When my wife went on bed rest, I began a physical affair with the woman. Long story short, my wife found out after our daughter was a month old. I ended the affair immediately and have been trying to get us into couples therapy ever since, but she won’t go. We sleep in separate rooms and only talk about our daughter’s care at this point. My wife is back to work and our daughter is home with a nanny, but nothing else is back to normal. I know that if we could only go to couples counseling, everything would be alright, but she refuses to even talk about it. I feel the distance between us growing and am worried about the holidays coming up because it will be hard to hide our problems when spend time with our extended families.
You admit you screwed up, but the rest of your letter suggests you might really want to share the blame for the more recent outcome. It was subtle, and likely unconscious, but it sounds like you have shifted responsibility for the distance in your marriage to Wife. She won’t go to couples counseling. She refuses to discuss it. She needed a bigger house. She is only focused on Baby’s well-being.
Let me add one more to your list: She is in post-traumatic shock.
Discovering infidelity is like detonating a bomb. Baby was one month old when this explosion took place? So Wife was already living under siege, with a newborn destroying both sleep patterns and general life expectations (newborns are notoriously dictator-ish). She then learns that you have been escaping the warzone by having sex with someone else. My assumption is that Wife immediately went into survival mode and hasn’t come out yet. This is what we do when we experience trauma – we don’t come out until it’s safe, and your house (not to mention the great unknown of “couples therapy”) is not safe.
Barbara Steffens, a sex addiction expert and co-author of “Your Sexually Addicted Spouse,” likens traditional couples therapy with a sex addict and spouse to being assaulted and then being asked to sit in support of the attacker. PTSD makes us hyper-vigilant, suspicious and deeply depressed because we replay images and feelings of the assault again and again in our minds. Wife was assaulted by the reality of your infidelity; your entreaties about couples counseling are likely retraumatizing.
Instead, she needs her own opportunity to heal, within her own, separate support network. I know your instinct is to do as much as you can to fix this for her, but you cannot be her support network this time. She needs her own people: a friend, a clergyperson, a counselor. But she’s not going to pursue any of those things until she feels safe enough to let her guard down and let herself be truly aware of what has been happening in your household. There is a lot you can do to help with this part. First, you must take responsibility for your actions yourself.
Get to a certified sexual addictions counselor (they have the best info on infidelity, regardless of whether you think you’re a sex addict). Get to a 12-step meeting. Read all the Patrick Carnes books. Put parental controls on the internet at home. Give her your email passwords. Be transparent and repentant – this won’t have to last forever, but you need to make an outward and obvious demonstration of your intentions to heal yourself and then your marriage. Make this about you each being healthy first. Later, perhaps in several months to a year, you can begin the process of making your marriage healthy again.
I’m in a sticky situation and am not sure how to proceed. I am a teacher at a private school. A student’s father recently emailed me, inviting me out for “drinks or more.” I’m happily married and wear a wedding ring. I’m not sure, but I assume the father is divorced or separated. The student is not in my class, but I have a vague memory of meeting the father at a fundraiser last year. He only recently sent me this message, making it sound like he’d been thinking about this for a while. I am both sad for him (he sounds really lonely) and creeped out. I have absolutely no interest in pursuing anything – my husband thinks the situation is hysterical, by the way – but I also don’t want to do anything that would put my reputation or job at risk in anyway. Keeping parents happy is an unwritten rule at our school, and I’ve only been working here for a few years.
-Embarrassed/Harassed in Northwest
I am with you on the “creeped out” part. Although you didn’t provide the entire message, it’s hard to read “drinks or more” in any other way than that Mr. Inappropriate is propositioning you. I wonder if you might have a school handbook or something from orientation that might give us a hint as to how the higher powers might look at something like this. If you feel comfortable with your direct supervisor, I’d suggest starting with that person before you craft a response to Mr. I. I understand your concern about your reputation and position, but I guarantee that your school’s “unwritten rule” about keeping parents happy does not demand that you date any dad who asks.
Meanwhile, Mr. I’s method of pursuit (faceless email) may suggest one of two things: A) he is embarrassed and hiding behind the web, waiting to see what you might do with the ball he just forced into your court, or B) he has done this before, and perhaps has asked the same thing of other teachers who may or may not have come forward yet. In either event, providing too much sympathy could be read as a sign that he should continue the chase. After talking with a higher up about school policy, I’d recommend a brief reply that shuts down the entire conversation without any name-calling (e.g., don’t address it “Dear Mr. Inappropriate”). Make the message clear: you are not interested and this was unacceptable.
Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed professional counselor and certified Imago Relationship therapist practicing in Georgetown. Her website is TherapyGeorgetown.com. This column is meant for entertainment only, and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. We really do want your questions! Send them confidentially to firstname.lastname@example.org.