DEAR AMY: At age 54 my husband, “Barney,” decided to fess up to two affairs; one occurred two years into our marriage and one 17 years into the marriage. He said that the guilt and stress were eating at him; now that he has confessed, he feels better. Since these affairs occurred several years ago, he feels no need to explain anything today. He says it was exciting; these women wanted to have sex with him; it was years ago and it’s over. Both were women he worked with.
My husband insists that he wants to remain married, but whenever I bring up the affairs and the state of our marriage — then and now — he just reverts to: “It was a long time ago. It’s not relevant to today. I’m happy now.” I feel an honest conversation and explanation are in order. My husband and I went to counseling; the counselor basically said, “Get over it — it was in the past!” How do I get over a betrayal that occurred years ago but that has just been revealed?
DEAR STUCK: A responsible counselor wouldn’t say, “Get over it — it was in the past.” A more positive and useful message would be, “Your ultimate goal is to get over this and put it in the past. Now how can we help you get to that point?”
So far, your husband has used his confession to allay his guilt, but he has now transferred all responsibility for dealing with the fallout from his actions onto you. He should commit to holding your hand through this process, even if it dredges up embarrassing revelations or painful memories for him. This is best done guided by a compassionate professional.
His refusal to examine or explain his own motivations translates into a very unreflective and selfish message — and does nothing to reassure you that this won’t happen again. He also needs to sincerely and respectfully ask for your forgiveness.
DEAR AMY: When I host cookouts or dinner events, my stepson frequently takes a well-stocked plate home to his mother, my husband’s ex-wife, who was — let us just say — less than honest or honorable during their divorce many years ago. Over the years, the ex has also called upon my husband for help with home or car repairs.
Both of these seem out of line to me, and I think my husband is continuing his pattern of being way too nice for the sake of his son, who is now 20 (and should therefore understand the meaning of “ex”). What do you think? Am I being too sensitive about this?
— Tired of Feeding the Ex
DEAR TIRED: Being “way too nice” to a person for someone else’s sake is the way to be. You should try it. I’m not suggesting that your husband should let his ex-wife leap across boundaries or damage your relationship in order to “play nice” for his son’s sake. Nor should your husband be a doormat or dishonest to pretend that his ex-wife is something she is not. If this woman is an ongoing toxic presence in the outer ring of your family’s circle or a threat to your marriage, she should be denied domestic favors.
But when you extend your good home cooking to this other household by sending home a plate of food, it is an act of generosity. I could imagine your stepson might feel proud to be a part of that.