Forgive a Cheater?

Q: A couple years ago, after 19.5 years of marriage, my then-41-year-old husband began an affair with a 25 year-old-girl (I'm 40). He broke up with her, but then he got back with her, which I only found out later. He finally said that he didn't love me anymore. I don't think he fully grasps how much he devastated me and our 17-year-old son. Not to mention that he made me feel totally worthless. Our divorce, which I didn't want, has been final for more than a year. Since then, he's been on-again-off-again with his mistress, while at the same time "telephone chasing" another woman. Now he's after two other women, one older and one younger.

This year he "accidentally" called me on our anniversary date, and he's called and told me that he "missed me." Some of my friends say that he still loves me and deeply regrets what he's done, but is too proud to say it, that he thinks he knows how I will react. Why do I still love this man? Why can't I move on with my life? As an intelligent woman, how can I still want a man who can cheat? Can they ever change? -- Rose

Dr. Susan: It's not nuts for an intelligent woman to still want a man who has made a big mistake (take it from me!). Cheaters can change, but only if they want to. What's missing is any clear sign that your husband wants to come back, that he's experiencing extreme remorse, that he's pleading with you to forgive him for behaving so revoltingly, and that he's prepared to spend years making it up to you. Your friends mean well, I'm sure, by "interpreting" your husband's erratic behavior in such a rose-colored-glasses way. But can you build a marriage on what you think he might mean when he says he misses you? Sure he misses you. He's traded in his stable and loving family for a series of sexual encounters and flirtations. And it seems they're not all they were cracked up to be in his fantasy-fueled brain.

If you suspect his pride is getting in the way, then try saying something like this: "I know you think I could never take you back after what you've done, but I value our marriage more than you can ever know. I still care about you in spite of everything. So how about we see a counselor together and talk about how we might make it again as a couple? Mind you, I'm not saying it would be painless for either of us. Interested?" If that gambit fails, you're certainly young enough to begin building a great life without his cheating heart giving you constant grief.

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