Hurt Anew by Wife's Old Affair

Q: My wife and I are in counseling now about some communication issues. It has come up that she had an affair about 30 years ago. I was aware of it, but was always led to believe that it was a one time thing. Now it's coming out that it was MAYBE a 5 or 6 time thing. I have never forgotten the one time thing, but think I have forgiven her. Now that it's a multi-time thing, I'm having real issues with it, and why it's just coming up now and hasn't for the last 30 years. Now I wonder what else she hasn't told. When I asked her about it after the session with the counselor, she just said she didn't want to talk about it. How can I get her to open up to me? — Mike, 62

Dr. Susan: How painful it must be to learn that the image you had of your wife isn't quite accurate. One of the things you need to know about affairs is that most people who have them don't tell the truth, or certainly not the whole truth, even when they do confess the affair. Details tend to dribble out little by little. I have to say, though, your wife wins an award for keeping so much secret for 30 years (not such a good award to win). I'm fairly certain that she hasn't filled out the picture before this in order to avoid hurting you further.

Now, the fact that she's telling you more in therapy may mean that she's taking therapy seriously and wants to save the marriage. Sometimes, while a couple begin therapy, it's not a bad idea to hold off on following up on the session until the next session, with the therapist available to help you deal with such explosive information. I know, from experience, how that feels: almost impossible. Yet, I recommend you don't press your wife right now, but make another appointment as soon as possible to help you figure out your feelings. It's quite possible that this long-ago affair, no matter how long it lasted, is the only thing she's kept from you. Give yourself, and the marriage, time to stabilize again.

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