Three months ago, my husband slept with a woman he met at a nightclub. After that night, he never spoke to her again. He truly appears to have confessed because the guilt was eating him alive, not because he wants to leave or was unhappy with our marriage. I don’t want to leave my husband, who seemingly made a one-time mistake at his best friend’s bachelor party, but I’m shaken. I’m angry. I feel like I misjudged him, because I didn’t think he was the type of man who would ever cheat. I now feel like I’m not enough for him, because he went and slept with somebody else in an otherwise good marriage. How do we get through this?
I know you’re in a lot of pain right now. Who wouldn’t be? Cheating is painful and can be for both parties involved. But I’m going to tell you upfront that I think your relationship is salvageable if this played out exactly as say: Your husband made a one-time mistake and he feels horrible about it. And the guilt he admitted to? That’s a good thing. Those feelings prompted him to tell you the truth, so you both could deal with this situation and eventually learn how to heal from it.
You should use this two-step process for finding the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. The first part is clearing up the anger and resentment you feel over what he did. The second part is moving on, so you can grow stronger.
Part One: Settling Your Feelings
I wouldn’t suggest this in all cases, but it does make sense in this one: You should ask your husband a few details about how this happened. You’re not seeking out details about the physical actions, but rather the events that led to the actual cheating. When you have very little information about a negative event, the brain tends to fill in the blanks with the absolute worst possible outcome. It’s very possible he got too drunk at this bachelor party and didn’t have awareness as to what he was doing until it was too late.
I’m not excusing the behavior; he shouldn’t have been in that situation to begin with. But I have a hunch that an unfortunate series of events may have occurred leading to the one-night stand, and hearing that will help you realize it wasn’t because you were not enough or that your marriage isn’t good enough.
On the flip side, there’s a lot you don’t need to know. You don’t need to know the details of how far they went. It was cheating, plain and simple. And that’s that. Please don’t ask for color. You don’t need to know who this person was either. Resist the temptation to get every single detail about the night—you only need to know about the ones that will help you remain mentally healthy.
Take some time to deal with the big, angry, sad, resentful emotions; you’re absolutely allowed to feel all these things. Cry it out. Spend time with a girlfriend who can help you sort through your feelings. Do things you enjoy, like getting out for a hike or taking a workout class. Invest in yourself, including getting into therapy (which I highly recommend).
And remember, people make mistakes. However, his job after this is to make you feel secure again.
Part Two: Growing Past It
You should discuss, as a couple, what you need to feel better, safer and stronger in this relationship moving forward.
While taking a ton of time for yourself, also focus on emotional intimacy-building activities with your husband. Date nights are great. Taking up a mutual hobby, like biking or yoga, would also be beneficial. Start watching a new show together, especially as winter approaches. Really, just focus on re-dating each other. Keep it light. Don’t force deep talks unless you want and need them.
Especially in the interim, if your husband is in any situations that make you uncomfortable, state what you need. Maybe you really don’t want him in any settings that are heavy on alcohol, or you need him to check in every so often when he’s out late or on a work trip—before bed, too, and maybe by phone. Until you can fully trust him again, he's going to need to make an extra effort.
Look for signs he’s remorseful and trying to fix this, as well. If he’s the type of man you thought he was before this happened—and still is, despite this mistake—he’s going to own up to the mess he created and proactively work to fix the emotional damage. He’s going to ask you what you need. And when you tell him, he’s going to do those things.
Jenna Birch is a journalist, speaker and author of The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life and Love, a dating and relationship-building guide for modern women. To ask her a question, which she may answer in a forthcoming PureWow column, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.