Marriage expert Andrew G Marshall answers: How can I recover from the double betrayal of my partner and my best friend?

An excerpt from I Can't Get Over My Partner's Affair, by one of the UK's best-known marital therapists

Andrew G. Marshall
Tuesday 01 December 2015 09:47

The dilemma: My husband cheated on me with my friend

Three weeks ago my suspicions that my husband of 12 years was having an affair with my friend were confirmed when I saw them together. At first he cried and said it was a one-off and that he wanted to stay with his family, which was what I wanted too, but over the next few days I found out he had lied and that the affair had been going on for at least six months. He said it only ever involved kissing; I’m not sure I believe him. He asked if I wanted him to go to his mother’s which I did as I needed to cope with my emotions, not just about the betrayal, but also the lying after they were discovered. He then told me ILYB [“I love you but…” (which is how I came to read your book, I Love You But I’m Not In Love With You) and that he needed space. I was prepared initially for him to come home and get some help but he refused.

Two weeks ago we told our children aged 10 and 11 that he wouldn’t live with us anymore. My husband has seen a personal counsellor but we haven’t had a proper conversation together yet – each time I ask he makes up an excuse, too tired, we’ll only argue, etc. I can see from reading ILYB all the mistakes we have made along the way – not arguing (he would always walk out), not making time for each other, the book is almost written about us! I accept my share of the blame for the problems, although not for the affair, which he says was my fault!

The problem now is that I feel empowered by the situation; his leaving has made me take control of my whole life and although I don’t want to give up on the relationship I need my husband to stop being the victim and address the issues. He has booked an appointment with a couple’s counsellor this week and I am prepared to go with him. The children have been amazing and although I miss him, I don’t feel that I need him anymore. Everything is happening now on his terms and I find this annoying, he hasn’t once asked how I or the children are coping. He seems like a different person from the man I love and I don’t know what to do.

Andrew writes:

If infidelity was not painful enough, there are circumstances which take the heartache and effectively quadruple it. For example, discovering your partner is cheating with a close friend, or even worse – someone from your family (or extended family). Not only has your partner, who you thought had your best interests at heart, betrayed you but a friend who you also trusted. Your mind races through all the times that you offered hospitality and opened up your heart and home to this woman and you feel completely violated.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you’ve been asking: Why from all the millions of women in the world has he chosen to be unfaithful with this one? Unfortunately, people tend to ‘fall in love’ with someone with whom they have repeated exposure – which is normally someone at work but can also be from a circle of friends. You’d think that the ‘lovers’ would realise they were about to cross a boundary and step back but our culture has all sorts of unhelpful myths that facilitate affairs.

For example, ‘love will find a way’ (and somehow nobody will really be hurt) and ‘this is bigger than both of us’ (so we don’t have to take responsibilities for our own actions). I will stop lecturing because it does nobody any good (or makes anybody change their mind). However I do hope it makes you realise what you’re up against and stops you being too self-critical.

I’m interested that you write that the ‘problem’ is that you feel ‘empowered’. I think a lot of people would consider that the saving grace! So I wondered what the ‘problem’ might be?

After such an extreme betrayal, it is very common to shut down, pull up the drawbridge and protect yourself. It would certainly allow you to ‘take control’ of your life, but it also stops you listening to your husband (or trying to understand him). So he’s a ‘different man’ from the one you married and, not surprisingly, as this man has hurt you so profoundly, you don’t know if you want to be with him. However, looking a bit deeper at what’s going on might help you understand him and your dilemma.

Let’s start by asking: Why do men (or women, for that matter) turn into strangers to their partners who thought they knew them so well? The men and women who have affairs are often people pleasers. They want to make others happy and they want to be liked. So far, so good. However, what happens when their needs, wants and desires clash with those of their partner.

Normally, they swallow these desires and tell themselves ‘my needs don’t matter’. In the language of assertiveness, they are being passive (because they consider their needs, wants and beliefs to be of less importance than everybody else’s). However, there is only so long you can go on downgrading your needs before you start to think, ‘I deserve this’ and ‘What about me?’ At this point, people pleasers turn 180 degrees and become incredibly selfish. In the language of assertiveness, they are being domineering (because their needs, wants and beliefs are of supreme importance and damn everybody else).

If your husband has gone from being passive to domineering, he will seem like a very different person. However, I would hope – instead of alternating between passive and domineering – he would become assertive. This is where both people’s needs are important and when there is a clash, the couple learn to negotiate.

The cover for 'I Can't Get Over My Partner's Affair'

I wonder if there is another reason why your husband seems different. The German philosopher Nietzsche called marriage the ‘grand dialogue’ by which he means we have to keep talking and remain curious about each other. Unfortunately, lots of couples abandon this conversation and substitute it with shorthand (so they don’t properly explain themselves), imagine that they ‘know’ each other interchange is reduced to giving or receiving instructions from each other. (At this point, does a couple have a marriage or simply a business arrangement to bring up children?) Could your husband have become a stranger and able to dismiss you so easily because you’ve both stopped talking and listening to each other? In which case he might seem a different men from the one you married, but 12 years and two children has changed him - and you.

So I suppose I’m saying it’s fine to be empowered and decide that his betrayal has been too great, and you want to end the marriage. However, you have two children together, so I hope that you keep listening to him, trying to understand his point of view and to negotiate when, as they most surely will, your needs clash. In this way, you will teach your children an important lesson about good communication. Who knows, it may also help you find a way through this madness and to restore your love for each other.

This excerpt was published with the kind permission of the author. Andrew G. Marshall's book: I Can't Get Over My Partner's Affair is out now

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