Carolyn Hax: Dealing with husband’s affair, kids’ anger — and her own need for solitude

Carolyn Hax
Columnist September 24, 2013

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

My husband of 28 years is (reluctantly) moving home to his widowed mom’s house. I found out he’s been having an affair for 21 / 2 years with a married woman we’ve both known for 35 years. Our adult-age kids still live at home and can’t wait for him to leave, as they have other festering resentments against him.

I don’t know how I feel about him anymore. He doesn’t want to leave and has sobbed heartfelt apologies to me, but says it’s really none of the kids’ business and they shouldn’t influence my feelings.

On the flip side, he admitted to me and the kids, when we were all arguing, that he’d still be having the affair if he hadn’t been caught, since she fills a need in him that I never have.


(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

My son told him to get the *!*# out of the house. He left for a few hours and has kept a low profile since. He says he’ll be gone this weekend but hopes we’ll get back together as he truly loves me.

I’m just numb and exhausted. I feel a loyalty to the relationship, but I’m looking forward to some time alone. For some reason, I feel guilty that he’s hurting so much and that the kids want nothing to do with him. How do I know what I’m to blame for and how to feel?

Anonymous

I’m sorry.

There is logic to be had here, and, like a stair rail in a dark basement, it can lead you up and out.

His admission that “he’d still be having the affair” is damning, but if you take the (no doubt acute) hurt feelings away, it’s the biggest duh in the history of love. No one ever gets every need satisfied by a single relationship. I have zero doubt, and neither should you, that you could meet someone who gives you something your husband never could.

And maybe you wouldn’t follow through with an affair, but you might imagine your way right to the brink. Emotions can be powerful-to-the-point-of-consuming motivators to get that missing thing.

Sympathy might seem wrong here, but, wow, what a powerful example to your kids if you could say to them: “Your father did a rotten thing and I’m angry, and we may not stay together, but I’m not so angry that I’ve forgotten he’s human. Of course there was something missing from our marriage; every marriage is missing something. I will continue with this separation but I will not vilify him, and I hope you all can make peace with the whole person your father is, vs. just what he has done lately.”

The point isn’t to launch your career as Husbie’s publicist but to put the smaller issues to rest — angry children, sobbing husband, the question of whose business this is, even your loyalty to the relationship. Taking a position and declaring it closed to family debate will allow you to concentrate on adjusting to your new reality and awaiting clarity on how you feel about your marriage.

It will come, I’m sure of it, once you’ve resigned as manager of everyone else’s outrage and tears — and grabbed, without guilt, that alone time you understandably crave.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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