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I’m looking for hope after my husband cheated. Carolyn Hax readers give advice.

Carolyn Hax. (The Washington Post)
5 min

We asked readers to channel their inner Carolyn Hax and answer this question. Some of the best responses are below.

Dear Carolyn: In the past month, my husband, to whom I thought I was happily married, told me he had an emotional affair with a woman he supervised for about a year, that the affair has left him unsure that he is in love with me anymore, and he wants a divorce. He walked back on the divorce part. However, the knowledge that part of him wants out along with the rest of it has caused me an amount of pain that I never thought was possible.

We have two kids under 5, and he makes a great deal more money than I do. On top of that, he seems to have a lot of anger and isn’t fully taking responsibility for what he’s done. The whole situation feels unfair and devastating. We’re in therapy together, but I don’t feel like I know who he is anymore. I feel trapped and alone and like I won’t ever experience love and comfort in a romantic relationship again. Where can I go for hope while I wait for my husband to figure out if he can muster love for me again?

Trapped And Alone

Trapped And Alone: As much as you may find yourself looking for hope, please look equally for acceptance that the person in front of you is who your husband is now. Use your time in therapy to get to know that person in front of you — and to know yourself.

As he is now, does your husband make you feel loved? Do you feel you can communicate openly with him without feeling diminished or bullied by his anger or temper? Does he express sufficient affection and concern for you and the children you share that you feel confident that you and he can rebuild a warm relationship? Any meaningful hope has to come from the answers to those questions.

If you can’t find hope where you stand now, looking somewhere else for it will only distract you from a place where you’ve admitted you feel trapped and alone. I went through something like this with my now ex-husband over a decade ago when he left me for someone else. I tried everything I could to hold the marriage together, but one person can’t carry the whole load if the other person keeps looking for an exit.

I have no regrets about the year we spent in counseling trying to deal with the shambles created by his first affair. As hard as I tried, I also wanted him to stay because he wanted to and because he loved me. No other reason would have been good enough. I was devastated when, in the end, he jumped into a second affair. However, the self-respect that kept me from begging him for anything gave me the strength to get through it.

Like a glass of champagne, hope can give you a happy buzz, but it can also distract you from a difficult reality. Self-respect grounds itself in reality, and in the knowledge that you deserve support, warmth and love. The greater your acceptance of reality and your ability to stand tall, the more profound the lessons you will teach your children on what both you and they deserve.

— A Different Hope

Trapped And Alone: I have been where you are. Our marriage survived, and it was a good and for the most part happy one (my husband has since passed away). But it took many years for me to believe that my husband genuinely loved me and that his choice was not made for practical reasons, love for our child or inertia. It was the evidence that piled up over time that finally allowed me to believe it.

As for trust, once I knew that my husband could hurt me in that way and justify it to himself, blanket full trust was impossible for me. My husband realized this and when he started mentioning a female colleague a lot, he would say straight out, “I want you to know this is not another Penny situation,” which I appreciated. When I could believe he loved me, then I could trust again. There was a lot of hard work, some counseling and pain involved, but I think it was worth it. The shiny innocence was off the relationship, but I don’t know if it’s possible to be married for 32 years with that intact anyway.

— Katnap

Trapped And Alone: It is very hard to separate your emotions from practical matters at times like this (I know from experience), but the best thing you can do is to protect yourself and your children by consulting a lawyer ASAP. If you cannot afford an attorney, seek out resources in your community where services may be available free or at a reduced rate. You need to know the laws of your state. Many women stay in a marriage because they believe they are financially bound to their spouse.

Next, find your own therapist who will help you sort through your feelings and give you advice about talking to your children. Kids know something is up even at a young age. Your last line gives the impression that you feel powerless and that your future depends on his decision, but you do not need to be a passive bystander in your life.

— Frankie

Every week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted to Carolyn Hax’s live chat or email. Read last week’s installment here. New questions are typically posted on Fridays, with a Monday deadline for submissions. Responses are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself and are edited for length and clarity.