I sometimes hear from wives who have no idea how they will ever get their husband to forgive their affair. They are sorrier than they can ever express. And they would do anything to earn his forgiveness. But it seems that the affair has challenged his masculinity – and he finds that sin almost more unforgivable than the affair itself.
A wife might explain, “I could not be more remorseful about what I have done. When I was on a business trip, I had too much to drink and I slept with my boss. It was a big mistake and my boss had no business hitting on me. But at the same time, I made this mistake. I have to take responsibility. I didn’t say no and I allowed it to happen. Once I sobered up, I called my husband and I told him everything. I hoped that he would appreciate me being truthful. He didn’t. He told me to stay with my mother and would not allow me to return home. I accepted this at first, but that was three weeks ago. When I try to talk to him, he is still every bit as furious as he was on the night that this happened. He says that I humiliated him by sleeping with my boss. He says that he knows that my mother is going to tell people at our church and this challenges his masculinity. He says that he won’t be able to look people in the eye at church and he’s not sure if he can ever forgive me for that. The great irony of all of this is that my husband was unfaithful when we were first dating. Honestly, we had just met. And he’s never cheated during our marriage. But still, I forgave him. And now he’s telling me that he won’t be able to forgive me. I don’t want to let go of my marriage. I know that I made a horrible mistake, but I want him to give me a chance to make it right. Is he just over-exaggerating about this humiliation thing?”
It probably doesn’t feel like an exaggeration to him. If you research recovery from affairs, you will see that women will often struggle the most to overcome the idea that the husband was emotionally connected to someone else. (Sure, she hates the idea of sex. But it is more upsetting if she thinks that her husband emotionally loved someone else.) With a man or husband, it is actually the opposite. Even though a wife being “in love” with another man can cause serious damage to the marriage, it is usually the sex that bothers a husband the most. He is often concerned that you did things with the other man that you wouldn’t do with him (or didn’t enjoy) and he will worry that the other man performed better than him.
For a man, a lot of their self-worth is tied up in their feelings of competence and power. If he feels that another man is higher up on this scale for you, it can be extremely damaging and hurtful. This is a pain that he will often want to escape – which is why he may be telling you that he can never forgive you. He may know that he is going to struggle to be okay or to come to terms with these feelings of inadequacy.
The good news is that what you feel immediately or even soon after discovering the affair isn’t always what you feel toward the end of the recovery process. I too thought that I could never forgive my husband. And yet, here I am. I thought that I would never get over that type of betrayal, but I am still married. And I can identify with what your husband is saying: When your spouse cheats on you, it can cause you to doubt yourself in many ways. This process can feel very humiliating. And that is a pain that you don’t want to experience for the rest of your life.
But as you heal and begin to connect with your partner again, feelings of hope can eventually start to replace those negative feelings. This process takes time. I sometimes think that the only reason that I am still married is that my husband hung in there when I was trying to push him away. Why am I telling you this? Because if your marriage is still important to you, just hang in there at a safe distance. Your husband might not want to forgive you right now. That’s fair. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t still stay in touch and communicate while you are waiting for things to improve. Sometimes, you just have to be patient and let him know that you are there if he feels ready to talk. It may take a while before he feels ready. It did for me. The anger and the devastation can be all that you can concentrate on initially. And seeing your spouse can make it worse. So give it time. Keep repeating that you are sorry, that you take responsibility, and that you will be there when he is ready to ask questions. Right now, that is really all that you can do. When your husband does want to talk, be prepared to give him honest answers. And be prepared to do whatever is necessary to heal the marriage.
It probably will not be easy. But sometimes, spouses who never thought that they could forgive (including myself) eventually do once they come to believe that their spouse is willing to wait.
Katie Lersch enjoys helping other women save their marriages or heal from the pain of an affair. See her blog at: http://surviving-the-affair.com