"He Cheated On Me in His Heart"
The Counselor's Turn
"Studies show that women are devastated by emotional infidelity," said the counselor, "while men are typically more hurt by sexual infidelity. The fact that the 'other woman' here turned out to be gay was, as Liz noted, a non-issue. Larry had invested his heart and mind in the relationship -- and would have had an affair if he could have. Liz's self-esteem was low because of her lifelong weight problem, and she was more overwhelmed by motherhood than Larry realized. She desperately needed his support and reassurance, but his attention was elsewhere.
"I always tell clients that feelings are innocent. By that I mean that no one is to blame for what he or she feels. Larry was especially vulnerable to emotional involvement with another woman because Liz not only didn't turn him on physically but also tended to nag and criticize. Rather than condemn Larry's feelings, I said, they should explore them openly. With my guidance Larry explained to Liz that her weight gain and criticisms made him feel uninterested and unloved. I told him not to use accusatory language such as, 'You're not even trying to lose weight, and you nag me all the time.' Instead he learned to express himself by using 'I' sentences: 'I loved it when we exercised together and helped each other maintain our weights. And I know I need to pay more attention to the kids and to household chores.'
"Liz, too, changed her communication style. Instead of saying 'You never lift a finger and barely interact with the boys,' she'd say, 'I can't handle the housework alone and feel the boys are missing out on quality time with their dad.'
"Eventually Liz and Larry discovered that she wanted to lose weight as much as he wanted her to, and he wanted to enjoy his family as much as she wanted him to. They began to work as a team to change the destructive patterns they'd fallen into. Among these was Liz's unspoken belief that she was fated by genetics to be overweight. Larry reminded her that he had a similar family history and that initially they had bonded over their joint determination to overcome that legacy. 'We were so close then,' he said. 'Let's see if we can get the magic back.' It helped that Carol was no longer a daily distraction. She found a job at another company and switched gyms.
"I suggested that the couple devote one evening a week to being together without the kids. This 'couple time' was often spent in long discussions about the issues that had driven them apart, which was very helpful. But the real breakthrough came when Liz reached a point where she could admire Larry's honesty in telling her about Carol. 'Okay, you snuck around and even tried to get physical with her,' she said. 'That still hurts, but what matters is that you told me. At the time I thought you were kicking me when I was down. Now I realize you couldn't have known how bad I felt about myself.'
"In our final session Liz was excited that she'd started going to the gym with Larry two evenings a week while her mom watched the kids. 'I've dropped five pounds,' she said. 'Larry's my cheerleader.'
"Her mom also offered to babysit while the couple went away for a long weekend. 'It's our first vacation alone since we became parents,' Larry said. 'We're going to a resort with lots of activities; we don't plan to hang around the buffet table.'
"'But we do plan to spend a lot of time in our room,' Liz added with a grin. 'We've booked the honeymoon suite. Now that our marriage is back on track, I can hardly believe I was ready to walk out.'"
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, January 2009.