"He Cheated on Me While I Was at Work"
The Counselor's Turn, Continued
"In the second part of the exercise, partners switch roles and write down the response they'd like to receive from the other. Hallie wrote: Thank you for caring enough about our marriage to give me another chance. I understand how much I hurt you, and I will never betray your trust again. I will always be there to listen and respond to your questions. I love you, Ted. This was helpful, since it gave Ted insight into what his wife needed. When it was his turn, he was able to explain how rejected he felt, how much he needed time alone as well as with friends and how belittled he felt by Hallie's instructions.
"Slowly, they made important changes. Every Saturday night is now date night. Even if they just go for a walk, they hire a babysitter so they can focus on each other, alone. 'Maintaining a ritual -- be it Sunday morning breakfast or a glass of wine after the kids are asleep -- is important,' I explained. 'It says to your partner, "you matter." '
"When Hallie gets home on Thursday nights, she now hugs Ted before she greets the children. She's also become more attentive and has stopped second-guessing his parenting. For his part, Ted has significantly curbed his grumbling.
"Resuming intimacy was much harder. Hallie felt self-conscious (she worried that Ted would compare her with Erin), vulnerable and awkward -- all of which, I assured her, was normal. 'But here, too, you can't wait until you feel 100 percent sure,' I added. 'To be closer you have to get closer.' Until she was ready for intercourse, I suggested they simply lie in bed together, touching as much as Hallie felt comfortable with. I also encouraged Ted to be more loving outside the bedroom. After four months, Hallie felt safe enough to resume lovemaking.
"She was still unsure, though, about her job. After much discussion with Ted and her boss, Hallie agreed to complete her current project, which would take another six months, with the promise of another position with no travel when it's finished. 'We can handle another six months,' Hallie said. 'In truth, my travel wasn't the real problem; our inability to communicate was.'
"This couple was in counseling for nine months. 'Have I totally forgiven Ted? I'm not sure,' Hallie said in a forthright manner. 'The pain is still there, but I try not to think about it. Instead, I focus on how happy we are right now.' "
"Can This Marriage Be Saved?" is the most enduring women's magazine feature in the world. This month's case is based on interviews with clients and information from the files of Nancy Stokes, M.S., L.P.C., a marital therapist in Dallas. The story told here is true, although names and other details have been changed to conceal identities. "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" is a registered trademark of Meredith Corporation.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, April 2008.