"I Can't Forget What He Did"

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He Says

Steve: I was a fool -- a complete and total idiot. I never should have opened my mouth. It's been six years since I had that one-night stand and three years since I confessed. Six years! I told Claudia then, and a thousand times since, that the woman meant nothing to me. I swore it would never happen again, and I've been true to my word, but she's still holding it over my head. Is she going to torture me forever? You're not going to believe this: She actually told our kids about it, just to make me look bad. What do kids know about something like that?

Why did I open my big mouth? Because I was miserable, our marriage was going down the tubes, and I thought that if I got this off my chest and confessed, maybe I'd clear the air and things would be better. I figured we'd grown so far apart that it couldn't get worse, and I had nothing to lose. Claudia has always begged me to talk and share stuff with her, insisting that no matter what the problem was, we could work it out together. So I gave it a try. Inside, I suppose I really believed that if I told her, we'd be able to go back to square one. Big mistake.

I'm not proud of what I did. But at the time, my home life was lousy. My life at work was lousy. Everything seemed to be crashing down around me. And here was this good-looking woman coming on to me. I took advantage of it. What did I have to go home to anyway? A wife who treated me like a stranger.

You know, despite everything that's happened, in my heart I believe that Claudia and I are meant to be together. Call me crazy. But when I look at her, I can still see the girl I fell in love with. I don't think I could ever love anyone else. How can I get her to believe me?

Moschetta: Although we speak often about honesty in marriage, the question of whether an unfaithful spouse should reveal a betrayal remains a hot-button issue. Therapists themselves are divided: Some believe that keeping secrets perpetuates the betrayal and that the only way to salvage a relationship is to rebuild it on a foundation of honesty. Although truth-telling may well trigger a marital crisis, they add, as it did in this case, not telling creates distance and precludes intimacy. Other therapists point out that it may be better to address the problems in your marriage first, to confront your partner with the specific reasons for your unhappiness and, once you work them out and are both feeling better about your union, consider revealing the betrayal. There is clearly no one solution that works best for every couple. Though I can say emphatically that in either case, failing to address problems you are having in your marriage or pretending they don't exist will ultimately weaken the bonds between you.

Steve: I fell madly in love with Claudia the moment I first saw her, though it took me weeks to get up the nerve to even talk to her. Once I did, we dated throughout high school and I knew we'd get married, but my life came to a halt when I was drafted. I had mixed feelings about going. In fact, after basic training, I was actually AWOL for thirty days before reporting for assignment. I couldn't decide whether I should go to Canada or sign up. My whole life was just opening up. I was in love, I had a terrific job with great opportunities. Hell, I was only nineteen.

When I got back, I tried to pick up where I'd left off. The security firm where I had been working offered to put me through school so I could get my electrician's license, which is what I'd always wanted to do. I started to make pretty decent money -- more than my dad ever made. But after the twins were born, I really began to feel the financial pressure. Claudia was itching to buy a house because our first apartment was too small for all four of us. I knew it was tight but I didn't think we could afford to move. Still, she was so insistent that we did. I loved her and wanted to make her happy. But as soon as we were in the new house, Claudia started complaining that we had no yard for boys to run around in and the schools weren't good enough. So we moved again. I began to think that this was a woman I could never please. With her, the glass is always half-empty.

What kills me is that while she begged for a bigger house, she never took care of it. I would come home to find a mess--the kids' stuff all over the place, laundry piled high on the bathroom floor and nothing for dinner. Look, I'm not saying it's easy. But once in a while, can't she get it together? It makes me nuts to come home to such chaos. I'm an old-fashioned kind of guy who thinks of his home as his castle. Instead, I get no peace. She badgers me about spending time on work-related matters. Look, I'm union president, and an awful lot of people have cast their vote for me to represent them. It's my job to be there when a dispute comes up. Is that so tough to understand?

I've always tried to aim high, but I never got a lot of encouragement at home. My dad, a construction worker, always instilled the wrath of God in all of us. He used to put me down and make me feel like I was never good enough. He was a tough man who never had much time for my younger brother or me. I can't remember one conversation or heart-to-heart talk we ever had. But when he disapproved of something, boy, did you hear from him then. If I needed to talk, I'd go to my mother. She was a good woman who tried to make peace with a difficult man and raise her children to be decent young men. In many ways, I feel I've let her down, too.

Moschetta: It seems that Steve shares many of his wife's feelings about himself. The son of an overprotective mother and highly critical father, Steve, not unlike his wife, is also convinced that he's a terrible person, destined to live in misery for his sins. Since he believed he was unworthy, he worked hard to prove himself to his wife. But just as he could never gain his father's approval, he can never measure up in her eyes, either. And so he walks around with a cloud of guilt over his head and, at home, assumes blame for things that have nothing at all to do with him. Following a pattern modeled by his own father, he lashes out angrily when something displeases him. At the same time, he's afraid to say what he's thinking or feeling, since he's already convinced it will get him into hot water. When he clams up and says nothing, Claudia interprets this to mean that he doesn't care and doesn't want to try. The cycle remains unbroken.

Steve: I thought that in a marriage, a husband and wife are supposed to talk to each other. But I haven't been able to do that with Claudia for years. She doesn't want anything to do with me most of the time, and if I say something, she gets defensive. She'll never admit that she's ever wrong or that maybe I have a point. Trying to have a discussion with her is ridiculous since she blames me for everything and rarely bothers to listen to what I have to say. She just gives me a look that could kill.

Clearly, the one-night stand was an idiotic thing to do. It only made our problems worse. Something has to change; this is no way to live. As Claudia said, we're both miserable. Every weekend there's another huge blowout. This is so different from the life I dreamed we would have.

Continued on page 4:  The Therapist Says


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