"I'm a Churchgoing Mom...But I Almost Cheated"
The Counselor's Turn
"When Jenny and Tom first came to see me, I wasn't sure they were going to make it. Tom was furious. He couldn't believe Jenny had lied to him and he was desperate to know the details of what happened. 'Anger is healthy and you have a right to expect answers,' I said. "But to rebuild trust, you need to focus on the roles you both played in the breakdown of your marriage -- and what you can both do differently.'
"Tom thought I was saying that his actions made Jenny have an affair. 'Not at all. Jenny is totally responsible for the choices she made,' I explained. 'But an affair doesn't just happen. It's a wake-up call that something in the marriage needs to be addressed.'
"To help Jenny and Tom figure out what went wrong, I asked them to try to create a timeline of their relationship by writing down major events or stresses that took place in it and how they each felt individually at the time. They saw that the tension for both of them had spiked when Tom's work schedule ramped up, as well as after they had started homeschooling. That sounds obvious, but the damage these types of changes cause to a relationship often happens so gradually that many couples don't realize what it was that initiated the problem.
"Like many parents, Jenny and Tom had become so consumed with their kids they had little time left over for each other. Jenny's world became tedious, and the fact that she and Tom weren't communicating well made everything worse. Then suddenly Grant appeared and she felt cared about and desired.
"Once the couple could see where they had gone wrong, they began to repair the damage. Tom couldn't do much about his schedule, but he could shave off an hour here and there. They decided to put Krissy and Jon back in public school, which removed a source of conflict and gave Jenny some breathing room. And Jenny agreed to cut off all contact with Grant. 'You can't have three people in a marriage,' I told her.
"Tom now leaves for work later and spends mornings with Jenny. They've developed some simple rituals that make them feel more like a couple, such as having coffee together, going out for brunch, or taking a bike ride. Tom even took the initiative to sign them up for a marriage conference weekend where they renewed their vows. He makes a point of calling or e-mailing Jenny when he's away to see how she's feeling and takes the time to really listen to her instead of jumping in with his quick-fix solutions. With no teaching duties, Jenny finally has time for herself and she's gotten involved in the youth ministry at church.
"But Tom admits it has been really hard. 'When we first sought counseling, I totally blamed Jenny for messing up our marriage,' he says. 'But I knew I didn't want to lose her. Now I see that we both messed up our marriage. And it's something we have to keep working on all the time.'"
"Can This Marriage Be Saved?" is the most enduring women's magazine feature in the world. The story told here is true but names and identifying information have been changed to conceal identities. This month's therapist, Dave Carder, is the author of Close Calls: What Adulterers Want You to Know About Protecting Your Marriage.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, February 2012.