Infidelity: To Tell or Not To Tell

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I don't trust him

Q. I've been married for five years, and have a beautiful new baby girl. While I'm trying not to be suspicious or sound paranoid, I think my husband is having an affair. He's just different. He works much later than he ever did, never calls to tell me he's going to be late, and when he is here, seems withdrawn and distracted. The slightest thing seems to set off an angry response. We're not making love very often--but who does when they have a new baby? Yet, I do tend to overreact, even more so now that I'm so exhausted. What should I do? I hate confrontation.

A. You may be overreacting--then, again, the very fact that you're this worried about your marriage means that some problem, somewhere in your relationship, needs to be addressed. I hear similar fears from other women in the same situation. Many people are shocked to discover that adultery is not uncommon even around such a happy time in a couple's life as the birth of a much-wanted child. Actually, infidelity can follow any life transition, pleasant or unpleasant. Moving to a new community, taking a new job, having a child leave home for college, all trigger major shifts in the nature of a relationship and those shifts inevitably trigger new stresses. Unless you understand them and prepare for them.

However, be reassured that in most cases, a new father's affair has more to do with his own anxieties and fears about being a father than about his lack of love for his wife. Your husband may be feeling left out. He may see you devoting all your time and attention to the baby, and fall into bed wanting only to sleep, never to make love. On the other hand, he may simply be so overwhelmed by the changes in his own life--and worried about making financial ends meet--that he is legitimately pouring his time and energy into being more successful.

How can you tell for sure? The first thing you must do is speak up--the sooner the better. You gain nothing by being quiet. If you're unhappy, you can't assume your husband will simply know what's wrong. (He's not a mindreader). Besides, not saying anything will only deepen your suspicions and intensify your anger. And if he is having an affair, your silence gives tacit approval to his actions.

Angry or hurt as you are, the way you handle the confrontation can affect its outcome, not to mention the future of your marriage. Remember that confrontation isn't a dirty word. Healthy confrontation is a tool for uncovering the unspoken resentments and unresolved problems in a relationship. It presents an opportunity for much-needed honest dialogue, self examination and personal reflection. Besides, I don't believe that affairs just happen--and I don't believe they happen without warning. In most cases, if the warning signs had been heeded, the affair could have been prevented. Your insecurities can be a catalyst for both of you to think about what's not been right in your relationship--and what can you do to make it better.

To be effective, forget being critical and judgmental. You need to be direct but, at the same time, make it safe for your husband to be honest with you. Take responsibility for the role you've played in recent problems. Empathize with his concerns, and let him know you want to work things out. After all, this is a difficult time for him, too.

Without generalizing or piling on a laundry list of grievances, tell him the effect his recent behavior has had on you. You might say: I know you've been lonely and I've been preoccupied with the baby. I haven't been there for you and I know there's someone else. (Don't ask: Are you having an affair? That sets you up for outright denial.)

Then, listen carefully to what he has to say, and prepare yourself for an answer you may not want to hear. If your husband dismisses your concerns, or puts you down for doubting him, red flags are flying. My advice would be to seek professional counseling--whether or not infidelity is an issue, you have a communication problem that needs to be addressed. And if your husband won't face it, you need to face it alone.

If your husband admits that he's been unfaithful, it will probably trigger a marital crisis--but it's a crisis that you will have to weather if you want to hold your marriage together. You both need to figure out what went wrong in the marriage--and what you each need to do right now to make it better. You will each need time to be angry, to grieve--and then to find the strength to work on the marriage.

Every month features a guest therapist who will answer selected questions from readers. This month Bonnie Eaker-Weil, Ph.D., author of Make Up Don't Break Up (Adams Media Corporation, 2000) and Adultery: The Forgivable Sin (Hastings House, 1994) tackles the tricky issue of infidelity.


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