DEAR NATALIE: Four years ago, I found out my husband was interacting with women online from a dating website. He swore to me none of the women meant anything to him, and it was all merely physical. We went to couples counseling and began to rebuild my trust in him and our marriage, or so I thought. Recently, I was given copies of messages between a woman from that site and the pseudonym my husband used at the site. The messages were physically and emotionally intimate in nature. From what I can tell, his affair lasted for two to three years. That means my husband lied to me for all those years I thought we were rebuilding. He also lied during counseling and to the counselor, and to this day he will not admit he knows her or that he sent the messages. He claims he has no idea how his name got on the messages. My trust in him is gone. We have a young child. If not for my child, I would be gone already. My questions are: Do I believe the papers in front of me or his adamant denials of not knowing this woman? Do I stay in the marriage for my child, so she will not come from a broken home, or do I give her the best life I can as a single mom? I'm trying to make a decision that is best for my child. I'm not sure if that is sacrificing my happiness so she can have a two-parent home, or if it is better for her to see her mom not take this like a doormat. It is hard to imagine more than 10 years wiped away. -- BETRAYED ONLINE
DEAR BETRAYED ONLINE: It is never easy to accept someone's infidelity and then work to rebuild trust, so I applaud you for trying to move forward in the spirit of forgiveness. If people want to change, they can and they will, but in this case, believe what is in front of you. It isn't so much the physical betrayal that is so hurtful and damaging, but much more so the emotional. He lied, cheated, was emotionally intimate with another woman and is denying what you have put right in front of him.
Two questions: 1. Do you have a job or your own source of income independent from the relationship? 2. Do you have a support system - close friends or family?
If you have one of those two, get a lawyer and talk to him or her about your options. You are still in a deep state of mourning for the relationship, which is completely understandable. However, since your child is so young, it may be best to separate for a while and see how that feels. Your child will fare better with two parents that are happy -- and apart -- than together and miserable. While parents may feel a lot of guilt for separating, it is better to have a calm environment at home than to have resentment, anger and fighting around your child. If you don't have either an income of your own or a support system, you should still meet with a lawyer to talk about how you can work toward goals to create independence from him to make it easier to have the option to leave.
This is not an easy decision, and I certainly am not telling you what to do, but it is clear he doesn't respect you or the relationship. When there is no respect, there is no trust. And without trust, there cannot be a solid foundation for growth and healing. You have options and you don't have to stay if you aren't happy. You are stronger than you realize. I can tell that just from your ability to try to work through your pain together as a couple. But you can't take the journey alone.
Continue to see a therapist to help build confidence and self-esteem, but please consider what is going to give you peace in your life.
DEAR NATALIE: Almost everyone I know is so late all of the time! I write this as I am sitting in a bar waiting for someone who said they'd be here 20 minutes ago. This happens to me all the time, with many different friends, from many different parts of my life. I've tried showing up late myself, and I still sit there for 20 minutes alone. I don't want to pick up and leave after 15 minutes because I do actually want to hang out with these people. What can I say or do to get my friends to be prompt? -- SICK OF WAITING
DEAR SICK OF WAITING: As someone who is 10 minutes early for everything, I can relate to this! It is so rude when people show up late without letting you know. If I am going to be late, I always text or call so that my friend/colleague/family has a heads-up. It's common courtesy. The best thing to do is to try this (it seems to work well when I do it): Text or call whomever you are meeting an hour before the meet up and see if they are still coming to meet you, and if they are going to be on time. Then about 20 minutes before you are meeting, say that you are "on your way" and see how they respond. This usually helps people stay on track for being on time, or at least gives them a chance to tell you that they are going to be late. Then, you can plan accordingly. I know, it's kind of like baby-sitting, but it usually works. You can always voice your frustrations, as well, but people just don't seem to care. It's frustrating because clearly you seem to value other people's time and should get the same in return.
Natalie's Networking Tip of the Week: Going to a networking event with a friend? Divide and conquer. It is easy to stick by your pal all night, oftentimes sequestering yourselves from potential contacts. So, make a plan that you separate for an hour at the event, and then introduce each other to at least one new contact that you each met, thereby increasing both of your social networks easily.
Please send your relationship and lifestyle questions to email@example.com or tweet them to @NBSeen. You can also send postal letters to Natalie Bencivenga, 358 North Shore Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15212
(This column was originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)