Q: My husband of 20 years has reconnected with two ex-girlfriends on the Internet. He started chatting with one of them about three years ago. When I found out I confronted him, he quickly closed it all down, admitted his mistakes, and begged me to forgive him. But now he's done it again with a second girlfriend. I don't think I can trust him anymore. I don't want a divorce -- we have three teenagers and I'd rather try to work things out. But I don't see any changes in his behavior.
Jim: It's time to exercise some "tough love" in your relationship. Let your husband know that you love him and that you want the marriage to work, but that his continued dalliances are unacceptable. He's being selfish and juvenile, and setting a horrible example for your children. You may need to consider a legal separation until he gets his act together.
As a first step, though, find a licensed marriage and family counselor who can help you and your husband navigate the rocky terrain in front of you. Counseling is a critical avenue for honest, open communication and can help facilitate the healing process.
Your husband also needs to set personal boundaries and get some accountability in his life. Many churches have men's groups in which the participants can share their struggles and ask tough questions of one another about how they spend their time on the computer, etc. This is an essential step for your husband if he hopes to earn back your trust.
Q: My husband had a one-time affair with a co-worker and struggles with pornography. We're currently separated, though he is working very hard toward recovery. He wants to reconcile and so do I. What is the best way to work toward that?
Juli: I'm so glad that you're both motivated to work toward healing and restoration. Unfortunately, many couples are not willing to invest the effort to put their marriages back together after such a breach of trust. Your marriage can be restored and even strengthened, but it will take time and a lot of work on both of your parts.
As Jim said in the previous answer, working with a qualified marriage counselor will go a long way in your efforts toward healing. I recommend that you and your husband meet regularly with a counselor who can help you map out and walk through a plan of what restoration looks like.
Given your husband's struggles with sexual temptation, I'd also recommend that he meet individually with a counselor who specializes in such issues to help him with personal healing and accountability. Even with the best intentions, he may continue to battle those temptations and will need people around him to help him honor his commitment to you. In addition to the counseling, this may mean installing Internet accountability software, asking your husband to resolve to never to have a meal alone with another woman -- even in a professional setting -- and establishing other parameters.
Finally, don't rush the process. The desire to renew their relationship sometimes causes couples to skip steps. The trauma that your marriage has experienced can only heal over time. You need the freedom to ask questions like, "How do I know this won't happen again?" or "What led to the infidelity in the first place?" Skipping steps or reconciling too quickly will lead to unresolved issues and hard feelings emerging later on.
Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.
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