My husband had an affair 5 1/2 years ago with a girl he met in the credential program when he returned to school. He was 34, and she was 20. The affair lasted for 5 months. I was pregnant and had our second child during this time. I found out about it from their exchanged emails. I asked him to stay and work it out, and he decided to stay with me and the kids. As far as I know, all communication and ties between them were cut. She got married, had kids and moved to another state. Now, 5 1/2 years later, I came across an email from her on his work email. I wasn’t able to read the email before he deleted it. I confronted him on it and he tells me he was just as surprised as I am to see this email. He said she was just emailing to see how he was, etc., and telling him she was moving again to another state. How did she get his email and what are the chances I come across the only email in 5 years??? He said he loves me, regrets his affair all that time ago, and wants nothing more than to grow old with me and how I am his best friend.
I had been able to move on before, and now, I told him that I feel like it happened all over again. I’m doubting him, watching his every move, and it’s constantly on my mind. How do I trust that this email was out of the blue and that what he’s telling me is the truth? I have strong doubts that he would really forward me any of her emails. If they’re still communicating, he will find a way online to keep it from me… deleting messages received and sent before I can get to them. To him it’s harmless, but I’m emotionally destroyed by it, all this time later. Now, we have been married for 14 years and have 2 wonderful children. Do you think there’s still need to worry? We talk frequently about it, and he always tells me what I “want” to hear. Please help.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve. After reading your email and thinking about your questions, I’d like to offer you the following insights on your situation:
You wrote: “Now, 5 1/2 years later, I came across an email from her on his work email. I wasn’t able to read the email before he deleted it. I confronted him on it and he tells me he was just as surprised as I am to see this email.”
My answer: I can certainly understand how his “quickness to delete” the email would cast shadows of suspicion in your mind. It does make you wonder… IF there’s nothing going on, AND it was just a simple “hi–how-are-you-dong-long-time-no-see-let-me-update-you-on-my-life” out-of-the-blue email, then why the haste to delete it?
But, wait a minute. Let’s not be so hasty to judge him, try him and convict him.
The fact is, when the majority of extramarital affairs end abruptly (i.e. affair partners are caught cheating), there’s usually that inevitable feeling of “unfinished business”. And since most couples who rebuild relationships never take the time to make sure there is emotional — as well as physical — closure after the affair, it’s not unusual for the random email/contact to surface after years of silence. Neither is it uncommon for the man to have a “panic” response.
It sounds to me she still has that feeling of “unfinished business” — in which case, you do want to be vigilant in keeping the “NC” (no contact) rule between them intact.
For most “good guys”, it’s not the pursuit of a woman that’s the problem — it’s when a woman pursues them. Helping him to maintain healthy boundaries is going to be your biggest challenge.
However, helping someone create “healthy boundaries” isn’t the same as “policing them” or assuming they’re guilty before proven guilty. To understand what I mean, you’ll need to make a distinction between nurturing healthy boundaries and trying to control him.
Helping to create “healthy boundaries” means:
- Remembering: SHE is the one violating the NC rule — so be gentle and firm with him.
- Reminding him: He IS a good guy. He DOES want his family, and you DO want him.
- Reminding him: No matter how “seductive” the thought, in reality, having another affair wouldn’t be a step forward — it would be a step backward for him.
- Refusing to: Snoop/pry/interrogate or lose sleep over something that hasn’t happened.
- Reminding yourself: Worry is like a rocking chair — it gives you something to do, but it doesn’t take you anywhere.
Also, be clear on how exactly you want him to respond.
Take the time to clearly communicate what you need him to do. A bulletproof “NC (no contact) means no reading her emails, texts, etc., instantly hanging up if she calls, and so on (which I’m sure you’re already advocating).
Best of all, “healthy boundaries” means treating him with positive expectations. Telling him you know he will do the right thing. Say this a thousand times if you have to and tell yourself the same thing — because chances are, this man IS doing his best NOT to be sucked back in. Chances are, he’s just as wary of her as you are of her.
And here’s the key distinction:
When you help people maintain healthy boundaries, you’re saying to them that you expect them to act appropriately. When you mistrust people, you’re saying to them that you expect them to act inappropriately. And guess what? People always rise to the expectations you have of them. So, your job is to help him maintain healthy boundaries — not rigid controls.
You wrote: “How do I trust that this email was out of the blue and that what he’s telling me is the truth?”
My answer: This is the ultimate dilemma. And it points to the true basis of your current crisis (in my opinion), because this isn’t really about whether or not this woman is back “on the hunt” (or whether or not your husband is keeping secrets from you), as much as it is about trust.
Take a look at what else you wrote:
“I have strong doubts that he would really forward me any of her emails. If they’re still communicating, he will find a way online to keep it from me… deleting messages received and sent before I can get to them.”
These all point to trust issues. Your own ability (willingness) to trust again.
On one hand, you say you’ve moved on — but the fact that you can’t monitor his work email and it’s causing you distress points to the likelihood that there’s still something there.
Let me ask you a question.
In the midnight of your soul… do you really trust him?
Before you answer that question, let’s look at what trust really is:
- Trust is a decision (not an emotion). You decide whom to trust or not.
- Trust is a gift (like love). It cannot be bought, sold nor earned.
How to recognize trust:
- Trust is total. “Partial trust” is a contradiction in terms — like being a “little” pregnant.
- Trust needs no guarantees. (If you need guarantees, you don’t really have trust.)
How to recognize when it’s mistrust:
- When you have to “monitor”, check up on, and “prove” the person’s worthiness.
- When you’re suspicious, wary, and guarded around that person.
Now, given the history in your marriage, the hurt, the pain… I’m NOT saying you have to trust your husband. I’m NOT even saying that it’s safe to trust your husband. What I’m saying is: Please be aware that the REAL problem isn’t the “other woman.” It’s not about being able to access his email. It’s not about whether or not he has “opportunities to cheat”.
The real issue here is trust. And I must advise you, a relationship without “trust” is like a purse without money — empty. This applies to both of you.
Here’s the beautiful truth: The way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him.
Think about it this way:
He is home with you. He chose his family above all else. He is making an effort. Those aren’t small or petty actions, and they shouldn’t be swept under the rug of mistrust.
At the end of the day, I believe it would be better to trust him (and be wrong), than to live “tortured” by the fear of a repeat offense.
Some things to keep in mind about mistrust:
- Women who are riddled with suspicion become vicious — it can’t be helped. Even if you don’t want to, the bitterness of distrust seeps out into your language, your words, your energy. Believe me, men pick up on this subtly — and see it as rejection.
- One of the big excuses men use to justify infidelity is because they’ve come to believe they’re dammed if they do, and dammed if they don’t.So, they rationalize they might as well do the crime IF they’re going to be punished anyway. Fact is, he’s already being “punished” whether or not he has “actually” done anything, and it doesn’t do your marriage any favors.
Here’s what I recommend:
- I believe it will be more helpful to you, your children and the health of your marriage to learn to how to deepen trust — rather than learning more “effective” ways to monitor his behavior.
- I believe taking the path of trusting him — rather than trying to police and control him — is like taking the bullet out of the gun, rather than wearing a bulletproof vest.
- Trust in his potential — not his history. You’re no longer ignorant of the fact that he (like all human beings) has the capacity to lie, cheat, deceive and make excuses. These are human attributes — not personal flaws. So, if you’re ever going to trust any human being, you’ll have to be willing to place your faith in their virtues and not their flaws.
Are you willing to do all that? For your sake, I hope so. Because it’s by trusting that you’re freed from fear and anxiety — and it’s by mistrusting that you continue to suffer.
So in the end, all you’re really deciding is whether you want to end the pain or prolong the suffering. That’s a decision only you can make. I trust you to make the right call.
Until we speak again…
Remember… Love Wins!