Dear New Shrink,
I am very distraught. After 12 years of what I thought was a good marriage, I have discovered that my husband is having an affair. He blames it on me, but up until the time our child was born, we had a great sex life, were best friends and he never complained. Now with our child only 3 years old, it looks like we may not make it. I still love him and I beg him to go to counseling but he is completely shut down. Is this my fault? Am I crazy to want to make it work? Is there anything that I can do?
I am so sorry to hear that you are experiencing this and it makes total sense that you would be depressed. After all this time and a child together, it is not “crazy” to still love your husband.
I can’t say how much fault is yours. Generally, when it comes to relationships, I think in terms of 50/50 or close to it. But fault is too strong a word. No one wants their marriage to fail. Relationships are full of conflict and require a lot of attention and work. Love is never enough. Assuming you picked a good partner, one whose character you liked, someone you had a lot in common with, then the secret of staying in love is communication.
What I find interesting is that you were great for nine years but not so good the last three, which coincides with the birth of your child. Unfortunately, that first little bundle of joy does not always bring happiness to a marriage. In fact, it is often the beginning of marital conflict. For many if not most of the couples I have seen, their trouble started with the birth of the first child.
Having children is the great event most people look toward and children bring lots of joy to most families. But the sad truth is that when you have your first child, you go from being a dyad to a triangle. Triangles are very difficult to negotiate and infants cannot be negotiated. Someone is going to be left out and it is usually the father.
All those romantic walks you use to take along the beach, long talks over a glass of chianti, lots of time for each other is now replaced with dirty diapers, spilled milk and little time for one another. Lack of sleep doesn’t help either. But the real problem, should it occur, is a kind of unconscious process that takes place. Fathers often feel left out. Feeling replaced, jealously and anger bubbles up in them but good men say to themselves, “I want my child to have a good mother; I want my wife to be a good mother. What kind of man must I be if I have these feelings?” They feel guilty about their “bad” feelings. The natural impulse is to suppress them but this is not good for the relationship.
The truth is that these feelings are completely natural and normal and if you anticipate them and keep the lines of communication open, they don’t have to cause problems in the relationship. Unfortunately, most couples do not think this will happen to them.
Often these feelings come out in sarcasm or he simply looks for other ways to get his emotional needs met. It can be anything from working long hours, drinking too much with the guys or having an affair. However, it doesn’t just start there, usually there is some fighting and further distancing that occurs first. Mom being tired and needing extra support herself, may also feel abandoned. She probably doesn’t even know what her husband is feeling, he may not know himself and with both feeling abandoned, arguments start over things that don’t really matter. They don’t even know why they are fighting. But increased feelings of alienation can lead to looking for getting needs met in other ways or places.
Clearly it could all be prevented and if there is not interruption of this downhill spiral, it can end in a bad way or at the very least yet best, in a counselor’s office. Discovering the truth and realizing that you never stopped loving each other is the blessing that can come from talking this out and learning to enjoy your child together. The good news is that the second one is never as hard. There are no more triangles!
I hope you and your husband will consider this and that you can recapture what you had. Good luck.
Dr. Barge is a licensed psychologist and marriage and family therapist. Her offices are in Brentwood. Please send your questions and responses to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit us at www.newshrink.com. All questions are kept anonymous. Please let us help you with your life matters.