Relationship Connection: My husband still has feelings for his ex-girlfriend

Question

I’m in a quandary over a situation in my marriage. When my husband was in college, he had a girlfriend and eventually became engaged. After a year of engagement, she found someone else, and they broke up. I knew about her but never felt threatened by their relationship.

We were married 55 years ago, we have six children and have had a good life together. I found out recently that this ex-girlfriend has been emailing him, off and on, for the past two years.

My husband was recently hospitalized, and I came across an email he had sent to her expressing that he still had feelings for her and that he thinks about her and wishes that he could hold her tight and just talk about old times.

Needless to say, I was devastated.

I confronted him, and he said I’m “making a mountain out of a mole hill” and told me to “get over it!” It is affecting our once loving relationship, and I’m very confused and depressed.

What would you suggest we do to put this behind us? Oh, and by the way, she is still emailing him as of yesterday.

Answer

First of all, please know that you’re not overreacting to the discovery of your husband’s secret relationship with his ex-girlfriend. Even though he won’t admit it to you, he has to know this relationship with his ex-girlfriend is crossing a line. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have kept it a secret. You have some important decisions to make now that you know this information. Let’s sort through your options.

It’s important to not be derailed by his defensiveness and denial. Even though he may have an explanation for why he’s sharing these messages with his ex-girlfriend, there aren’t two sides of the story. There is one truth: He’s exchanging love letters with another woman. You can have confidence that you are seeing this accurately. This assurance is critical when you’re facing deception. It will help you hold your ground and demand an acknowledgement of the truth.

In my experience, most people struggle to face the reality of their mistakes and turn to blame, hiding and distraction to provide relief from the crushing guilt. Even though it’s a natural reflex to hide and excuse our mistakes, you can still expect him to come out of hiding and own his reality. Stand your ground, keep calling out the truth and don’t be fooled by the blame and defensiveness.

You can let him know that this actually is a “mountain” and him treating it like a “molehill” is going to keep damaging the relationship. Don’t ignore this active emotional affair. It’s one thing to forgive mistakes from the past that have been resolved, but it’s another to ignore an active betrayal that is destroying the fabric of your marriage. If he won’t stop the behavior and work with you to repair the damage he’s caused, you need to decide how you’re going to find safety.

Please recognize that he’s not only blaming and defensive, but he’s also refusing to stop his communication with her. Since this line continues to be crossed in your marriage, you have to decide how you’re going to respond to his choice to continue talking to her. It’s important to realize that you’re not powerless to act in your own behalf.

Of course, you don’t want to face the terrible options you’ve been handed, but they are options, nonetheless. Your sanity depends on you knowing and trusting that you have options to protect yourself. You might find yourself sleeping in a different room or asking him to leave. If your requests for fidelity to this marriage continue to be ignored, you need to decide what you need to do to protect your dignity.

It’s important to seek support from someone who can help you understand your best options. Build a safe community of personal support. Find a therapist who specializes in working with infidelity and betrayal trauma so they can help you stay in reality and confront the seriousness of his actions. Things can’t stay the same, as he’s fundamentally altered the foundation of your marriage.

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Instagram: @geoffsteurer  

Facebook: facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.