I met my wife when I was 20 and she was 16. We have been together for more than a decade and have three children, but we only married recently. Prior to us conceiving two of our children, my wife was involved with other men. One relationship was sexual; the other connection was mostly talk from a guy trying to win her heart. Recently, my wife wanted me to join her on a trip with friends. I was the only guy, so I declined. I had not forgotten her infidelity, but I had forgiven her.Now I regret my decision. Since her return, we’ve been arguing. I snooped and discovered she was exchanging sexy messages with a man she met on the trip. I’m trying to give her the space she’s asking for, but I’m hurting. I feel guilty and responsible that she entered a serious relationship at a young age and had children. She has difficulty dealing with our kids, calls them names and mostly leaves me with them. She’s no longer affectionate, and if I try to be, she tells me to stop. I’ve always had trouble with intimacy and felt embarrassed and stupid if I expressed any feelings. I desperately want to hold on to my wife, but this is the fourth time she has shown interest in another guy. She says she loves me but needs her space. I told her I would move back in with my parents, but I can’t pull away.
Oh, honey! Of course you can, you just don’t want to. Leaving would mean giving up the delicious adrenaline rush that comes from being in a relationship with someone who isn’t committed to commitment. When your wife’s attention shifts from you to another man, you accelerate efforts to win her back. When she finally chooses you instead of the new guy, you feel superior, even invincible. But after a while, the daily grind of life takes over, your affection declines, your attention slips and she resents it. But it’s not hard to manipulate you into refocusing on her. She simply casts around until she hooks another man she can use to threaten your emotional security. Comprende? The two of you are locked in a relationship pattern that guarantees pain and suffering, in between the post-affair “honeymoon” periods.
I generally believe that a 20-year-old guy dating a high-school student is a scandalously large, very red flag. Such relationships require the younger person to be incredibly mature; often, the older person is incredibly immature. That’s more pressure than most young people can navigate. And since parents often grant no-strings approval to these relationships, the younger person fails to inform parents about problems (typically when the older kid is controlling). The teen remains silent to avoid losing a parent’s perception of the teen’s exceptional maturity. But, for you, the past is over. It’s not helpful to wonder if you should have waited for your wife to grow up before pursuing her. It is worthwhile to examine your conscience. You feel guilty and responsible, which is a sign that you engaged in behavior you knew was wrong. Is it possible that the pregnancies following each affair were your attempt to keep your wife from other men? If so, therapy is in order. You need to free yourself from the belief that a woman will not stay with you unless compelled.
And speaking of therapy, make it a priority to get your children into counseling. They have clearly endured too much already and need to learn to separate themselves from their mother’s name-calling and abandonment. A good therapist also can help ensure that your children learn how to tread a different relationship path than the well-worn trail you and your wife are traveling.