My husband has cheated on me a couple of times. I told him if anything happens ever again, I'm going to divorce him. My heart is broken, and I have nightmares about this chick. I don't know how to trust him. I love him and want it to work, but I don't know how this can be fixed. Do I move on? —Anonymous
Your husband has cheated two times that you are aware of. Unfortunately, he could have cheated more than that. And despite his pattern of infidelity, you’ve decided to stay in a marriage in which both of you are clearly unhappy, since he’s cheating and you’re having nightmares and don’t trust him.
Plenty of couples choose to work through infidelity in a marriage, which is their choice. But I’m curious as to what, if anything, you and your husband have done to actually work on the issues in your relationship. You’ve decided to stay and have threatened to leave if it happens again, but that’s not fixing the problem. And if you want to be happily married and have the potential of a faithful husband, then both of you are going to have to do more than just agree to stay married and issue ultimatums.
So while you very well may mean, “If I catch you a third time, I’m out!” you have to understand that from your husband’s point of view, the threat is idle. You didn’t leave the first time, and after that incident you probably threatened to go. You didn’t say what, if anything, changed in your relationship afterward, but the core issues were still there if he repeated his behavior.
And when you caught him a second time, you stayed again. The message you’re sending him is that you will make a lot of fuss, but when it boils down to it, he can cheat and you’re not going anywhere.
Even if you don’t trust your husband, you obviously love him and want this marriage to work. If you want an actual shot at continuing this union without him seeking other women, both of you will have to do some work to get this marriage back in order.
Notice the emphasis on both. Your husband is solely responsible for his cheating. That is not on you. But both of you are responsible for whatever breakdown there is in the marriage that led to his infidelity. Both of you will have to make changes. You and your husband are in this relationship together. It takes two to make a marriage work—and two to make it a mess.
Tina Campbell, from the gospel group Mary, Mary (and TV show of the same name), is going through a similar situation with a cheating husband, and I like the example—minus the attempted assault—that she is setting. In the current season of her TV show, she and her husband are dealing with the aftermath of his infidelity. In a recent interview, she owned up to her responsibility for the breakdown of her relationship with her husband, but not for his affair.
“I, Tina, assume full responsibility for the issues that I contributed to the relationship,” she told CNikky.com. “I have to work on myself.”
Campbell has received a lot of flak for those comments from people who believe she is taking the blame for her husband’s affair, which she isn’t. There’s a marked difference between taking responsibility for his cheating and being accountable for her role in the breakdown of her marriage.
Just because her husband handled his unhappiness with the marriage the wrong way doesn’t mean his feelings about the relationship with his wife are invalid. I’m sure that Campbell also has issues with her husband, in addition to his affair. He will need to take accountability for his shortcomings, too. Recovering from infidelity isn’t a one-way street.
Like the Campbells, you and your husband have a lot to unravel if you want to get out of turmoil and back to a healthy marriage. I suggest that you consider going to therapy as a couple so you can get beyond issuing threats and actually address the issues. And even then, acknowledging the problems isn’t enough—you will both have to change the way you communicate and treat each other if you want to be happily married again.
Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life and the upcoming Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. Feel free to ask anything at firstname.lastname@example.org.