Dear Carolyn: I have been married for five years to a man who, in our pre-marriage days, cheated, lied and broke my heart. I was so madly in love with him then that I tried everything to get him to love me. For reasons I can’t explain we moved past this and got married, but there were still issues with his fidelity and my heart was again broken.
The affair eventually ended, and I tried to leave several times but he refused to leave me and the kids so we stuck it out. It’s now three years later, and the tables have turned: He is now madly in love with me but I find it hard to love him as I once did. He now does everything a good husband should do, and I am trying to open up but it’s not working. Should I keep trying to break down these emotional barriers, or can a person be hurt so many times there is no going back? – Trying
I don’t know, and I don’t know.
Which is why they pay me the big bux.
I do know this: You don’t want to love him as you once did. That love was in spite of his character, not because of it, and in spite of your own interests, not because of them. That was helplessness, need, desperation – three feelings I doubt you want back.
I’d say to imagine the feelings you do want, but then you’d repeat your mistake: separating your goals from the person you’re with. Before, you sought love and stability from someone who offered neither; now, it’s mad naive love for someone who betrayed you.
Instead, take what you actually have – his character – and weigh it against your interests, and then divine how you feel. Who was your husband? And who has he become? What’s behind his good-husband behavior, and can you reconcile that with the cheater? If he were a character in a novel, would his arc be credible, and would you like who he was in the end?
Enough to like him for real, in a new, genuine, satisfying, sustainable way? One you can trust? One you’d like your kids to see?
And within the confines of your circumstances, is that what you’d want? Or do you need something first, like for him to acknowledge your pain? Or just the assurance of time?
“Trying to open up” is trying to trust in one leap, and asking a lot of you both. You’ll never know if you can trust him. That’s just how it is, for everyone, though especially partners of cheaters. But if you can trust how you feel about him, then you have something there.
Carolyn: How long would/should/could someone date exclusively before it’s irrational not to call each other “boyfriend”? Does it matter if this is a gay relationship? I realize “would/could/should,” “irrational” and even “boyfriend” are subjective, but, in general, what do you think? – New York, NY
I think “think” is subjective. And that, given the subjective nature of the subject, there’s no one length of time that applies. For a couple to be progressing well, both halves need to accept the rate of progress – and if they don’t, their conversation needs to be about more than who calls whom what.