From there, couples can try to understand why this happened. To be clear, no matter the reason, the person who had the affair is completely responsible for it; much less destructive ways of managing marital issues exist, and nobody causes her partner to cheat. But now you have an opportunity to look at your marriage and yourselves more closely, and in a much healthier way, and understand why he did this.
Read: Dear Therapist: My boyfriend had an affair and now we’re stuck at home together
People have affairs for any number of reasons. Sometimes they cheat because they experienced loneliness, emotional neglect, sexual frustration, or conflict in their relationship and didn’t know how to communicate with their partner. It’s also true, however, that people cheat even when they’re in happy, loving relationships. Affairs can be about an inner longing—for, say, vitality while aging or escape from life’s routines. Sometimes they’re about seeking novelty or wanting to feel desired by someone new. It’s common, too, for an affair to happen around the time of a major life event (birth of a baby, death of a parent, loss of a job or dream). It’s possible that the timing of your husband’s retirement and the fact that the woman was significantly younger were not coincidental. In other words, even in good marriages, affairs can take place because of a longing in one partner that isn’t necessarily a symptom of something problematic in the relationship.
Exploring how the affair came to be also helps couples figure out whether they want to stay together and—most important—why. With a solid commitment and clear desire to be together, couples can then work on their issues, while also helping the betrayed partner recover from the trauma. In many cases, affairs happen in couples who avoid conflict (perhaps like your husband?), so learning about conflict management and speaking up about one’s needs while also considering one’s partner’s needs are skills these couples begin to practice. Meanwhile, reestablishing trust might entail offering access to cellphones and passwords, checking in when late from work or out with friends, and doing anything that might be reassuring and reduce anxiety in the betrayed partner as the recovery begins.
My point in sharing this process is that your healing will require the active involvement of your husband, and if you can talk to a therapist together, you’ll be able to navigate these hard conversations more skillfully. You might start by sharing this column with him. Let him know that you want the remaining years of your lives to be happy ones; that if you do nothing now, you’ll both feel lonely and resentful going forward, in different ways; and that many couples establish a close, connected, mutually fulfilling new chapter of their relationship after a betrayal if these steps are taken. You and your husband can get there, but only if you make the journey together.
Dear Therapist is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental-health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. By submitting a letter, you are agreeing to let The Atlantic use it—in part or in full—and we may edit it for length and/or clarity.