Rappler's Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes. Jeremy has a master's degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he enrolled in, and subsequently gave, workshops in work-life balance and gender sensitivity training. He has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years, as co-lecturer and occasionally as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives. Dr Holmes needs no further introduction.
Dear Dr Holmes and Jeremy:
I'm a woman married for almost 10 years with one son and a husband 8 years younger than me. Since our marriage, we encountered only two big quarrels. In 2008 I discovered, via text, that he had an affair with his officemate, who’s married to a seaman. From that time on, no more texts.
Last July I discovered another text. I confronted him but he told me it’s a different girl. When I discovered it's the same girl I called him.
He asked forgiveness and told me not to do anything scandalous in their office because they’re working together. I threatened him that I will tell their bosses. He said he will get out from this situation. I believed him, that he will clean his mess.
Just recently, I found a text from the girl, thanking him for the night they slept together. I confronted him. He said he’s making his moves little by little to end their relationship but it's hard, I should understand that it’s not easy for him to get out. In the first place they see each other every day in the office.
I texted the girl with bad messages and later in the day she texted me, fighting like a mad girl. I was so hurt. I told him, “Why? Why does she act like that? She’s the KABIT, I’m the wife.” I have the right to go to their office and confront her in front of many people but I did not do it to protect the dignity of my husband.
I'm in a dilemma right now. My husband tells me he is ending their illicit love affair; but I am in doubt. How can the girl and my husband move on if they are together in one working place?
What will I do to let the girl stop, if my husband is telling me that he is doing his part to stop it. Will I tell their boss about it? So they can be reprimanded? -- Alicia
Yours is unfortunately a sad but common story of infidelity and mendacity.
In 2008 you found a text that indicated your husband (let’s call him Bob) was having an affair with an officemate. After a big row, Bob agreed to end the affair and your marriage continued. In other words, you forgave him and believed he would honor his promise.
Four years later, you discovered another text and it turned out that he was still sleeping with the same woman. Another big row ensued, he promised to finish with her and you chose to forgive him again. Why you chose to believe that – after 4 further years of adulterous bliss with his mistress despite your knowing about it, Bob really would give her up – is not clear.
Now, for the 3rd time, you have found a text indicating that Bob remains a model of consistency: he is still sleeping with her, still promising to break it off and still lying to you.
And why not? You apparently believe anything he tells you, you have not carried out any of your threats to disrupt their office life and you have stayed married to him.
In fact, it seems the only thing he needs to do to ensure future connubial bliss is to hide his cell phone from you.
To try to end his affair yourself, you now propose to go to his office, berate his mistress, complain to his boss and generally make a scene. This will probably give you a lot of short-term satisfaction but the drawback is that it might make you a laughingstock (it is likely Bob's co-workers are aware of his longstanding relationship with the woman) and it might imperil Bob’s career, perhaps even his job, thus placing your household’s future income at risk.
As for trying to get his boss to reprimand them, most employers are reluctant to involve themselves in the private lives of their employees (unless it affects their work). And finally, are you sure that Bob will choose you over her?
Albert Einstein is supposed to have said: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.”
When I first read your letter, I thought that poor negotiating skills were part of your problem but in fact it seems more a question of having no leverage at all. You clearly want to stay with Bob, he knows that and there is no reason for him to change his behavior when he can be sure you will stay with him even if he doesn’t.
With this in mind, perhaps you should consider just leaving Bob and making a life for yourself in which you escape from the endless cycle of suspicion and no longer have to worry about his infidelity, his lies and protecting his so-called dignity.
No one is saying that it would be easy but at least you would be free. -- Jeremy
Jeremy cannot fathom why you still believe your husband (let’s still call him Bob, as he suggested) but I know the reason: You still love him.
Like any trusting wife who had no doubts she would spend the rest of her life with her husband, you haven’t prepared for life other than being with him. The alternative of his not being with you over the long haul is so frightening it doesn’t seem to exist in the realm of possibility as far as you’re concerned.
But once you start wondering whether your husband is telling you the truth or not, you must accept that what you once believed inconceivable is not just possible but probable. This is the reason you grasp his excuses like a drowning man grasps at straws. The alternative is too painful.
That is also the reason you have focused on such a miniscule facet of their affair: “How can the girl and my husband move on if they are together in one working place?”
That too, is the reason some of your solutions seem myopic to Jeremy: “Will I tell their boss about it? So they can be reprimanded?”
My heart goes out to you, Alicia, as others’ hearts do too, for many of us loved, trusted, and lost like you have. Going to their boss is like your making sumbong to a parent that your siblings have misbehaved. There is no doubt they’ve done more than misbehave, but having someone scold them (presuming your plan works) will fan the flames of a you-and-me-against–the-world feeling and nothing can be more romantic than that.
Finally, that is why you have focused the problem on the girl (let’s call her Kabi), and, once again, putting your husband on the He-Can-Be-Trusted pedestal despite his having fallen off it time and time again.
Dr Lourdes Lapuz, former head of UP PGH Dept of Psychiatry and author of “Filipino Marriages in Crisis” (1977), once said something to the effect that: When wives want their marriages to last, they attack the girl; when they don’t mind their marriages ending, they attack their husband.”
This is your reason for asking: “What will I do to let the girl stop, if my husband is telling me that he is doing his part to stop it.”
In your mind, the problem is the girl, not your husband. In truth, the solution lies not in the girl, or even your husband, but in yourself, Alicia. Please don’t worry, I won’t insult your intelligence by telling you “Unless you love yourself, no one else will.” That is true, of course, but in an airy-fairy way.
What you need right now is something pragmatic and straightforward.
Jeremy is right. Right now, an end to your threats, tears and fights is the only incentive you can give Bob to end his affair. But he is inured to all that. You both know that you cannot bear to live without him; thus he continues seeing Kabi with impunity. Hells bells, even Kabi has the gall to treat you badly because she too knows Bob is not worried you will leave him.
You will have more leverage once you develop a better sense of perspective, Alicia. Start asking yourself the following questions: Will Bob and Kabi’s affair really have ended if he says it has or will I find out otherwise the next time I decide to check things out? Is that really the sort of marriage I want? A cat and mouse game of hide-the-cellphone with a rat called Bob?
More importantly, is this the kind of life I envisioned for myself? The kind of life I want my son to think is acceptable? One that depends entirely on another person before I can be happy? One that needs 100% guarantees that my partner is faithful and trustworthy before I can relax? One where waiting for the other shoe to drop is always part of the landscape?
Please write to us again, Alicia, after you’ve answered these questions or, indeed, should you want us to point out a way to start. Both Jeremy and I would be honored to help. -- Margie
(Need advice from our Two Pronged duo? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with subject heading TWO PRONGED.)