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 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.
I am writing to seek your thoughts on my situation.
I was recently married and as any other couple, my wife and would have arguments. In one of our fights, she sought refuge by calling her long lost close guy friend. This guy was married when they were friends. Perhaps the last time my wife saw this guy friend was two years before we started our relationship.
I felt it was odd that of all people, she chose to call this guy. I confronted her and she admitted she had an affair with him back then; she kept it as a secret when she met me.
My dilemma now is knowing my wife was a mistress and couldn’t get over her past relationship. It burdens me that only now I learned of her past life.
I don’t know if I want to pursue our relationship. Hope to hear your advice. Thank you.
Thank you for your email.
Of course it is disturbing when you learn that the image you have built up of your wife (let’s call her Emma) does not reflect the truth. However, it is perhaps also a moment to ask yourself what, if anything, has fundamentally changed and what, if anything, is to be learned.
Yet your account of your misfortune is extremely short on detail, which leads me, ever the cynic, to believe that you may be trying to influence the response.
For example, did it never occur to you to share any of the following information: did you and Emma discuss your respective past sexual histories before marriage? If not, why not?
Did you think she was a virgin? Did she say she was? The answers to these questions after all can make a big difference to how your email is answered.
Assuming Emma made no false representations, what exactly do you think has changed?
Emma is exactly the same person today as she was before you found out about her past, and you surely cannot complain if you now receive truthful answers to questions you failed to ask before you got married. No, what has changed is the false impression that you built up of her, based on a mix of incomplete knowledge and wishful thinking.
You also seem particularly upset that Emma compounded her infidelity by doing it with a married man, thus meriting the label ‘mistress’ which obviously in your mind is particularly negative. Yet love, if that is what it was, can strike in the most inconvenient places and blanket condemnation without evaluation of the surrounding circumstances e.g. did she know he was married, can be singularly unhelpful.
As for your possible remedy – “I don’t know if I want to pursue our relationship” – this seems totally disproportionate to the offense. Their affair took place and ended before your relationship with Emma even began. Perhaps however you are worried that by contacting him again after so long, she might be preparing the way to rekindling their relationship. If what you describe as a typical marital spat can lead Emma to such a drastic step, then I would suggest that it was not a typical spat at all.
In summary, based on the minimal amount of information you have chosen to share, it appears as though a) you have totally failed to discuss with Emma a number of matters that are of great importance to you and b) it is time you now discuss them so that amongst other things you can have an informed view of what happened and what the future may hold for you both. Please write again if you have more to share.
All the best,
Thank you very much for your letter. After reading Jeremy’s response, I initially felt that: wala na akong masabi (there is nothing left to be said). However, after reading it again, while I still feel that Jeremy has brilliantly responded to the most important issues your letter raised, there are two things I’d like to add:
The first is that I think Mr Baer was too “scoldy” about your dilemma – admittedly a self-inflicted dilemma because of your thoughts about infidelity, your wife’s past and your seeming bias about having been someone’s mistress w-a-a-ay in the distant past.
But you cannot help your feelings and you are, in fact, to be commended on your willingness to have these examined under the cold harsh light of day (where Mr Baer is the cold and harsh part and I am the light ☺ — at least in this case). Not many people are that brave or that open to having their feelings examined by others.
However, Mr Baer acquits himself with his much-more-than-adequate analysis and suggestions, based on his rigorous logic, so I hope you can forgive him.
The second is about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which Jeremy crystalized when, in his fifth paragraph, he asked you “…what exactly do you think has changed?
Emma is exactly the same person today as she was before you found out about her past.”
I have written about this in the past (see here and here) and because CBT can be very helpful for problems like yours. In fact, the second column, entitled “My girlfriend’s past haunts me,” shares specific and actual steps in CBT which I feel would work for you if you decided to take them.
Very briefly, however, CBT is a short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy treatment where the goal is to change patterns of thinking that are behind people’s difficulties, and so change the way they feel. CBT holds is that it’s not events themselves that upset us, but the meanings we give them. …Our thoughts can block us from seeing things or doing things that don’t fit what we believe is true (read more here).
For example, Robert, you seem to believe that mistresses can never become good wives and that is why you’re unsure if you want to pursue your relationship. But is your belief really true? In my clinical experience it isn’t. In fact, your wife could well be one among several former mistresses who are now exemplary wives.
But it is not my belief that matters, but yours. And when it comes to your marriage and your decisions about what you want to do with the rest of your life, again it is what you feel is best (which inevitable comes back to what you think and believe) that will help determine its trajectory.
I am hoping that, rather than immediately calling your marriage quits in your heart, you continue to examine your thoughts and, more importantly, share these with your wife, especially since it is not only you who feels wrongly done by, but also her.
If you can both help it, I hope you communicate not accusingly, but in a way that leads to deeper understanding and, hopefully, not merely to acceptance, but also once more, to loving each other as much, if not more, than you did on your wedding day.
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