[Two Pronged] He cheated on me – now he doesn't want to leave his parents' house
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
Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.
Dear Dr Holmes and Mr Baer,
My husband and I have had an on and off relationship since 2002. We got married 10 years ago and it has been tempestuous. Before my daughter turned 1, I discovered that my husband was cheating on me with his ex who is married with one child.
His cheating continued. I left yet accepted him back multiple times, hoping he would change once he saw our child growing and starting to understand. As far as I know, he’s changed.
Here’s the problem: He doesn’t want to leave his parents’ house despite all the drama. They were welcoming except for parenting problems while my daughter was growing up. My mother-in-law would often question me when I buy stuff. I get upset but kept quiet. But I never let them be the authority when it comes to my daughter.
However, I still feel hopeless and angry that I can’t be the queen of my own castle because my husband is afraid. We both have stable jobs. I am afraid that if we decide to move out, my husband will not join us.
I am terribly depressed. I don’t know what to do or how to start.
Your letter indicates that you have two separate issues. The first is your husband’s infidelity which you say is in the past, "as far as I know." The second is his refusal to move out of his parents’ house and create a home for the three of you.
As a general rule, philanderers do not change their behavior unless there is a major change or event in their lives which causes them to reassess their relationship(s). They are even less likely to change if there are no significant adverse repercussions e.g. their spouse repeatedly forgives their transgressions.
You have not told us of any major event so you appear to be married to an exception to the rule, for which you should, no doubt, give thanks.
As for your husband being unwilling to leave the womb (his parents’ house), it is a pity you don’t tell us why this is so. Perhaps it is more comfortable or better located, than anything you could afford by yourselves, or they support you on the condition that you live with them. Whatever the reason, it seems that he is not willing to give your wishes in this matter the precedence that his wife and the mother of his child deserve.
The bottom line is that you are not the primary focus of his life either when it comes to the bedroom or building a family life together. You may be content to believe that his infidelities are a thing of the past and you may be willing to wait until his parents die to have a place of your own. Alternatively, you may wish to put your foot down and pressure him to act now. If he insists on relegating you to second place in his life, you may then consider removing him from yours altogether.
All the best,
Thank you very much for your letter and for helping me realize how perceptive Mr Baer is in distilling your concerns into two separate issues aided, most of all, by your ability to crystallize the pain in your heart.
I agree with both your analyses and thus my only contribution to this particular column is, perhaps, to add an alternative way to look at your relationship, that includes you and thus gives you a sense of control since you have control only in what you do and not in what your husband does.
Mr Baer has underscored a truism in family therapy by giving a specific example when he said: “They (unfaithful spouses) are even less likely to change if there are no significant adverse repercussions e.g. their spouse repeatedly forgives their transgressions.”
The truism goes: A family always seeks to achieve homeostasis.
The homeostasis in your relationship then was, alas, that he was unfaithful, you forgave him, gave him no real ultimatum that you were willing to carry out, hence his repeated transgressions. A credible ultimatum might have stopped him in his tracks, forcing him to decide whether to keep on with his behavior and lose you, or keep you as his wife and end his infidelities.
In other words, your changing (by giving him this ultimatum, or simply acting on it and leaving when you reached breaking point) would change the homeostasis in your family, forcing him to change to bring it back to homeostasis.
But (in family therapy terms) you were not ready then, so it is good no ultimatums were given.
Now, however, you may be ready. Your feelings of always being second place in your husband’s life have become more intense, leading to hopelessness. BUT it has also led to anger which is a very good thing indeed. Anger moves us to action in ways depression and hopelessness never can… at least, not in the way you want.
Do you think you could harness this anger so that when you move out and – worse case scenario – he doesn’t, you say “Que se joda you. I am sick and tired of not being the queen of my own castle. Being a queen without a king is way better than forever being a handmaiden in someone else’s.”
Harness this anger so that your fear that he does not follow is small potatoes compared to your depression that will only loom larger the longer you stay helpless (and thus feeling hopeless).
Remember, we are merely getting ready for a “worse-case” scenario here. It may be that your actually leaving will encourage him to leave himself… in which case caps over the windmill and yippee yippee yea!
However, I feel it is best being ready for any eventuality. Such readiness helps crystallize what you are giving up and what you are fighting for. Hoping readiness helps you the same way.
Need advice from our Two Pronged duo? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with subject heading TWO PRONGED. Unfortunately, the volume of correspondence precludes a personal response.