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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 three 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,
I was caught by my husband texting another man. No sex, no affair, but he says this is just as bad. I find it difficult to get to him to talk sense without his getting incredibly angry – even though I know I am the one who made the mistake.
But I wish we could talk, and not just throw sarcasm at each other. I understand he is angry, but if he is angry, we cannot sit down seriously to discuss the matter.
I feel stuck. I don’t wanna leave him but I don’t wanna go back to the same format. But currently since I am the one who got caught making mistakes, I have no leverage to demand.
Can you help me?
Thank you for your email.
I am not sure exactly what your husband is accusing you of if you were not having an affair with this man. Perhaps you were just flirting? You obviously feel guilty of something because you characterize it as a mistake that leaves you without leverage, apparently content to accept your husband’s unilateral determination that what you did was as bad as an affair.
Yet was it? These days infidelity lives on a spectrum. F2F infidelity, as in being caught in flagrante delicto, is at one end and leaves no room for doubt. Virtual or emotional infidelity, as in sex videos, sexting, texting, etc. is at the other end and is surely more nuanced.
Then there is the issue of how the “wronged” partner interprets what happened. Some are jealous if even a look is exchanged; others consider flirting merely part of their partner’s personality and don’t take it seriously.
In the absence of any more background on your relationships with your husband and your text friend, it seems that you need to decide on your priorities and then review your options.
You say you actually want to remain married but not under present conditions. To what lengths are you prepared to go to appease your husband? Does his caveman-like reaction to your texting extend to other areas of your marriage, and if so, are you prepared to tolerate that? Perhaps you find his reaction validating and think it proves how much he loves you.
Alternatively, you may find it stifling and indicative of emotional immaturity. Marriage inevitably requires compromise and what is critical is that you work out in advance what you are prepared to concede to get what you want, and how you will proceed if you can’t get it.
Having said all this, your situation seems to call out for mediation. A safe space where you can discuss things calmly under the aegis of a third party, whether a therapist (or counselor, priest, or other mediator), would be a way forward if your husband is willing.
Thank you very much for your email.
I am so sorry that your husband chose to respond to your texting another man as if you betrayed him. Because, yes, he could have behaved in ways that would make real communication between you possible.
Oftentimes, when a person feels betrayed, like your husband does, he hits back in any way he can – even if he is more hurt and anxious than angry (or all three and even more in addition!) and his fear that you may think him “weak” has driven him to be sarcastic and judgmental.
Sometimes too, when a person – perhaps someone like you, X? – agrees that she is the one that “did wrong,” she will quickly accept his judgement, apologize, try to make up for things so the relationship can move on, and just paper over the cracks.
This doesn’t make your relationship better, just more outwardly calm. To keep the peace and quiet, each of you is walking on eggshells to make sure the balance of the relationship – he: the righteous one; you: the philanderer (in his eyes) – stays as is. He can be sarcastic, but only until he feels he’s pushed you enough to be exasperated, but not enough to insist on changing the status quo. And you will agree it was your fault until you give him a barely perceptible signal (that you may not even aware of) that “enough is enough, don’t push me further or this uneasy, seeming peace between us will rupture.”
But what sort of life is this, when you are actually lonelier with him than when you are when physically alone?
You be the brave one, X. Not for the traditional reasons that you are the woman, and it is our job to nurture our relationships; not even because you are the guilty one and thus have to “make the first move.” I, for one, do not think you are guilty. I feel you texted this guy because he gave you something that your relationship didn’t. Among other things, you need to explore these uncomfortable things if your relationship is to get any deeper.
You will have to be the brave one to insist on having conversations that really touch to the core of your and his problems. In time I hope you will each feel safer with each other: safe enough to know that spite, previous judgment, and blame will not be automatic reactions like they are now, but that maybe, just maybe, the feelings each of you share will arouse enough curiosity (not necessarily agreement at this point) to explore what might have been lacking – for both and each of you – to ask questions of each other…maybe even explore what each and/or both of you can do so that each can share any loneliness one feels before things get “out of hand.”
You have to be the brave one FIRST, X, and I hope your husband will then feel safe enough (so I guess you will have to be pretty patient too) to move beyond blaming to listening…even if it is only to himself first.
What if your bravery amounts to nothing? I think Mr. Baer’s statement that “… what is critical is you work out in advance what you are prepared to concede to get what you want, and how you will proceed if you can’t get it” is really the crux of the matter. In other words, figure out what your dealbreakers are.
Perhaps there will be no going back after you figure out that your dealbreakers have been broken again and again. As long as you don’t present this as an ultimatum or, worse, a threat he feels you have no resources to carry out – perhaps it will be the very impetus your husband needs to listen, learn, and maybe even apologize.
All the best to you, my brave warrior,
Please send any comments, questions, or requests for advice to firstname.lastname@example.org.