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Dear Kiki: I feel betrayed by my husband, and I can’t let it go

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Questions about love and sex in the Iowa City/Cedar Rapids area can be sent to dearkiki@littlevillagemag.com (queries can also be sent anonymously using this form). Questions may be edited for clarity and length, and may appear either in print or online.

Illustration by Jav Ducker

A year ago, my husband engaged in frequent and very personal Whatsapp chats with a woman he met in a hobby group. They met first with some other friends in the group. After that, they worked on a project together. This project brought them closer to each other. My husband often spent hours chatting with her, even wee and late hours. She confided in him about her personal matters, her marital problems and her fling.

I found out about their interaction and confronted him about it. He said he was just being nice to her. He sympathized with her because she was in a troubled marriage. He said nothing happened between them, although my husband admitted that in the beginning their conversation was mostly about their shared interests, but later she began to share very personal and intimate issues. My husband said he just wanted to be her good friend and nothing else. I felt hurt and betrayed.

My husband apologized and stopped contacting her. He did not want to hurt me, so he was willing to leave the group for good. I know my husband showed his remorse, but why do I still feel hurt and angry sometimes? I still cannot forgive the fact that he allowed chats of a personal nature to happen. I felt betrayed because he didn’t respect my feelings when he texted the woman. He was willing to spend hours listening to her stories without thinking that his actions might hurt me. Even now, sometimes I bring this up, and then we fight. Am I wrong? How can I let this go?

Hurt and betrayed,
Jane

Dear Jane,

Let’s get the hard part out of the way first. Yes, you are wrong to keep bringing up your husband’s past actions. Either you forgive him, in which case you need to work on letting it go on your own time, or you don’t forgive him, in which case you need to either determine how he can make it right or cut your losses and leave. Relitigating ad infinitum is unkind to him and unhealthy for you. A marriage is a living thing, and it can only live in the present. Too much time spent in the past, either rehashing old woes or pining for better days, is a death sentence.

So how do you let go? Well, it might help to remember that everyone has different personal limits when it comes to what breaks the bonds of intimacy in a relationship. Some things are big and obvious: Unless you’re in some form of an open relationship, for example, sex with a person other than your partner(s) is pretty much a universal taboo. But other limits are more subtle and variable.

There are only two ways to learn to respect those less obvious limits. The first is radical honesty and self-awareness. As someone who’s been burned in the past because of personal limits that previous partners weren’t aware of, I make it a policy to be up front about my limits now. And when new technology or new situations reveal limits to me that I didn’t know I had, I communicate them right away.

The other way, of course, is trial and error. You can’t judge a person for crossing a line they didn’t know existed — but you can absolutely judge them for how they behave once they know. Your husband responded by acknowledging your limits and centering your needs. That’s textbook respectful behavior. It’s easy to get caught in our own heads and believe that someone “should have known” that something would hurt us, but if we’re not explicit, that’s simply not true.

The rub there, of course, is that it’s so much harder to heal when there’s no one to blame for our hurt. It’s important to remember that your hurt is real, and you need to give yourself space to convalesce. I can’t tell you how to do that — that, too, is different for everyone — but if your heart has ever been bruised before, I’m sure you have some tried and true methods.

But as you heal, think of pain and anger as the bandage on your wound. When it’s fresh, they protect it from worse damage. For the final stage of healing, you need to remove them and let the fresh air do its work.

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xoxo, Kiki


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