Dr. G Hits the Spot: Betrayal, blame, and despairDear Dr. G,

A few years back, my spouse returned to college. We have five school-age kids. I work full time, and she only has a short while left until graduation. At some point, our intimacy dropped off due to what I viewed was a very busy period of our lives. In time, I discovered that my spouse was being pursued by several men at school and that my spouse had in fact been pulled into having a full-blown affair. At first, I blamed myself. After I chased the other men off, in some cases contacting their spouses and in one case contacting the man’s Mormon bishop, things were left to just me and my spouse to sort our stuff out. I’m so conflicted now because I feel so betrayed. Our sex life is very active, even if our intercourse often concludes in tears. Why do I swing from being crushed in one moment to then being desperate for intimacy with my spouse in the next?

Sincerely, Pater Familia

Whoo boy, this one is a doozy, Pater. You’ve posed a question that has so many facets to it. I wish we could sit for an hour or so to comb through the details of this situation, but that’s not possible, so I will assume a few things for the sake of an answer.

Love doesn’t always just drop off a cliff for everyone if infidelity has occurred. But for many people, it is the end of everything, and trying to fix and forgive is out of the question. However, it doesn’t sound like that is the case for you.

A couple of things come to my mind right away as I read your question. The first one is that you definitely have not let your spouse take responsibility for her own choices. The fact that you use the words “pulled into” to describe the affair and that you chased the other men off rather than allowing your spouse to do that part of the job indicates that you still feel responsible for her choices. In a marriage that is emotionally healthy, the spouses are considered equals. The situation you have described is one where you either feel superior to or feel pity for your spouse. By fixing things for her, you have shown that you don’t feel she’s capable of taking care of the situation on her own.

As to why your sex life is active but often intercourse ends in tears, you must remember that there is an emotional connection that occurs through sex. Sometimes there’s more of a connection than others, but when you are physically intimate with a spouse you have loved for a long time, emotions will definitely be present. And considering your situation, I’m not surprised that sadness and heartbreak are the emotions that will show through. It is a little bit like drinking alcohol. When people drink to cover their emotions or to self medicate, the first few drinks do the job, but there’s a point when the alcohol actually breaks down barriers and people end up with the true emotions being triggered right through the medication that is alcohol. We usually see tears or sadness at the end of a long drinking binge. In some ways, it is the same because the sex probably starts out as a way to connect and suppress the feelings you’re currently having, but as the emotions and the intensity grows through that sexual act, the barriers are dropped and your real emotions surface.

I would ask you to question whether you are desperate for intimacy with your spouse or whether you are desperate for intimacy, period. If you are still feeling betrayed and if the emotions have not healed from the affairs, I would suggest that you still have a huge gaping wound. It doesn’t sound from your question like your spouse has done much of the work to help you feel safe and secure. At some point, you are going to need to let go of the idea that her being unfaithful had anything to do with you. When you allow her to take responsibility, and when you realize that her faithfulness (or lack thereof) was her choice, you will be able to stand back and allow yourself to heal and move on to either a different level of a relationship with her or a different relationship altogether.

Fixing sets people up for failure. Support sets people up for success. You might want to stand back and ask which of those things you are currently doing for your spouse and which of those things you are doing for yourself.

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