I’m still angry about the affair

Three years later, I'm furious. Why now?

Topics: Since You Asked, Marriage, Infidelity, affairs, Sex, co-workers, workplace affair,

I'm still angry about the affair (Credit: Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

I will get right to the point: I am having a very hard time coping with something that happened between my spouse and another person three years ago. That something was an affair. It was not only physical, but also emotional (the two of them professed their love for one another). Our then 15-plus-year marriage had grown cool and distant, responsibilities of everyday life getting in the way, and also resentment over various and assorted disappointments with one another. When I found out about the affair and my spouse confessed what had been going on for some months, we both felt a flood of emotion (emotion that had been lacking in our marriage for some time, as I mentioned) and discussed at length how and why it happened. I acknowledged my part in it as did my spouse. We felt strongly that saving the marriage and our family (we have children) was what we both wanted to do, and that coming so close to ruin made us realize both were indeed worth saving. The sticking point became the other person. My spouse felt sad for this person, this person who was also said to be wronged. I, perhaps not surprisingly, did not feel sad for this unmarried other person.

In the months that followed the revelation of their affair, the other person continued to make gestures designed, I feel, to disrupt the marriage and family we were trying to put back together. Calls were made, emails were sent and allegations of conversations between the two of them were shared with me by the other person. Complicating matters was the fact that my spouse and this person worked at the same place and so running into one another was certainly a possibility; my mind would race with thoughts of them spending any sort of time together whatsoever. I did not feel that they had resumed their affair. Even thoughts of casual, collegial conversation drove me crazy. My spouse claimed ignorance as to why the other person would behave this way and offered no explanations other than an unwillingness to let go. I urged my spouse to directly tell the other person that there was no interest in even casual conversation. My spouse would not do this, claiming that such a confrontation was not “worth it,” that it was best to just get along. During this time, I consoled myself with thoughts of: when my spouse and this person no longer work at the same place, all will be OK, they will not even possibly be able to run into one another and it will be truly, entirely over with.



Finally, late last year, my spouse did move on to another job. Just when I thought I would feel a sense of relief and peace, anger set it. Anger at both myself and my spouse. Anger at myself for accepting the poor treatment and disrespect I received. Anger at my spouse for not taking my feelings into account, and for seemingly not even trying to understand how hard the aftermath of the affair was on me. It seems that my spouse has had a much easier time putting the affair in the past and moving on. I thought I had, or at least that I would, but now three years later I am struggling mightily. My spouse does not understand this delayed reaction and is frustrated with me, I think. I am having a really hard time explaining my feelings beyond what I’ve described in this letter and I’m not sure that I am making a lot of sense. Does this delayed reaction indeed make any sense? Have I done both of us a real disservice by glossing over my feelings in an attempt to put our lives back together? Where should I go from here? Any advice would be most welcome. Thank you in advance.

Sad and Perplexed

Dear Sad and Perplexed,

I will get right to the point as well: I am having a very hard time coping with the lack of gendered pronouns in your letter. God gave us gendered pronouns so we don’t have to write “spouse.” He gave us “sister” and “brother” so we don’t have to write “sibling.”

If you’re all three men, or all three women, you could just tell me. I can handle it. Instead it’s all “spouse” this and “other person” that. I’ve never met anybody who had no gender. I’ve met people who were all genders at once but that’s San Francisco.

So I’m going to pretend that you are a woman married to a man who had an affair with a woman where he works.

There.

Sorry for the crankiness. I’m on your side. I am totally on your side. And I want to say that you are definitely making sense and you are not required to justify your anger and it does not matter much about the timing of your anger. The truth is, you are angry about this thing that happened.

You ask why you are feeling such intense anger three years after the event. Well, part of it happened three years ago but the emotional repercussions have continued up to this day. So it’s not like you’re suddenly out of nowhere angry about something that happened three years ago. You’ve been angry all along, and your anger has been regularly triggered.

But why the intensity, and why now?

One idea is that since the duration and the intensity of an emotional event can affect how long is required to get over it, by continuing to speak to this person at work for three years after the affair ended, your spouse effectively prolonged the event as you experienced it. The affair may have been over, technically speaking, but for you the feeling of betrayal was prolonged and regularly retriggered.

So, in a sense, in the language of the heart, only now has the affair truly ended. Really ended. In the language of the heart ended. Because the heart just wanted her gone. The heart didn’t care about sex or no sex. She was a threat and the heart wanted her gone. The heart wanted no conversations in the hallways at work no matter how matter-of-fact. The heart wanted no passing her in the hallways or in certain stairwells, she carrying a vase of flowers and he hauling up some gardening equipment to the roof, where they would repair, without quite realizing what they were doing, because they were still all tangled up in crazy lust. That’s what the heart sees without wanting to see it, and that’s why you wanted him to stop talking to her completely and find a new job.

Which he refused to do — the not-talking-to-her part — for three years. Which brings us to the second idea of why you are angry, that anger is about being prevented from getting what you want. For three years, what you wanted was for him to stop talking to her. It doesn’t matter if it was reasonable or not reasonable. It’s what you wanted. And he wouldn’t give it to you.

A reasonable person might say, Well, the affair is over, I’ve admitted my responsibility, but why should I not talk to her?

But is the heart reasonable? Does the heart understand that talking to his lover doesn’t mean the affair is not over? Does the heart understand double negatives? The heart imagines them gazing into each other’s eyes, sharing intimacies.

You told your husband what you wanted. He could have said yes or no. He chose to say no. In a sense, he continued to choose her over you.

It seems to me that on those rare occasions when we have been in the wrong, we ought to give our partner what she wants, even if we think it is unreasonable.

So maybe you can make this clear to your spouse, that the anger you feel has not gone away partly because he refused to give you what you wanted. You have not been paid back. He might have trouble understanding and accepting that. Perhaps you could give him a copy of Paul Ekman’s book “Emotions Revealed.”

So there are lots of things for you and your spouse to talk about, Mrs. Jones, or Mr. Jones. Meanwhile, why not try this: Why don’t each of you try really hard to give the other one what that other person other wants? It might work better than you expect.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>