My husband cheated. Can I trust him again?

-- Question for John --

I am 52 and my husband is 50. We have been together for almost 30 years. My husband cheated. Can I ever trust him again? I recently discovered that he has been involved with another woman for almost a year. He says that he doesn’t know why it started except that he was feeling old and a younger (40) woman showed interest in him. He says he never meant for me to be hurt and that he never thought of us at the same time.

He talked with her about our children, pets, homes, etc., but somehow, these subjects brought up no thought of me. Now he swears he is through with her, never thinks about her anymore, and wants us to get back to how we were. How can I learn to trust him again, when I never once suspected a thing? And how can he learn not to shut me out of his mind and heart like that?

-- Answer from John --

It is possible to build a new and better marriage. You cannot go back to how you were, because apparently there was far too much unconsciousness there. You didn’t know what was going on. He didn’t put one and one together. That is not a place worth revisiting. But if YOU are willing and want to, you can co-create a more conscious and stronger relationship with him. This necessarily includes directly addressing the issues you state above.

(1) How can you learn to trust him again? Wrong question. The only worthwhile question is this: How will he build trust with you? Trust is not something I would be willing to just give him again. He needs to be able to earn it. You have absolutely no obligation or even reason to trust him. He needs to give you a reason. And not just appeal to your heart for it. Because you are too generous. The only real way he will be able to build trust is over time by his words and actions. These words and actions will need to portray a new level of honesty, awareness, responsibility and authenticity to you. In other words, he will have to do some major personal growth and show it to you. He also will have to help you heal the wounds of this affair, by showing up and being truly present and creating a supportive space in which you can express your anger, fear and pain and be heard — for as long as it takes for you to heal. If he is able to come forward and do these things, you will — by his consistency over time — you will begin to trust him. This time, the trust will be based on something real, not imagined. As a final part of his personal growth, he will have to come forward and express his inner emotional realm to you in a much more open and honest way. He knew all these feelings were within him, and he held them all back from you — probably due to his own fear. He will need to demonstrate to you — in a way that you can clearly see — that he is ready to overcome his own fears and open up and do the hard work of dealing with his feelings with his intimate significant other — you.

(2) How can he learn not to shut you out of his mind and heart like that? If he does the personal growth work above, he will become more whole. In doing so, he will not be able to split off a part of himself this way again.

I would suggest you discuss the contents of this email with him and ask him if he is willing to go forward to build a better relationship — that there is no chance you are willing to go back to what you had, because it was obviously lacking substantial pieces. Ask him if he is willing to do the work of personal growth. Then ask him if he is willing to immediately back that up and get into counseling. If he is, ask him for a one year commitment to a combo of couples counseling and him doing his own individual counseling (and you getting your own counselor for support, too). He might not be able to make sudden or dramatic changes of the sort I am suggesting above, but if he sticks with that commitment, over time he should grow — and, more to the point — so should you.

It is only through joint personal growth that you two can co-create a rewarding new marriage. Obviously, what you had did not end up filling the bill, probably not for you either, if you are truly honest here. There is only one way to move and that is forward. This will require both of you to work on yourselves.