The One, the Affair, and the Infuriating Family

by A Married Dude

I’ve been in an amazing relationship with an awesome Dude for a little over a year. He is smart, ambitious, talented, passionate, caring, affectionate, supportive, funny, etc. I admire, respect, and love him more than I ever thought was possible. This year, for the first time ever, I split my Christmas between my family and his, and met his entire extended family for the first time. Naturally, this was taken as a sign that things are “getting serious,” although everyone was nice, and not overbearing or pushy about settling down.

BF often makes comments to the effect of “when we’re old we’ll be like that [points to loving couple in their 70s kissing across the street],” but we’ve never explicitly talked about marriage (between us specifically), because we both want to date for several years before making a commitment, and I don’t think at this stage I’m ready to broach the subject. But, the holiday trip has made me start thinking about the future — we’re both in our mid-20s — and even though I love the dickens out of him, I just don’t know right now if we’ll get married. I don’t see myself with anyone but him for the foreseeable future, but the thing is, I’m not sure I’ll ever know 100% that this will last FOREVER. Forever is a scary thought when you’re 25! So, my question is this: is there ever a point at which you reach a certain clarity and peace before you decide to marry someone? Do people really have an epiphany of The One-ness? I feel like I’m going to go into marriage with the attitude of “I’m committed to giving this relationship my all based on how I know this Dude as a person and a partner” — am I wrong?

Forever is scary when you’re in your 40s too! If only because forever isn’t as long as it used to be in your 20s.

Nope, in my experience there isn’t a point when you have that bolt-of-lightning strike you in the crotch — er, HEART — and you see fireworks and rainbows and ponies. You don’t know, you just jump. That’s why it’s exhilarating. Like betting on the Detroit Lions. You just meet your bookie in the alley, hand over the money, hope for the best, and cheer your ever-loving heart out.

Except marriage has a more favorable point spread.

Your attitude going into this is completely reasonable, but in the quest to assess your readiness, don’t make it too clinical. We’re talking about love here, not picking horses. Relationships and people will evolve as your relationship transits milestones of triumph and tragedy over the years. That loving couple in their 70s still tells one another to Fuck Off every now and again, and you’ll want to partner with someone you can still stand when you’re in your 70s.

You’ll probably “know,” even when you don’t really know. When I decided to propose, it became immediately clear to me that it was the easiest and best decision I’d ever made. However, it was still a decision.

I’ve been with my now-husband for ten years, and I’m not even 30. He’s creative and iconoclastic, but incredibly sensitive and approval-seeking. My lust for him has abated over time. I know this happens. We’ve been to therapy to help us communicate more effectively. But over the years my frustration with him has grown, and his beautiful, unconventional mind is often at odds with mine as to how to navigate the world, each other. (It’s the little things, familiarity breeds contempt, etc.)

I knowingly did a wrong, selfish thing: had a six-month affair with a discreet, trustworthy man. Told myself (and him) that it was only physical, but through either fate or the power of infatuatory projection, I came to understand just how well matched we were. We finally admitted that we had fallen in love, HARD. And that’s when this older, wiser, very self-contained man ended it (we both knew he would have to, as I wouldn’t), painfully admitting that he would die to date me again if I were ever single. I’m plagued by scary thoughts of leaving my husband, even though we have nothing but mutual friends and our families are very close. He’d be blindsided and devastated. Telling him I cheated would be even harder on him than just leaving. And, he or I might still decide to end it. I am so confused.

I know it’s my fault that I’m this fucked. I thought I was happily married and in control of my emotions. Now I sleepwalk through the days, made miserable by having glimpsed an alternate future for myself. I’ve begun to seriously re-evaluate what I want out of life. Dude: I never wanted babies before, and I still don’t want babies with my husband. But I think about shedding this life, getting my shit together, living on my own for the first time in my life, becoming “my own person” rather than being defined by a relationship (1/3 of my lifespan!), and then calling up this man and having his fucking babies omg. What to do?

Here’s what you’re NOT going to do: you’re not going to end your marriage, suddenly become self-actualized, and start a new life with the man who you had an affair with. It’s simply not that easy, this is not a Renee Zellweger movie. He was a symptom, not the cure.

Here’s what you ARE going to do: you are going to talk to your husband about what is so missing in your life that requires filling it with another person. You’ve been avoiding confrontation at every turn, including being unable to end the affair yourself, so it’s time to suck it up and have the hard conversations.

I’m not judging here, really. But clearly something is missing that led you to seek solace with someone else. If your marriage can’t withstand the disclosure of an affair — as well as the circumstances that led to it — I’m not sure it’s going to survive anyway. It’s going to come out in the laundry eventually, and frankly, you kind of owe it to him to be honest. Trying to swallow all of that guilt and frustration and fear is going to manifest itself in scary ways. Sounds like it already has.

Your marriage will probably not survive. You’re not attracted to him anymore, you’re frustrated with him, and beyond going to therapy to “communicate” better, how much work have you put into this relationship? You guys were very young when you got married, and I’m not hearing much beyond you’ve grown tired of him and want something new. ANYTHING new. I don’t hear how you’re working on your marriage, any acknowledgement of your role in how things got to this point (other than admitting the affair was wrong).

There are several possible alternate futures. But all of them begin with you confronting the fundamentals of your marriage. If you guys don’t survive this, you’re going to need some time by yourself to reflect, heal, and sort out what you ultimately want and need in a relationship. Jumping right into the arms of someone who was a symptom of your current relationship dysfunctions just means I’m going to be fielding a different — but related — question from you this time next year.

My fiance and I have been together for two years. Ninety percent of the time, things are great. And when things are great they are great. But when we get into fights, shit gets awful and he gets MEAN. Even if we get into arguments over stupid stuff, he always takes it to the next level. No violence or anything like that, but he’ll make below-the-belt comments about my weight or other things he knows I’m insecure about. These arguments tend to end with me walking away or going to bed, and then the next time he calls or sees me, he is genuinely surprised that I’m still hurt by what he said. The words “I’m sorry” just don’t seem to be in his vocabulary, and he expects me to feel fine after just sleeping it off or removing myself from the argument. He’ll call me at work the next day all “I love you, baby, you’re the best, etc.”

But, I’m not like that at all. I need him to express remorse, to say he didn’t mean it, and apologize. I’ve told him this and things just don’t seem to change. Recently, his work dried up and he’s been obviously feeling depressed … this has made him even more mean and it sometimes feels like he’s trying to pick a fight with me.

So … what do I do? I love him and want to be with him and all that. But at the same time, I can’t stand fighting this way. I understand couples fight and it’s normal, but this is not healthy fighting. This is scorched-earth fighting, and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life doing it. Especially if we have kids. His parents had a pretty awful divorce, so he might be used to seeing couples fight horribly, but I’m not! It’s fucked up! And I feel like shit afterward!

You said it yourself: “this is not healthy fighting.” These are not things a caring, considerate, confident and secure man does to his partner. And on the odd occasion that a caring, considerate, confident and secure man does do this? He either gets his ass handed to him by HIS caring, considerate, confident and secure partner, or he apologizes once he’s confronted and had a chance to cool down. Usually both.

Your guy isn’t doing either of these.

Personal, petty attacks at your insecurities? Not cool, not acceptable. No apology or acknowledgement that he’s wronged or hurt you? Not cool, not acceptable. Not at any level of an adult relationship.

I’m a Dude, so I can be a vindictive little bastard when I want to be. I’ve slept in the guest bedroom, pulled the silent treatment. For the most part, guys know when they’re being spoiled little pricks, and we aren’t wired to back down. We can dig our heels in and try to defend an indefensible position, like arguing that the current BCS system makes sense. No idea why we do it, we just do. But I KNOW when I’ve fucked up, when I’ve crossed the line, and I know that I need to admit it and apologize. I come around, eventually.

So, two things. One: decide if he can change. Relationships get harder, not easier, over time. Bummed about work, so he takes it out on you? WTF? What’s he going to do when your two-month-old is screaming at 3 a.m. and won’t stop? Or when a family member faces a health crisis? Or when the Giants get bounced out of the playoffs?

Two: you make it clear, in no uncertain terms, what you expect from him. It doesn’t have to be an ultimatum, but it needs to be firm. What kind of loving, caring idiot attacks his partner’s insecurities? Does he actually love you? It’s supposed to be the two of you against the world, not him against you. Walking around on eggshells, waiting for him to light into you, doesn’t make you noble. It makes you a future divorcee.

At some point, you have to ask yourself if this is the kind of guy you want to live with. Because that 10% is only going to get worse.

I am married to a lovely man, and we’ve been together for 11 years. We have a beautiful three-year-old. We have had some struggles in the recent past (unemployment and cancer) but are still chugging along. My husband loves me and my daughter, works at a respectable job, is smart, ambitious and funny, he runs marathons and raises money for charities. I adore him.

But my family acts like they can’t stand him. My father seems to like him and is (in his way) warm to him. My brothers are dismissive of him and his interests. They’ve been outwardly rude to him in the past, and he’s returned the favor in those instances. He has done the same to my mother when pressed. Usually she picks at him, then we’re all talking about current events, and he retaliates to her picking by punching a hole in her argument. (Record scratch: no one ever dares to question my mother.) Then she continues to pick at him until we leave.

Holidays are painful. We’re guilted into spending a lot of time with them, so we try to plan fun things. We try to act like everything’s great, to try and make the best of things, but it always feels useless. Our child is three and she is kind of treated like a small pet — everyone appreciates how cute she is, but the dirty dishes, football games, and newspaper usually take precedence to spending time with her. (Of course, when we go to my in-laws they play with our daughter, and are generally just lovely people to be around.)

So my question is a) can I bring up to my family (who avoids confrontation) and say “Like my husband? Treat him nicely?” because their rudeness is subtle and indirect. I’ve made timid attempts in the past, but it hasn’t changed anything. And b) can I get out of these awkward visits? My daughter kept asking if we could go home during this weekend’s visit, and honestly all I wanted to do was pick her up and run out of the house.

Families are pains in the ass, by definition. You didn’t get to choose them, unlike your husband. Even the most well-adjusted become insufferable after a couple of days. Quirks aren’t charming after a while, they’re just annoying. Add some passive-aggressive stunts like yours is pulling, and I’m surprised we’re not discussing plea bargain strategies.

I’d start with trying to find out why your family is treating him like he’s Cousin Eddie from Christmas Vacation. Religious differences? Political? Chew with his mouth open? Use the wrong fork with the salad course? Red Sox fan? There’s got to be something, and you need to pry it out of your family. They don’t have to like him, but you deserve to understand why.

Second, if they won’t warm to him, you should feel completely justified in limiting your visits. Why put yourselves and your daughter through the ordeal? They may be your family, but guess what? You are a family now too. You guys should start creating your own traditions, interactions, memories, etc. Feel free to invite them, but make it clear that you are including them in YOUR plans or holidays. Perhaps that participation is contingent upon them sorting out their issues with your guy.

At the end of the day, don’t push your family away. But do stick up for YOUR family.

A Married Dude is one of several rotating married dudes who doen’t claim to know everything about marriage. Do you have any questions for A Married Dude? (300-word max, please.)

Photo by Patsy Michaud, via Shutterstock