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Posted on Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 5 a.m.

Searching for peace a decade after wife's affair

By Carolyn Hax

Dear Carolyn:

Approximately 10 years ago, my wife had an affair with our daughter's soccer coach. Of the nearly seven billion people on the planet, she was adamant that she had found her "soul mate."

Not only has she never really apologized for the affair, but I also had to beg her not to leave, primarily to keep our two kids close to their friends and extended family, as we could not afford our neighborhood in a divorce and would have had to move away.

Both kids eventually graduated from great colleges, and grew up never knowing of their mother's affair. We both sought counseling, but, oddly enough, the starting point was always having the blame leveled at me—after all, if I were the perfect husband, my wife would never have cheated!

I still harbor anger, and disappointment in my marriage, despite the fact that we both "get along." While we have sex, I would no longer consider it "making love."

I would like for someone in my shoes to tell me whether the hurt goes away, and what is the nature of forgiveness? It seems people who have never been in my shoes are quick to dispense the "forgive and forget, get on with your life" advice.

— Still Hurting

Your shoes may be a pair I haven't tried on, but I still believe "forgive and forget, get on with your life" is an insult to someone in footwear like yours.

That's because one of two things typically precedes forgiveness: the transgressor's expression of remorse, or the victim's embrace of life after damage.

The first is self-explanatory, and the direct path to forgiveness: "I believe she'd undo this if she could, and we're all capable of doing things we regret."

The second path is for when the apology doesn't come and you're left to your own forgiveness devices. For this, people usually need to feel they gained something—anything—from what happened. With an affair, that can range from ending the marriage and building a satisfying new life, alone or with someone new; to recognizing ways you weren't the greatest spouse and improving yourself for your own reasons and benefit; to using the demolition of your world to deepen your compassion and update your priorities; to recognizing that your vision of your life and marriage weren't accurate and appreciating the truth for its own sake; to taking satisfaction in finding the strength to advocate for your kids; to just summoning the willpower to choose peace over anger.

None of these is a free trip to Santorini, but each has its own soul-expanding charm.

Unfortunately, where your wife's remorse should be, you have finger-pointing—and where your personal growth should be, you have your hollowed-out marriage. Which you preserved not out of love, but economics.

To keep another decade from circling the bowl, please recognize that you need to fill in one of these two blanks, remorse or renewal—and that you're the one who gets to decide what you need to put this affair to rest. An apology, OK, or ... what? If your wife again rebuffs your request for accountability—or if you decide not to bother asking—then what attainable outcome do you want most? Therein lies your peace.

Email Carolyn at, follow her on Facebook at or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at