Dear Carolyn: A dear friend of mine recently found out her husband of five years has been having an ongoing affair. She has turned to me for support, and I am more than happy to offer her an ear and a shoulder.
The only problem is I have found myself feeling shaken in my own marriage. Our husbands have very similar personalities and both seem (seemed) like the types to never cheat. They both travel regularly for work (the affair took place on business travel). My husband has never given me a reason to suspect he is anything less than a loving and devoted spouse and father, but I feel myself looking at our relationship with a more critical eye.
What can I do to give my husband back the trust he has done nothing to lose, while still being a supportive friend?
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
The easy answer lies on the surface: Your husbands are similar but not the same, so you need to put them in separate compartments. It’s a convenient solution, too, because it lies in what you’re already obligated to do, to judge a man on his actions alone and not another’s.
What this solution likely won’t be, though, is satisfying, because this isn’t just about similarities between two men who “seem … like the types to never cheat.” It’s also about new doubts you have about your own ability to spot a cheater — right? You thought you could tell such a thing, and now you realize you can’t?
The natural impulse is to reassure yourself out of this existential crisis, but I suggest you do the opposite and push yourself into it even more broadly. Since you’re already questioning what, exactly, you can know for sure about a spouse, I suggest you keep going and finish off the whole concept of certainty. With a (hypothetical) baseball bat.
Here’s what you actually know, at any given time, more or less: who and what surrounds you, what you’re doing, and how you feel. The rest is speculation that ranges from highly informed to completely beyond your reach.
You can also know for sure that change is a constant and plans are not guarantees.
Depending on how you handle these particular truths, they can paralyze you or liberate you.
If you fear uncertainty, and give yourself over to the dread of the many possible negative outcomes, then you'll be as stuck in them as surely as if they had occurred. Take the person whose greatest fear is that a mate is cheating. That whole relationship becomes about infidelity — watching for it, imposing restrictions to pre-empt it, interrogating and snooping to discover it — whether the mate is straying or not.
If instead you accept that you’re just as subject to surprises as anyone, and that your only recourse is to choose people well, love them fully and trust yourself to handle it if things don’t turn out as you’d hoped, then the possibility of cheating — or illness or job loss or whatever else can befall a family — may scare you when it crosses your mind, but it won’t own you.
And that’s an unspoken attitude you can bring to supporting your friend: “She'll get through this, just as I would in her place.” Be there with insight, not fear.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at washingtonpost.com.