You know how the experts say a repentant unfaithful spouse should be willing to “do anything” to show remorse and a changed outlook to the betrayed spouse?
Yeah. About that.
My husband is essentially what most people would call a “good guy.” And he had a long-term emotional affair, regardless. He had no legitimate excuses, although he has finally been able to articulate his state of mind: He was angry and resentful of me, and he let it build up to a high level because he didn’t express it. He just stuffed it down inside himself, saying, “It doesn’t matter” or “I don’t want to argue.”
But it did matter. And he should have expressed his discontent on the little annoyances that occur when you’re living with another human being, so we could work them out or agree to live with the imperfections.
Don’t get me wrong: There is no justification for taking the immature, selfish and immoral way out when angry; his affair is 100% on him. But I have always said that I’m willing to work on the normal friction in a marriage. And it’s made exponentially more difficult because he is still so skittish about acknowledging his negative feelings.
One of the reasons I continue to feel unsafe in our marriage is that he denies having anger even when it is clearly written across his face and stamped onto his mannerisms. How can I trust that he won’t stray again out of pique, anger or fury, if he is doing nothing new to express himself? He seems to think, “I can continue stuffing my negative emotions. I just won’t act out on them again.”
To be frank, I want to smack him on the face and say, “You. Idiot.”
Here’s an example of where he’s not changing: Our younger daughter had an honors program at school recently. We got there late because we are always late — my husband’s inattentiveness to start times is something I’ve just learned to deal with over the years. The program was just beginning when we tried to find a seat. There were several easily accessible seats on the end of a row, about 6-7 rows from the front. Great! I would be close enough to take a picture.
I got to the aisle first because he saunters. I gestured for him to come on and join me; I wanted to sit in the aisle seat for more freedom in picture taking. He stepped up and — instead of sliding into the unoccupied aisle I was gesturing to — began excusing himself and moving into the aisle right behind it. He was facing me and I hissed, “No, not there. Here!” (I hissed because he was moving slowly, and he had his butt stuck in these two women’s faces on that aisle.)
He gave me a slit-eyed look with a little sharp turning away of the head and with his lips tightly compressed. It is the look that accompanies the thought, “Oh, you fucking bitch.”
Here’s what I suspect happened: He got embarrassed that I had a *slight* sharp edge to my voice when I whispered that correction, and it was in public. (Anything other than utter approval, especially in front of others, is embarrassing/disrespectful in his mind.) And I know that, so I usually avoid it. I slipped when I corrected him a little sharply.
But oh, that look he gave me.
Not a big deal by itself, really. Angry looks are a dime a dozen. But it’s a problem when you accumulate a lot of small annoyances and develop a simmering resentment. He’s already shown that this is EXACTLY what he does.
Because his expression unnerved me, I gave him a mild “WTF?” look, and we sat down and soon relaxed and enjoyed the program. I didn’t ask him about this afterward in the car or when we were eating out with our daughter, because I didn’t want him to get sullen on a special night for her. And I didn’t want to do it on a night when he was exhausted or on a morning when he was heading to work, because he has problems if I “spring things” on him or make him feel “trapped” into a conversation or if it’s a “bad time.” (Sooooo many conditions.)
I let it go for a while, waiting for the right time. Of course, he never brought it up. He had safely stuffed it away, wherever he stores his annoyances and resentments. (Judging from his affair, he stores resentment in his dick.)
A few days later, I mentioned the unpleasant little exchange when we got seated in the auditorium. In a gentle, non-accusatory way, I said he looked angry, and I asked what he was feeling then. He laughed and said, “Oh, I was just embarrassed. You know my hearing is getting bad. I couldn’t *hear* you clearly.”
My skeptical response was, “Hmm. I don’t want to claim I know better than you do what you were feeling. But your face definitely did not look like you were embarrassed, or at least it wasn’t simply embarrassment alone. You looked really furious, for just a moment or two.”
He laughed again and assured me that he was just embarrassed, never angry. So I said something like this, in a calm way: “Okay, I will drop it. But I want you to know that this concerns me. There have been many times in the past when I’ve caught glimpse of anger or irritation on your face, and you didn’t give me the opportunity to learn from it and make adjustments (or give explanations) because you denied ever feeling upset. And you’ve even told me later on, many times, that yeah you actually were irritated or angry. You also said that many years of stuffed-down little resentments helped you justify your affair in your mind. So I hope you can understand how unhappy and unsafe I feel when I see you doing the same thing again, just stuffing your emotions. I used to find it irritating when you denied negative feelings. Now it feels a little threatening to me. You need to know that. And I’m not going to be mean, but I’m going to keep talking to you whenever I see something like this. It’s cognitive dissonance for me. You say one thing, but your face very clearly says something else entirely. It worries me.”
He listened and agreed. But I don’t feel like he really absorbed it.
Staying with him is going to be like doing a circus performance without a safety net beneath me if he doesn’t change. I am an exceptionally strong woman. But I don’t know if I can be happy like this if he doesn’t grow in this area.
This is not a good thing.