Carolyn Hax: Reality messing with her long-held ideals

  • Article by: CAROLYN HAX
  • Updated: January 24, 2010 - 2:23 PM

Dear Carolyn: I've always considered myself an independent person. I am a married, full-time working mother of two young children, so I've got my hands full, but I've always prided myself on striking a balance between work and family.

I've always had a strong opinion that there is no place in a marriage for cheaters -- that if my husband ever cheated on me, there would be no lingering; I'd be out the door. My mother stayed in her marriage after my father had an affair. I saw how that affected her, and I never wanted that for myself.

Well, now I'm in the same situation. My husband of seven years just revealed to me that he had an affair for five months with a woman he works with. He says that it was purely physical, and that he loves me and our children and will do anything to make our marriage work. He has volunteered to go to counseling.

The problem is, I still love him. He is a great father, my best friend, and I can't imagine my life without him. I also don't want my boys to grow up with a weekend father. How do I reconcile my feelings of hypocrisy if I choose to stay with him?

HYPOCRITE?

Carolyn says: There are lots of problems here, but loving your husband isn't one of them. If anything it's helping you with the solution.

Labels, on the other hand, are a problem, here and always.

Fortunately, they're shallow enough -- and our nimble language is deep enough -- that you can always push one aside with another. Where you say "hypocrite," I can say "naive" (in your view of your parents' marriage), or "rigid" (in your application of those youthful life lessons), or "enlightened" (in your current, post-apocalyptic state). It's all in how you process your facts.

And since labels are so fungible, you might as well reject them entirely in favor of facts. Your husband cheated. He seems to want to make amends, but he could just be saving his butt. You love him. He's a good father. He's your best friend. You are not interested in ending the marriage.

Just because these facts come as a complete surprise to you doesn't mean you should ignore or distrust them. There are some other facts that explain why: Life is complicated. You are not your mother. Your husband is not your father. Plans are nice, but reality gets the last word.

Please take this and any other relevant information and make your best decision. No one is making you fit into your outdated, preconceived notions of marriage or family or your "independent" self, except you -- and so it's OK to declare yourself independent of formulaic thought.

If it helps to weave all this new information into a coherent theme, here's a new lesson to take from your parents' foibles: You do your best with the life you've got. The specifics of what that means are entirely yours to decide, because no one's experience is exactly like anyone else's. When the unthinkable happens, there's beauty, not shame, in growing up, wising up and finding new ways to think.

E-mail Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com, or chat with her at 11 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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