Still Can't Trust Husband

Q: A while ago, a mutual friend gave my husband some photos and contact information for an old flame of his. He became so obsessed that he carried several pictures of her around with him constantly. When I discovered this, he discarded them, but then I discovered an e-mail from her asking him to call. I cannot shake my feelings of jealousy and distress. I tried counseling, but I had to stop due to circumstances. My husband -- we're in our 50s, by the way -- treated me differently when this was going on, although he said it was 'no big deal,' and that he wouldn't leave our relationship. The whole thing just startled me so much. Those feelings keep getting triggered and I can't seem to learn to trust him again. Help! -- Kay

Dr. Susan: Mid-life crises are the stuff of umpteen Hollywood movies and bad novels. No doubt your mate fantasized starting over with this past sweetheart of his, combining remembered thrills with the novelty of being with someone who wasn't his so-well-known wife. A lot of people of both genders go through such a stage, but luckily many come to their senses before acting on those urges.

I suspect a big part of your distress is that you don't actually know the full extent of what went on during your husband's out-of-his-head obsessive period. He may have had a full-blown affair, or he may be telling the truth about its much more limited nature. The only way you're ever going to be able to trust him again is if he comes clean about what he was going through emotionally. Tell him that when you discovered those photos, and then came across e-mails that he hadn't shared with you, you naturally wondered what else might be going on. It's trivializing and cruel to tell someone that what's driving them mad with jealousy is "no big deal." You will learn to trust him again when he takes your concerns seriously. It would be most helpful if he would nondefensively sympathize with how you felt when he was being deceptive. Midlife flings, whether consummated or only imagined, are not the core issue. Without attacking your husband's past behavior, ask for his help in rebuilding an honest relationship.

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