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Q: My husband had an affair with a coworker. It’s over now, and they don’t work together anymore, but I can’t get past the feeling that he prefers her to me. He says he loves me, that he chooses me over her, but if that’s true, why did he have the affair?
A: I’m so sorry for the ordeal and the heartbreak you’ve gone through. How devastating to learn that your partner’s been unfaithful. The thing to recognize, right out of the gate, is that affairs happen for many reasons and that a spouse who cheats actually may still love their spouse.
Love, of course, here refers to attachment or affection, not to the type of love Paul spoke of to the Corinthians which “suffereth long and is kind . . . envieth not . . . doth not behave itself unseemly . . . thinketh no evil . . . [and] rejoiceth not in iniquity” (1 Corinthians 13:4-6). Unfortunately, your husband allowed himself to yield to temptation and sacrificed (at least at the time) the faith and strength of character necessary to possess that kind of love.
But does he legitimately care about you? How did this happen? Can you trust that he’ll never do this again? Let’s break these questions down.
Does he legitimately care about you?
On the surface, it seems that the answer is no, or at least he didn’t care about you more than himself since he did something so damaging to you and your relationship. That answer, though valid, doesn’t speak to the complexity of the situation.
In an article for Psychology Today, Robert Weiss explains that even persons who love their spouses may cheat because of self-exploration (trying to figure out who they are), the seductive nature of transgression, succumbing to the allure of lives not lived, or the pull of new or forbidden emotions. Your husband may have been vulnerable to temptation due to losing touch with who he is eternally along with who he wants to be in mortality. He may have fallen due to the simple fact that, while there is “peace in righteous doing,” there’s a rush that comes from sin. Perhaps he felt trapped in his life and was looking to see if the grass is greener on the other side (it never is). Or perhaps he was drawn in by the challenge or vanity of someone else falling for him.
Of course, we know where the true source of these thoughts and feelings come from. “And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice” (Moses 4:4). Your husband allowed himself to be deceived and blinded. We all do, to some extent or another. That’s why we all need a Savior.
Back to the question at hand. I can’t answer whether or not your husband truly cares about you. I’d have to meet him. I’d have to work with you both to be able to have an opinion. It’s possible he’s lying and manipulating. It’s also possible he never stopped loving you, he only stopped keeping that at the front of his mind and the center of his focus. It’s possible he’s come to his senses and that his feeling for you is sincere.
How did this happen?
Again, this is difficult to know without meeting with you. Some couples are happily married and one partner still strays. In other cases, breakdowns in the relationship contribute to the betrayer’s vulnerability to temptation. (He or she is still responsible for succumbing, of course.) I listed four reasons above why someone in a happy marriage might choose to cheat. Oftentimes, though, a marriage passes step-by-step through growing apart before either realizes how serious the distance has become.
Turning away from each other instead of toward, avoiding conflict, feeling unsupported, comparing one’s own marriage to that of others, relying on others to meet one’s needs, seeing one’s partner and marriage through a negative lens, rewriting one’s history so that the couples’ story is less romantic and genuine, minimizing a partner’s strengths while overemphasizing their weaknesses, and connecting with a new confidant may all be part of the process leading to an affair.
Can you trust that he’ll never do it again?
“By this ye may know if a man repententh of his sins— behold, he will confess them and forsake them” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:43).
Whether or not it’s safe to trust your husband depends on whether or not he's taken full accountability for the affair. Does he own it or does he try to minimize, justify, excuse, rationalize, or shift blame on to you? Has he confessed to God, to you, and to priesthood leadership? Is he facing the consequences of his actions? Is he humble, transparent, and honest, willing to answer your questions? Is the affair over? Completely over, with no unnecessary contact?
These are the questions to consider when it comes to trusting whether or not he’ll do it again. His remorse needs to equal the pain he’s caused. That way you know that he’s serious about not returning to his sins and the chances that he’ll break your heart again are less.
I hope this helped. My heart, love, and prayers go out to you. God bless you.
To those readers whose lives and marriages have been affected by an affair, I invite you to my free online course on Healing from Infidelity for LDS Living readers, where I’ll confidentially answer your questions live.