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Dear How to Do It,
I, an early 30s gay male, have been married to my husband, a mid-30s gay male, for six years and together for 13 years. He is a long-time athletic coach. I suspected something was up with him for a while. So, I confirmed my suspicions by leaving a recording device in our bedroom one night while I was away.
I discovered that he had an affair with one of his athletes. This athlete is over the age of consent, but much younger than he is. I am devastated. I initially felt that our marriage was over and that we would divorce. We have been trying to reconcile since then. He has made some significant gestures like enrolling in an intensive therapy program. We are starting couples therapy soon, but I am having a very difficult time deciding whether or not this betrayal is something I can move past. This isn’t the first time he has strayed in some fashion.
He has sexted with other people, nothing more as far as I know, although I’m skeptical. We have talked about being non-monogamous, but he has always insisted on monogamy. We agree that our relationship has been rocky for the last several years. He feels that our relationship issues are the real problem that we need to work on, but I am having a hard time moving past his betrayal. He has maintained contact with the person he had the affair with, which has been very difficult for me. I have gone to obsessive lengths, like leaving a recording device in his car when I knew they would be seeing each other again. I confronted him about some of the things he said during that conversation. While I found his explanations believable, I can’t shake the feeling that things aren’t over between them. I also acknowledge that my behavior has not been healthy and I feel guilty for recording them on multiple occasions.
I feel deeply insecure about the whole thing. How do I figure out if this marriage and relationship are salvageable? I hope that therapy will help, but it has taken a long time to get in with a therapist. Some days I feel like an idiot for even considering staying with him. What he did was wrong on multiple levels: power imbalance, and betrayal of multiple trusts. There are many things about him and our marriage that I am thankful for like comfort, reliability, shared lives, and integrated families, but I don’t know if it outweighs the bad. I appreciate any thoughts or insights.
Rich: So there’s obviously so much in this and it kind of keeps growing as a crisis with every additional detail. But where my mind goes when I think back about this is the fact that the husband says he doesn’t want to be non-monogamous, and yet he is. He’s living that life that he says that he’s rejecting. And so my question is how can you be with someone who can’t even face himself? He’s non-monogamous. And that makes me wonder if part of the kink is the transgression, if the cheating is the fun of it. If it’s less about the extracurricular sex than it is about the actual cheating, in which case, how could you be with someone who is relishing cheating on you?
Stoya: Yeah. And it’s a really unfortunate pattern. I’ve seen multiple instances, partners of people I care about, people I care about, being unfair to their own partners where they’re like, “No, I want monogamy,” but then they keep screwing around. I’ve also seen people say “We’re doing consensual polygamy or polyamory,” and they just keep breaking the rules. And it’s like, well, you drafted these rules. You got to make your own rules, and yet, and I do think there’s some kind of cheating kink that some people have. I don’t know what to do with that because it completely revolts me on one level. But on the other level, both of us believe, within reason, whatever it takes to get you off, and—to be clear—”within reason” means sex with minors, and bestiality is unacceptable. I think for me, that’s about it, in theory, because it’s—
Stoya: Right. Lack of consent. But then that ties into the fact that in this case, it was an affair with one of his athletes and that is a huge power imbalance, which muddles consent and is unethical.
Rich: Exactly. There are the layers there, you’re right. There’s this reverberating transgression. There are many ways that this is manifesting. I mean, it’s amazing that this guy still has his job and that he’s willing to keep risking it by continuing to see this guy in a car situation that then makes the husband think, “Oh, I think they’re still together.” He’s been caught by the husband and yet he’s still pursuing this? To me, that just says you haven’t changed.
If the question is, let me read the exact words, “How do I figure if this marriage and relationship is salvageable?” Well, one of the ways that you could figure it out is when someone gets caught doing something, they stop. They say, “Oh, you don’t want me to do that anymore, which is totally fair. I knew that you didn’t want to in the first place. I’ll stop.” And it sounds like he hasn’t really stopped. And the most amazing thing about it to me is that the transgression on the part of the husband is so great that it makes the whole surreptitious recording thing kind of pale in comparison. I’m not even really worried about that in this letter. Usually, we have a no snooping policy.
Stoya: I have a whole reaction there. So it has been, on my end, a very interesting week of hearing about the experiences of vulnerable people who have dated people who do unethical things.
Stoya: So I’m feeling very, one could say, activated, also protective. When your world is crazy, you begin to do crazy things. Right? When monkeypox and polio started popping up, I started engaging in what we can call prepper behavior, but that was reasonable because we still haven’t even closed the COVID pandemic. We may never. And then we’ve got two more threats that popped up. So, I’m beginning to feel reasonable about my desire to have a couple of hazmat suits. And when dealing with this level of unethical behavior, sure, the snooping is not great. I’m not blessing it. But I understand why this guy put a recording device in the bedroom and then the car.
Rich: Also, he had good reason and was right, which I think is the difference from a normal snooping scenario. Sometimes we get scenarios in which somebody just decided to open their partner’s phone, had no idea what they were going to find, and then they literally fucked around and found out. You know? I think when you have reasonable suspicion and then the snooping merely confirms those suspicions, it’s a lesser infraction. Either way, it got him to, I think, a better place than he was, which was being somewhat in the dark about this. Right?
There was a point in which it was unclear as to whether, so now at least now he knows. I mean, they’re in their 30s. Imagine if he found this out in his 40s, in his 50s. At a certain point, it becomes a lot more difficult for you to start over, if that’s what you need to do. And it really might be what he needs to do. I don’t think they get anywhere without an absolute change of behavior on the part of the husband. The therapy is a start. As a non-clinician, this may be not within the realm of what people would advise, but if that’s my husband, I’m asking you every single therapy session, what did you talk about? What were your insights? How can you apply it? Because I want to see the progress personally.
Rich: So, that’s what I would do. I would absolutely keep the closest possible eye on this.
Stoya: See, if it was my husband, I would insist on mutual non-monogamy to put pressure on that and see if he blows up into a monster.
Rich: That’s a great point. Because it could very well be possible that the husband doesn’t want non-monogamy because he can’t even deal with the idea that the letter writer would want to do the same shit that he’s doing. Right?
Stoya: Mhm. Mhm.
Rich: That’s probably it.
Stoya: But also my last thought is, “Some days I feel like an idiot for even considering to stay with him.” I would listen to that.
When your gut is telling you this is a bad idea for me, I feel stupid for doing this, and your reasons to maybe stay are comfort, reliability, shared lives, integrated families, that’s all inertia. That’s not something inside you saying I believe this person will change and we will continue to walk together. That’s not something inside of you saying I love this person so much that I don’t want to live without them. It’s… comfort.
Rich: Here is a way that I would encourage him to think about it. It sounds to me like the husband might coach a college sport. If ever it came out that a college player and his coach were having an affair, it could very well become a scandal depending on how high a profile of the team is. Imagine the media attention on your life and you’re standing by your husband. What does that look like? Or better yet, divorce yourself from it. Imagine this is another couple in the spotlight, and the husband of the cheating coach says, “Yes, I’m sticking in this relationship.” Would you judge that person? What would you think of that person? I mean, take yourself out of the situation and look at it from that perspective. And I think, like Jessica said, you know, feel like an idiot, listen to yourself and your gut. I think that voice will only amplify if you take a step outside of yourself and view the situation as an observer. No offense!
More Advice From Slate
My wife and I have been married for 40 some years and retirement is near. We have (now adult) children, so sex hasn’t been off the table. But sex has never been a priority for her. She’s not into much of anything beyond, “Stick it in, and don’t take too long.” I will admit: I’ve strayed a bit in the past. I’m not proud of it, but I can’t apologize. It is a fact. I’ve been careful, safe, and never disrespectful of her during my interludes. I haven’t used my few “friends.” We remain on good terms. But I’m not doing that now, and I want to focus on my wife.