Reconnecting

Yesterday I saw my wife for the first time in over 6 weeks — 43 days, to be precise. I had last seen her on August 1st, and we had a very pleasant, if brief encounter. The very next week she unloaded on me and proceeded to attempt to shut down any and all communication. She delivered our dog home the following week with only a cursory email to explain her action and made little effort to communicate with me thereafter. She suspended her customary “custody” swap of the dog in which she’d take possession on alternating weeks. The dog is her most prized possession, so it just made no sense to me how she could leave her alone for an entire month. Something must have been up.

Indeed, that seems to have been the case. I’m not really sure exactly what was going on, or to what extent this situation affected her, but there does seem to have been something quite anomalous going on. For one thing, she became increasingly public with her affair over the past month, posting all sorts of idyllic photos of her “new life,” as if it were an attempt to show how proper her actions were, and how her current situation was, in fact, perfect. She seemed to be doing everything she could to lock me out of that situation, avoiding my phone calls, emails, and of course personal contact, as if those things would interfere with this supposed perfect, new life.

I suppose it didn’t come as much of a surprise that she did email me earlier this week to express her desire to take the dog for a week, and I was happy to oblige. She called me on Wednesday night from a very noisy location, and we chatted very briefly, arranging for me to drop the dog off at 10 a.m. the following morning.

So, yesterday I arrived at her colleague’s house at promptly 10 a.m. She had spent the night there, as she had many times in the past. I gave her a kiss on the forehead and she did not object. She didn’t look entirely happy, not about this per se, but basically about anything. I suggested we go out for coffee, and she agreed. She said she wanted to get some sweets of some sort for her colleague, so I suggested a favorite bakery.

On our way to that bakery, she began to ask me all sorts of questions about my new job, about my income, and about my (i.e. our) financial situation. These were not questions geared at taking me to the cleaner in some sort of legal proceedings, but questions of genuine curiosity. It seemed to me that perhaps she was trying to figure out if maybe coming home might be an option in the near future. I answered her openly and honestly.

We made a bit of a detour on our way to the bakery, and visited one of her favorite neighborhoods. I stopped in a little shop to buy some incense, and found a nice little card I knew she’d like. I purchased them both, but kept the card out of view. She bought some essential oils, as she is a big fan of aromatherapy. We left the shop and got back into the car, and I gave her the card, which she liked very much. (Of course she did — it was exactly her style, and I know that.)

We headed over to the bakery, and spent a good 45 minutes there having coffee and a couple of pastries. We actually had a really nice time. It was a good “date,” very much like the dates we had over the previous few months. In fact, in a way, it was as if the past month hadn’t even happened, and we were just picking up right where we left off. She was, as usual, very secretive about her life except for one thing: she showed me the book she was currently reading, as she has begun working on her dissertation again. She began to divulge those plans to me a bit, and indirectly asked me when I might be available to help her with this project.

After leaving the bakery, we headed to a chocolate shop that was on the way to her colleague’s place. This shop also sells bath products, soap, and a number of other things, so we stopped by so that she could buy some little gifts. She browsed the soaps and other paraphernalia, and I chatted with the shop owner. For all intents and purposes, we seemed like a normal, married couple. The shop owner certainly would not have guessed that we were 11 months deep into a marital crisis that involved infidelity.

We then headed back to her colleague’s place, and stopped off at a pet shop to get some dog food and other goodies. I then dropped her off at her colleague’s place. I left her with the dog, and a couple of other things: in the dog’s travel bag, I had put a couple of small gifts; I also placed a bag with some lunch I had made for her on the table. I let her know that it contained her lunch, and she went to retrieve a bento box I’d left with her a month prior. I then proceeded to say goodbye, and gave her a kiss on the forehead. I asked her for a hug, and she decline. No problem for me, though. I looked at her, and she just was looking down at the floor, with her arms crossed, and I thought perhaps she’d begin crying. She did not, but she clearly was not happy. In fact, she seemed to me to be rather depressed.

So here’s my take on this situation: an obstinate spouse has a process that he or she needs to go through before they can get to the point at which reconciliation becomes a possibility. If there is adultery in the mix, then basically the affair is that process, i.e. reconciliation becomes possible once the affair ends. At some point, the affair starts to become unstable, and I imagine this begins to occur when the infatuation starts to wear off. All of the typical things one would expect in an ordinary relationship — arguments, disagreements, and fights — almost certainly will occur at this stage, but there is a problem when these happen: the affair is supposed to be a “perfect” relationship, the best one either partner has ever had. It’s supposed to be a “soul-mate” connection, one that will last the rest of their lives. Indeed, they probably had already begun to make all sorts of future plans about how they’d spend the rest of those days together. But those altercations and disagreements have taken the sheen off the affair, and revealed it for what it is: a sham, and a completely superficial one at that.

It appears to me that my wife has gone through that process. It’s kind of like a meat grinder: things so in at one end, get chewed up in a very painful way, and then come out the other end, inevitably, but also in an altered form. Actually, both spouses go through this process. For me, that process ran its course much more quickly, and has led me to a much better place than where I began. I have a new job, more money, future prospects, and better relationship skills. For my wife, it has led her to a worse place: she has almost no work, very little money, no future prospects, and relationship skills that are no better than they were on day one. On top of all that, there is the dawning realization that she has made what likely is the mistake of a lifetime, and the tremendous uncertainty about how she is going to deal with that  is probably very unsettling.

I think that, at this point, her trajectory is nearly finished. I believe the affair to be substantially over, however I believe that neither partner can really see this right now. But, as the fights and disagreements become more frequent and more problematic, it will be pretty much impossible to avoid this reality. I do very strongly suspect that she sees the affair ending soon and, though she does not want to realize it, she almost certainly intuits this. As a result, she is looking to me as she begins to consider her options. Staying with the adulterer up there at Camp C-S is really not an option anymore. I think she knows that she’ll need to get out of there pretty soon. At the same time, I think she has no idea how to do that, and she feels helpless in trying to extricate herself from a thoroughly hopeless situation.

Is the fog lifting? I don’t know, but something tells me that it is. It’s not really clear exactly what tells me this; instead, it’s more like a general sense that comes through her body language, mannerisms, and any of a host of other non-verbal, subtle cues that I’ve been getting over time. These really carry an energy with them that makes me truly feel that her affair’s end could be close at hand. I don’t know how long this might take, but I suspect it’s a matter of weeks, if not days. I do not think it’s going to be months at this point.

I have decided to spend the weekend getting the house ready for her return. I do think her return is inevitable: when the affair ends, she really won’t have anyplace else to go, and even if she found some other place, it would just be temporary. She does see me as a safe harbor, I think; I will not be critical or judgmental, and I can help her heal. So, I’ll be cleaning and decorating, and will likely rent a rototiller to take care of the sorry state of the garden in the back yard.

I guess the message I would like to deliver to any and all of you who might read this, and who might be suffering from your own marital crises is this: your crisis is temporary, and it has a trajectory. You need to be respectful of the process of this trajectory, and while it is taking place, work on yourself and your relationship skills. Get involved in a good marriage coaching program (see here, for example) and avoid traditional marriage counseling like the plague. Ignore all the well-intentioned but misinformed advice from friends, family, and co-workers. Follow your heart, because if you truly love your spouse, it will show you the way forward. Sooner or later that trajectory will hit its end, and the crisis will end with it. You want to come out in a strong, stable place so that your spouse can join you. Then you can begin the process of rebuilding your marriage.

It is possible, I really do believe that.

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