The marriage counsellor asked how our two weeks went. I looked to Carol to answer. As mentioned before, she rarely initiates discussions so I do enjoy seeing her talk first.
“It’s been okay. I went out of town for a work trip,” Carol said.
“And Jack, how was your anxiety regarding that?”
“Hmmm… no I don’t think I had any anxiety at all.”
“Well that’s good! So you’re starting to build back trust?”
“No, I’m just kind of numb a lot of the time,” I replied.
That wasn’t a good start but it’s true, I haven’t rebuilt any trust in Carol. However, I don’t think she’ll cheat on me anytime in the near future due to the freshness of the fallout.
The counsellor asked a bit more about my trust issues.
“No, I have no trust for anyone. Carol was the only one I did trust but she broke it.”
Next she asked about my individual counsellor meeting. I told her that I had a good conversation but I didn’t think we were a good fit, citing the language barrier. I then told her that I was uncertain whether she was a good fit either.
I aired my grievances about the contradictory comments about fully exploring the affair, the assumption of me not meeting her needs, victim blaming, and my disagreement that affairs only happen if there’s something wrong in the marriage.
The counsellor responded that she meant that she doesn’t have time in counselling to address my personal issues from the past and that we absolutely were going to thoroughly explore the affair. I guess it was miscommunication.
Next, I told her how I felt it was victim blaming to assume I was not meeting Carol’s needs, which led to the affair. I disagreed with the assessment and the assumption and found it to be shifting blame toward me.
The counsellor responded by saying we did indeed have some sort of breakdown in communication and were not meeting each other’s needs and that is the most common marital issue: communication. It was not an attempt to deflect blame.
And finally, as I said her assessment was an assumption as we had not really begun to address our marriage in the previous years, and that affairs can occur even when the marriage is just fine, due to a personal issue of one partner, Carol interjected.
“From your perspective, our marriage was going well. From mine, it was not.”
“I’m not saying our marriage was perfect. It had problems, but there were a thousand other things you could’ve done before choosing an affair. An affair is never the right choice.”
“But I didn’t know how to handle things, so that’s how I dealt with our problems,” said Carol.
The counsellor asked for a little more of Carol’s perspective.
“It started when you got sick. It felt like I could never complain about any of my own issues because you had it worse. I know, you would’ve let me talk and you would’ve listened, but there was this…” she curled her hand into a fist in front of her stomach, “thing deep inside that was just… tearing at me,” she said as her eyes welled up.
“It felt like I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t say anything about me because you were dying. I had to be strong, and I didn’t matter anymore.
That feeling inside is gone now. I feel like I can talk if I need to.”
I began to feel tiny spark of emotion as she explained this but it was blown out by the wind of callousness. The wind of Joe.
“Did you know that she felt this way?” The counsellor asked.
“Somewhat. She would wait until I was recovering from a procedure to start yelling things like that at me.”
“That’s when I felt the worst,” replied Carol.
“Here’s the thing. You would give me no feedback. You insisted that you’re just not an affectionate person. You insisted that you’re fine, you just don’t need to talk things out. You insisted that you just don’t have the sexual drive you used to have. We had many great times together. Sure, there were times when it wasn’t great but it was all mixed in with great moments. You gave me nothing to work with. All I could do was react. I wasn’t meeting your needs because you didn’t meet mine but you insisted all was okay. What was I supposed to do? Drag it out of you? You can’t expect me to be your therapist.”
“No, you shouldn’t have to be that,” said the counsellor.
“I’m not perfect, nor am I expected to be,” I continued, “but what you did is one hundred percent on you. You could’ve talked, agreed to counselling, told me ‘no, I’m not fine’, but you didn’t. And because of that, our marriage problems were not fifty percent on me.”
Next, we talked about our communication. Carol and I both agreed that we were already doing well with the talking and hugging every day. We learned that our talks were supposed to include checking on each other’s feelings or other issues when I told the counsellor of our talks outside of the daily talk.
The sex talk was the one big discussion.
“And how did you feel about him starting the discussion on sex?” The counsellor asked Carol.
“It gave me a lot of anxiety. I just wanted to get out of the conversation but I knew we had to talk.”
“I had a lot of anxiety too. I have to start these conversations or they won’t be addressed. It was like a week after I decided we needed to talk about it that I finally worked up the nerve to start the discussion. She never talks about things first, so I always have to bring it up. And then it always looks like it’s my problem since I’m the one who brought it up.”
“I’m trying to communicate more. It’s still hard to do but I’m working on it,” Carol added.
The counsellor asked how the talk went and we explained how we were trying to address it by getting more sexual without the pressure of sexual intercourse. We talked of our high anxiety and how it’s been an issue over the years. Carol wants spontaneity and doesn’t want it to feel like a scheduled chore. I have major performance anxiety with her, making me unable to achieve an erection when intercourse is expected or a possibility. There appears to be no physical issue as I can achieve erections otherwise.
Carol admits that she does not send me signals to show me when she is open to sex and we talked about her needing to work on showing me instead of me having to guess. If I have to keep guessing and dealing with rejection, it’s not going to help.
The counsellor told Carol that the spontaneity she wishes for is not reasonable considering that we have kids and full time jobs. We will have to do some planning in advance.
Carol told of her progress regarding anxiety over planned sex. She felt no anxiety knowing that I planned to get sexual with her last Thursday but she also wasn’t excited about it and wants to be more comfortable so she looks more forward to it.
I explained that I was anxious about it, expecting her to try to get out of it.
“Before, I would have. This time, I decided that it’s going to happen no matter what,” Carol replied.
I explained how, in spite of being worried about it, I chose not to ask Carol about it that day as I figured that might ruin it so I chose to suffer in silence. Turns out that was the right choice.
“I’ve come to learn that sometimes, even though something is bothering me, it’s best to be silent instead of risking wrecking the moment,” I said.
We decided to plan to get sexual once a week, without going too far with the planning. I was happy to hear Carol say that once every two weeks was too long of a gap, that we need to do it more often.
We addressed the affair one more time. I said I have questions, some I know she won’t be able to answer because I understand that she still hasn’t figured it out for herself. I said that I do not want to talk about it outside of counselling as I want that time to be spent focusing on loving each other and strengthening the relationship.
The counsellor suggested that I write down some questions for our next session. I told her there were some things I wasn’t sure how to address and some things I was afraid to ask. Carol provided the suggestion, “Think of two questions to ask.” We agreed that it will be my homework for next session.
Afterward, we hugged and kissed. Carol said, “I love you.” I responded in kind.
This session felt much better and we will see the marriage counsellor again in three weeks.
Yet still, I feel like telling Carol again that the affair is 100% her fault. I want her to look me in the eyes and agree with me. But will that be enough? Will anything ever be enough?
What kind of questions did you ask your spouse about his/her affair in counselling? What questions did you feel were helpful to get answers on, and which ones didn’t help?