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Affair Guilt

Question:

Over the past several years, my marriage steadily deteriorated. He was never very communicative, and as time went on, I got tired of trying to keep the channels open. Eventually, I became very depressed and started taking some herbal remedies to help with that. The times I tried to discuss my worries about the relationship, the response was a joke or quip from a t.v. show to “lighten the mood”. It never felt as though serious consideration was being given to the situation. The final result of my depression was the enormous mistake of having an affair with a man in a similar situation. He and I seem to have great communication and a good deal of similar interests. I had separated from my husband prior to this time, but had not yet pursued a divorce. Now that the whole situation has come to the surface I find myself dealing with a lot of guilt and remorse. Obviously there is no hope for the marriage, but how can I find the ability to forgive myself?

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Answer:

I normally frown upon affairs as being destructive to marital intimacy (potential or otherwise). In an ideal world, we would all have the strength to make clear breaks with past relationships before pursuing new ones. We don’t live in an ideal world though. The strength required to fully break with relationships that are not working is sometimes superhuman, and the temptation to experience a little joy in the arms of another can become overpowering. You write that you were separated from your husband at the time of your affair, though not divorced – so you were clearly on your way out of your marriage even if you had not finalized this break yet. I’d say you acted in a very human and understandable way in the midst of a very trying circumstance. Forgive yourself. Give yourself permission to make mistakes and to be imperfect. You might be surprised to know that affairs are fairly common within marriages, and that they do not themselves generally account for breakups. Many couples with otherwise sound marriages have found ways to overcome the pain of having an affair. If you are certain that there is ‘no hope for the marriage’ then rest ashured to know that your affair is not the cause of that condition. It might be helpful for you to speak with trusted others about your situation; either a therapist, clergy member, group therapy participants, support group, relatives, etc. It may help you to have external people forgive you for what are very human ‘sins’ to make.

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