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Guilt Over Infidelity

QUESTION: My wife is suffering from guilty feelings about "cheating" on her ex-husband over two years ago. We have been married for one year and have been seeing each other for almost six years. She was unhappy in her marriage as I was in mine, and we found happiness and love being together. What is happening to cause these feelings now?

ANSWER: Two years is the average length for the "honeymoon phase" of a relationship. However, in the context of a forbidden romance, the initial honeymoon phase can be prolonged, even indefinitely. In your case, progressing to marriage has brought developmental challenges which must be handled if your relationship is to grow, rather than stagnate.

In an affair, the lover is the recipient of only positive feelings. Negative feelings are projected onto the marriage, leaving the lover relationship unrealistically free of disappointment or resentments. Because of this dynamic, it may feel as if your lover understands you while your spouse does not. But then, your lover is not living with you on a daily basis, negotiating the tasks of ordinary life!

It is time to get to work on what your own marriage needs in order to develop a truly intimate relationship based on honesty. It is possible that your wife's remorse is functioning as a distraction from dealing with negativity about this current relationship.

Marital intimacy is based on honesty and resolving the inevitable struggles and needs of two different people. Your relationship must progress through the second phase of marriage. You must struggle with differences and resolve disappointments as they arise. Resolving this second phase of marriage may have been curtailed in your first marriages, due to the development of the extramarital relationship, which promised to make you only happy. True intimacy involves unhappiness as well as happiness.

Whatever factors that kept your wife from resolving problems with her first husband may still be an issue with her new marriage to you. Now that you are the husband and not the secret lover, is your wife bringing her unmet needs and disappointments (which are inevitable in any marriage) to you, or not?

Give this relationship a chance by allowing your wife the space to reflect on the past and any express remorse about dishonesty in her previous marriage. Commit yourself to developing the communication in this marriage that you both lacked with your former partners. If you can endure the growing pains, you may discover that you are on the verge of a much greater intimacy than either of you has experienced!


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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