Kari wrote in:
I was so glad to read your post on bad relationship signs – I saw myself in number 10.
My husband has been two-timing me for at least 5 years of our 11 year marriage. When I confront him, he is always sorry — but mainly for himself in his “inability to choose” He says he can’t break off his relationship with the other woman, but that he will in time, that I make him stronger and when he is strong enough he will end it with her. I want to believe him because I love him… But my heart knows better; he’s having his cake and eating it too. How do I get him to break it off and have a healthy relationship, the marriage I signed-up for?
Kari, I’m afraid you don’t get to make him to break it off.
No one can make anyone do anything. (Well, literally, it can be done. But then it’s controlling and abusive; Guantánamo Bay detention camp is no model for good relationships.)
The only person you control in your relationships is you.
But that doesn’t leave you powerless. Far from it.
1) You can draw the line for yourself. If your marriage was agreed to and built upon the notion of fidelity and his actions to the contrary hurt you, then do not accept anything else but his fidelity.
2) Communicate that line. Tell him in no uncertain terms that his infidelity is not just upsetting to you, but a breach of contract. Let him know that if he does not end his extra curricular activities that the marriage is over. Or, if you don’t want to bother working on this relationship any more, tell him that since he did not end his affairs the marriage is over. (You should know if you want to continue this relationship or not before you communicate your line; it does no good to demand he toe the line when you just want out.)
Don’t let him cry & claim that you are giving him an unfair ultimatum; he has committed a breach so fundamental that he has terminated the contract. It’s not you; it is him.
3) Walk the line. Should he not cease his affairs with women, you must then take a walk: leave & sue for divorce. Almost all states are no “no fault” divorce states, so you should be able to get divorced without a problem; few states allow fault divorces, so you may not be allowed to actually sue for damages. Even if you live in a place as ridiculously difficult to divorce in as New York, you should be able to find another location or get thee to Guam. In any case you will get your clean slate and the opportunity to find a healthy relationship.
You probably figured out that these three steps, draw the line, communicate the line, and walk the line, can all be used for any relationship, any circumstance (though in cases of domestic violence, greater care must be taken in dealing with the abuser — for instance, communicating the line is not only an irrelevant step, but a dangerous one).
But no matter what your partner does or doesn’t do, you must know what you want/need, set the boundaries & enforce them for yourself. Draw your lines, communicate them (if only to yourself and your support system), and then walk the expectations — even if that means walking away. You will never have a healthy relationship until you do.
Image info: Movie poster from I Walk the Line.