"I made a terrible mistake," admits Kitty, 35, "but that was in the past. Must I pay for it forever?"
Two years ago, Kitty, feeling lonely and neglected in her 13-year marriage, had a brief affair with a co-worker. "I should never have told Mike all the details," she laments, "but he demanded to know. And I wanted to be completely truthful."
But now Mike doesn't trust Kitty at all: He makes her take their two daughters wherever she goes, "like little chaperons," Kitty says. And he won't even drive down the street of the hotel where it happened.
Kitty is the last person that anyone would expect to be unfaithful. But now that she thinks about it, Mike has always been insensitive to her feelings and needs. "I just never had the courage to tell him," Kitty reports. Even their sex life was unsatisfying: "I was nothing more than a maid and a bed partner," she adds.
She thinks Mike is so jealous of her new job and the appreciation -- and promotions -- that have come her way that even his compliments are backhanded: "He'll say, 'Gee, Kitty, you look pretty in that new suit. I bet you fit right in with all those corporate executives, don't you?' "
It's clear that no matter what Kitty says or does, Mike will never forgive her. "His anger rages out of control," Kitty continues. "I couldn't let the girls live in such an environment." So, two months ago, she packed everyone up and moved in with her parents. "He says he wants me back, but I think too much damage has been done," she says.
Mike, 36, a manager at a lumberyard, insists he can forgive, but he can never forget: "What man could?" he asks.
He knows his behavior is out of line and, since Kitty left, he's been seeing a therapist to learn to control his anger. The %J problem is that every day something reminds him of the affair, and the wound is reopened.
Mike never realized his wife was so unhappy -- "but she wasn't the only one who felt shut out," he adds. "Even before the new job, she never had the energy to make love." Mike doesn't want a divorce, but he hasn't the foggiest idea how to keep his marriage together, either.
"Forgetting the past is neither possible nor healthy," says Mark W. Steege, a marriage therapist in San Antonio. "However, the pileup of hurts will lessen once Kitty and Mike begin to make positive changes in their marriage."
When basic trust is broken in one area of a marriage, it puts other areas of a relationship in jeopardy, too. And since a solid relationship is based on mutual honesty and openness, it's a good idea for every couple to have a trust checkup from time to time.
How much can you and your mate really trust each other? Next to each question, rate whether it is A) easy, B) somewhat difficult or C) difficult for you to get help from your partner when:
1. You feel indecisive.
2. You're depressed.
3. You feel exhausted.
4. You feel guilty.
5. You need encouragement.
6. You need advice.
7. You feel like a failure.
8. You're in physical pain.
9. You're in a money crisis.
10. You feel humiliated.
Talk with each other about how you rated each statement and why. Which areas of your marriage seem to be the most open and honest? Which areas need work?
This exercise was especially helpful for Kitty and Mike because neither of them had ever been comfortable sharing intimate feelings. Once they got in the habit of telling each other how they felt, as well as accepting those feelings, even if they were painful or if they disagreed with them, these two rediscovered a closeness that had long been missing from their marriage.