Vows

Last week we spent four days in the state capitol – I had a committee hearing, and J came with me to share my free time. For both of us, this was something of a test since the last few visits to this city have been spectacular failures. I attempted to talk to him about these previous disasters, including his friend’s wedding and the hearing in September, since he had abandoned me both times to do something with a friend without even telling me. He got very defensive and blamed it on alcohol and his friend and then became very annoyed because I did not let it go. He did not seem to understand why I was upset that he felt incapable of visiting with a friend – a friend that we both like – and still behaving appropriately toward me.

Overall our time away was great, although I had several off moments, including one caused by an episode of “Say Yes to the Dress”. We have talked about renewing our marriage vows several times. J first broached the topic before I knew the truth, and I did not think it was really necessary – our getaway to Eureka Springs and St. Louis seemed like enough of a renewal. After I started to process the news that he actually had a physical as well as an emotional affair, that he had actually had sex with another woman, I was devastated and felt like we did need to renew our vows, since he had broken them. At the end of “Say Yes to the Dress” they showed a couple making their vows, and for some reason, hearing the words hit me really hard. As I tried to figure out why, I realized that the breaking of the “forsaking all others” vow and the “in sickness and in health” vow is definitely hard for me to wrap my head around. We made our vows in front of God and blessed by his minister who was also his father, as well as all of our families and friends, but that did not stop him from breaking them, so what is the point of renewing them? Infidelity did not make our marriage any less legal, only less special – less honorable.

I realized too that I have brooded since April about the possible health ramifications of J having sex with someone else. He insists that he was tested after he got home, but is very unclear about how long after the incident and what he was actually tested for…so it wasn’t very reassuring. I have had one infection which occurred after the disaster, but before I knew what had happened, so I did not provide the doctor with all the information that she needed to make sure that I was safe. Last week it seemed like the infection was recurring, and I sort of freaked out but tried to bury the thought because I did not want to deal with it and did not want to upset J. I have an appointment next week to be checked for any possible problems so I can just get over it.

One of the hardest parts of this situation is trying to figure out what it means for me. Is this experience going to change me in ways that I do not like? Does it mean that I can never trust again? At the core of my personality has always been a sort of blithe naivetĂ© – a belief that nothing too serious would hurt me. Obviously, between the illnesses last year and this situation, that belief is gone. I do not, however, want to become one of those people who constantly expects the worst that life has to offer. Many of the marriage books and articles that I have read advise guarding against infidelity – never traveling alone or allowing him to travel alone because the temptation is too great. No friendships with the opposite sex because it leads to inappropriate sharing and blurred boundaries. Some women spend years after an affair checking their husband’s phone, mail, credit card receipts, pockets, etc. to make sure he is where he says he is and not doing anything he should not be doing. I know that I cannot live that way. We both need to be able to trust one another, and to treat one another and our relationship with respect.

We got sucked into the movie “It’s Complicated” while we were at the hotel, which I think was actually a healing experience. It deals with a man who has an affair with a younger woman, leaves his wife, and then comes to realize that his wife is really a much more interesting woman. We both laughed and cried, and J expressed his desire to not be that guy and reaffirmed his 6 month long fear that he would end up on the outside of the life he wanted, looking in. It helped me realize that I have floundered a little since I left teaching – I was a wife, mother, and teacher…and then I stopped being a teacher at the same time that I had an empty nest and that my husband found something more interesting than marriage (work – not a woman) which meant that I was not useful in any of the roles that had defined me for almost two decades. This movie was sort of inspirational for me because the protagonist had managed to redefine herself by putting her life back together, raising her kids, and becoming an interesting and attractive woman. I want to do that too – only inside my marriage.

In counseling, I discussed my distaste for the redoing of my vows and the counselor seemed to think that I was taking an unreasonably literal attitude to the idea of “broken vows”. I know this is true – when I said “forsaking all others, ’til death do us part”, I meant exactly that – and still do. J did as well, but in a time of crisis did not honor them…so what use is redoing them? Is that too simplistic?

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