Feeling appropriately guilty

27 May

http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/relationships/blog/

I am currently facing what feels like the worst problem I’ve faced in my life and with no idea where to turn, I’m asking for your guidance and compassion. I’ve been married for two years to the love of my life, but for the past year or so, our life together hasn’t been what we dreamed about when we got married. My husband has serious anger issues and it has felt like he is angry about anything and everything. When he’s angry, he yells, shuts me out, and says incredibly hurtful things about our marriage and me. He’s been depressed and seeing a therapist, but his anger has been tearing us apart. I’ve seriously considered divorce several times over the past year.

Then, about six months ago, I did a terrible thing. My husband and I were at an event and drank way too much. We befriended a lesbian couple seated near us and continued to drink with them at a nearby bar after the event ended. At some point during the very hazy drunken night, one of the women and I kissed briefly in the bathroom. I have no idea why I did something like that. I woke up the next morning with a hangover and an indistinct memory of what had happened. I didn’t tell my husband.

He recently had to take a trip without me. While he was there, we began emailing each other during the day and something about the distance and writing instead of talking allowed us to be honest about our feelings about our relationship without arguing. We both expressed sadness at how badly our marriage had broken down and we talked about how to fix things. We talked about how to change the patterns we’ve fallen into when fighting and how to rekindle our love.

For a long time I was able to pretend the kiss had never happened, but recently it has become all that I can think about. I am consumed with guilt and regret. I’m having trouble concentrating at work and I want to cry every time I look at my husband. Things are slowly getting better between us, but I feel awful every second of every day. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this and I think the kiss happened because I was so unhappy for a long time and just wanted to feel loved/desired. I’ve barely looked at another man since I met my husband, so something about this woman felt safe or better somehow. I was drunk, confused, and very sad. I know I can rationalize my behavior all I want, but it doesn’t erase what I’ve done.

Which brings me to my questions: Should I confess this to my husband? Will the amount of time that it took me to tell him ruin my marriage? Will telling him just hurt him and make things worse? If I should tell him, how do I go about doing that? How do I move on from this?

– Horrified and Terrified, Massachusetts

I’m glad things are getting better in your relationship.  Personally I think you have eaten way to much shit in this relationship in the past and I’m sure at many points previous to the current one I would have advised you to draw some serious boundaries around behavior, require change from your husband and walk away when it doesn’t happen.  That said it sounds like you two are making real progress in your relationship and perhaps you have a happy future in store for you if you can push through your unnecessary guilt.

Why do you feel guilty?  You are worried about a drunken kiss in a bathroom with a girl.  This is encouraged behavior for girlfriends in male culture.  Upon finding out most guys would be more angry that you didn’t let them watch or take the girl home for a hot threesome.  This single lapse (if you can even call it that) is so minor that it shouldn’t even cause a single night of lost sleep.  How is this remotely close to the, “When he’s angry, he yells, shuts me out, and says incredibly hurtful things about our marriage and me.”  I bet he slept fine after breaking your heart night after night.  Have some perspective.

I would investigate why you are so wrecked?  Are you afraid this revelation will cause your husband to fly off the handle?  I would expect him to have the same appreciation for the improvement in your relationship that you do.  In that scenario he should be able to cut you some slack for minor errors committed long ago.  If he loses his shit and throws a little toddler tempter tantrum it becomes a new chance for you to define deal breaking behavior.  All fights between a couple should be with the goal of improving the relationship, not making point or making yourself feel better by blowing off steam.

So yes I think you should come clean and tell him what happened.  It will ease your conscience (which shouldn’t need easing) and hopefully be an opportunity for you two to work on your ability to resolve conflict together.  In some ways that’s the most critical skill in a relationship.  You can’t predict all the bumps in the road but you can have a process for dealing with them productively.  I wish you luck.

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