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By "Today" contributor
updated 3/10/2005 10:33:27 AM ET 2005-03-10T15:33:27

Q: My wife cheated, and I fear she will do it again. She tells me she was drunk and “it just happened,” and it will never happen again. I love my wife dearly, but I am devastated. How should I handle this?

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A: The hardest part of getting past an affair is the regaining of trust. To some extent, you are unlikely to regain 100 percent trust. And that’s OK. In fact, part of the way to prevent future affairs is to forgive but not forget.

The other is to truly examine the state of your marriage. I am not blaming the victim here — fidelity is a choice — but there probably are things you can do to lessen the chance your wife will cheat again.

Were there problems that you didn’t acknowledge? Were you growing distant and uncommunicative? If so, it’s possible the marriage deteriorated to the point where an affair was likely.

If you were always at work or focusing on the kids or busy with other things, your wife could have felt neglected. If you say things like, “Sure, go out with your friends, but don’t call because I am going to sleep,” then, in a sense, you are enabling her to stray.

Another factor is sex. Often, married couples let their sex life dwindle to nothing, so one partner (or both) will go looking elsewhere. Your wife might have felt she needed some loving, and this man provided it when you were not.

Everyone must actively protect their marriage. Figure out what was lacking. Make efforts to communicate and have fun together, and keep your sex life active.

This is not to say you should become hyper-vigilant, constantly blaming and smothering her. If you torture your wife with constant reminders of her guilt, this, too, will erode the marriage.

That said, your wife may have cheated for reasons that have to do with her and not with the marriage — for example, she is having a midlife crisis and wants other men to make her feel young and sexy. If this is the case, then she is the only one who can make sure it doesn’t happen again.

You should try to understand and help her with this, but if she refuses to acknowledge her motivation (conscious or unconscious) to cheat in the first place, then there is not much you can do.

In addition, she must want to show you that you can trust her and demonstrate that she is keeping herself out of tempting situations. Ultimately, this is a task for her, not for you.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: Do everything you can to create a loving marriage. But ultimately, it is your spouse’s decision to cheat or not, and to do the work necessary to rebuild trust.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her new book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was recently published by Riverhead Books. For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com.

PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist or psychotherapist. Copyright ©2005 Dr. Gail Saltz. All rights reserved.

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