I made some serious mistakes in my marriage years ago, but it seems like my wife still hasn’t let it go. I’ve apologized to her and tried to live a better life since then, but I don’t know if it’s ever going to be enough. Our relationship isn’t awful, but I can just tell things have never been the same as before. Any thoughts on what else I can do?
I commend you for your desire to heal your relationship from the damage caused by mistakes of the past. Long-term healing of betrayal requires this type of sincerity, so please know that you’re already on the right track.
First, it’s important to understand what betrayal does to a committed relationship and why things have felt so disconnected for all of these years.
Marriage is a primary attachment relationship, which is a fancy way of saying that we place our primary needs for safety, connection, security, and order in this other person. In other words, if I know that my partner will always be there for me and they will care how I feel, I can feel safe, reassured, and protected in the unpredictability of life.
Virtually everyone understands that children do better when they are securely connected to a primary attachment figure (usually their parents). This need doesn’t magically end at age 12 or 18. Instead, we transfer this need for security to another person in the form of a long-term committed relationship.
With that in mind, when there is a betrayal of trust in an attachment relationship, there is a violation of human connection. Depending on the type of betrayal, violations of trust create deep injuries that take time and effort to heal. Because attachment relationships are safe havens from the uncertainty of life, when things feel uncertain in these relationships, it’s as if there is no safe place to go.
As a result, it’s imperative that every effort be made to repair the attachment injury as thoroughly as possible. Your wife’s distance from you is evidence that she’s trying to create predictable conditions. My guess is that she is doing this so she doesn’t have to worry about getting surprised with more betrayal. If she gets close to you again, she will have to risk having her world turned upside down again.
We have such a strong need for reassurance, safety, order, and predictability that we will create it if we don’t believe we can get it.
Also, recognize that as your wife withdraws, it triggers distress in you, as your primary attachment figure (your wife) becomes unavailable. It’s a painful dilemma for both of you that has to be undone.
So, I recommend you do a couple of things. First, I recommend you pick up a copy of “Hold Me Tight” by Sue Johnson and begin reading about attachment injuries to understand what this has been like for you and your wife.
Second, it will be important to seek out support as you work to repair this injury in your marriage. Time doesn’t automatically heal all wounds. You will need to seek out help from a counselor who can help guide your marriage toward a restoration of trust and closeness.
These mistakes of the past don’t have to be a life sentence for your marriage. You can have the closeness and connection you both desire.