Melissa* was devastated when she learned that her husband, Jon,* had had a tryst with her brother’s wife (and her best friend).
This single act was like an Atomic bomb going off in the middle of the entire family. Nothing would ever be the same. Nothing. But, because they had six children under the age of 15 together, they were inextricably tied to each other for the next decade or so.
Although Jon admitted it was a really stupid thing to do (and, of course, swore he’d never do it again) Melissa felt like she couldn’t let him off the hook that easily. She was angry, hurt, sad and scared. She wondered, “How could he be so stupid?” “Why would he have hurt me so deeply?” And, if he did it once and she forgave him, what would stop him from doing it again? After all, they’d see each other at family events.
Melissa’s head was a constant swirl of questions and confusion. She felt tremendous pressure to make a decision. She kicked Jon out for a day but quickly realized that it would be impossible to run the household and get all the kids taken care of without him.
Although Melissa let Jon back home, she made it clear that she was probably going to ask for a divorce. The mere thought of this sent her into a tailspin of deep depression. There were no good choices. She was facing having to choose between a rock and a hard place.
That is, until she found out about the Parenting Marriage concept.
Suddenly, there was another option on the table. Rather than having to choose solely between staying (being angry and untrusting, or trying desperately to put it all behind her quickly—which she knew she couldn’t), or leaving (which would create a whole new set of challenges), there was another viable alternative. Melissa described this new concept like a “pause” button. And, she said, it gave her room to breathe and a renewed sense of dignity. She added that, for the first time since this all happened, she felt like she was on an upward trajectory and she felt better right away.
Melissa reached out to me to let me know what this Parenting Marriage concept gave her:
1) My power back. All the infidelity therapy stuff really encourages you to get the healing done rather quickly and while I forgave him intellectually, my heart just wasn’t there. This buys me time to continue raising my kids in the exact same way while explaining to my husband that I can’t give him my “romantic” heart right now.
I’m pretty introspective and I like to have a long time to think about things and figure out what’s best. This option allows me to say “don’t make any passes at me right now. We are in a parenting marriage which means we are focusing on the kids while I figure out if this is what I want.”
2) If I never fall back in love with him, he is used to living like this and the decision can be his if he wants to or not. It removes the shock of a potential split. It allows us to ease into it.
3) We have a high needs teenager that needs us both right now. It is my stepdaughter and his daughter and she is in and out of alcohol/drug treatment. Splitting right now would not be good for anyone, but especially not her.
This type of situation could work quite well for us. Our marriage has always been very respectful (besides the infidelity), we fight fair, and we put the kids first.
The knee-jerk reaction when someone cheats is to split up and eventually divorce. [Shifting] to a parenting marriage allows time for introspection…I don’t know, maybe it’s not healthy, but I haven’t felt this good since it happened. It removed the shame and the fear of a possible divorce when I’m not even sure that’s what I want. Really, it’s strange, by putting a label on it from romantic marriage to parenting marriage, it removed the pressure I was feeling to just “get over it” and allows me the time I need to heal from this.
Thank you again,
A Parenting Marriage isn’t right for everyone. Perhaps it isn’t right as a long-term solution. But, making a decision as big as whether to end your marriage from an overly emotional place doesn’t usually end well. This option is giving Melissa a chance to step back from all the drama, put any decisions on hold, and wait until her head is clearer to decide what’s next.
*(not their real names)