My husband and I had a baby just nine months after we met. I then found out he had another girlfriend. I left. He apologized, promised never to do it again, and asked me to elope with him: I did.
We’re now at the three-year mark with two children. I just found a secret email account that holds 40 addresses, most of which are gay men my husband has had sex with repeatedly. Is my husband secretly gay? I am crushed. I don’t know if I can trust him. What should I do?
Toni W. — Berkeley, CA
Ouch! I’m so sorry! I can’t imagine how you felt the moment you found that account, and my heart goes out to you. Now, let’s get to solving this.
Your husband’s sexual orientation is not the point. The real issue here is trust.
There’s an unspoken expectation that we should be able to fully trust the people we love. Unfortunately, we put our often-blind faith in flawed humans. When someone falls short, we say, “I can’t trust them,” but that phrase is inaccurate. You can totally trust him; for example, you can trust that he will have sex outside your relationship. You’ve uncovered a proven, trustworthy, consistent track record. He’s count-on-able to cheat, whether with women or with men.
So what are you going to do about it?
Change him? Yeah, that never works.
At this point most advice columnists would start telling you the different ways you could change or fix him. But here’s the thing: If your husband had cheated once, and had a tearful reconciliation, then maybe there would still be hope. But you’ve caught this guy twice now, with 40+ people, so this is obviously just What He Does.
Threats are not going to change him. Accepting “I’ll never do it again” would be wishful thinking at best, and you’ve been there, done that.
The recommendation that tops my list would be to have a straight (no pun intended) conversation with him about everybody’s needs. It could go a little something like this: “Love, I found your secret email account, and I know that you’re sleeping with other people. Can we talk about how we’re going to work through this together?”
The rest of how that conversation goes is up to the two of you. Infidelity may be a deal-breaker for you, and rightfully so, as monogamy was your expectation for your marriage. If this is the case, you’ll be working through how to separate your family as amicably as possible.
Or, if you don’t want to separate, this may mean opening up your marriage. If you plan to stay, I recommend the book Opening Up. You’ll need to work out deals that fit for both of you. What will it take for him to be able to sleep with other people without you feeling compromised or disenfranchised by that situation? What about practicing safe sex? If one of you is sacrificing more than the other, you haven’t made the right deal.
Staying and being miserable is all too common in life, and I don’t want this for you. If you can’t create a deal that gets you to “happy to stay,” then don’t make one.
If I ruled the universe I would ask us all to make this fundamental, lifelong shift in our thinking: Stop asking, “Can I trust them?” and start asking, “What can I trust them for?” We humans are massively flawed, we are unreliable in our own special ways, we’re certainly count-on-able to fuck up from time to time, and we’re not all that changeable in this.
What’s more useful is to take a good, hard look at what your people are trustworthy for and then work within that design, leverage what you can, and let go of the rest. That’s step one on the path to an easy, peaceful life.