Secret about our marriage is leading to rumination

Seven years ago my husband married his first wife even though he and I had started a relationship. He felt trapped and didn’t want to be the guy who calls off the wedding. He told me he needed to try to make it work. However, shortly thereafter, we got together.

We had been friends for 15 years, and just before he married, I told him I cared about him and that she was lucky. That provoked a long story from him about how he has wanted me for years but didn’t know I was interested. Our affair went on for three years until he finally left her.

We married two plus years later and have been married a year. They had two dogs that they are both attached to and won’t give up, so they share custody. I have a hard time finding strength with their contact.

He reassures me nothing is going on and I believe that. I can’t stand the sound of her name. It hurt deeply being the one in hiding. Now that he has chosen me, and he has given me no reason to doubt him, why can’t I let it go?

Every week her contact is a constant reminder. No one, but my close friend, knows this happened, including his ex. It’s my hurting secret. I need to let it go, I need to forgive my husband for not being strong enough to not get married in the first place to her, but I have a ruminating mind.

Every once in a while I express something and he is saddened and perplexed. He thinks I should be over it by now. What steps can I take to get past this?

Response:

Keeping secrets can often lead to rumination (see secrets). When this happens it’s important to talk about what you’re feeling with someone who cares about you.

To begin with, it helps if you can identify the emotions that you’re experiencing—what feelings does the secret provoke? Is it shame, anxiety, fear, guilt, sadness? When you find yourself ruminating the next time, grab a pen and paper and start writing. Focus on what you’re feeling and write it down.

Next, share your feelings with your husband. Tell him that something is bothering you and you want to talk about it. Tell him 1) the triggering event and 2) how it makes you feel. For instance, you might say when your ex-wife’s name comes up I feel sad, concerned, etc.

Also tell your husband that you want him to understand what you’re feeling. You don’t need him to fix or solve the problem—you just want him to listen to you and make sure that you feel understood. If he discounts your feelings (he says something like, “thought you’d be over that by now…”), ask him to listen and validate what you’re going through. You’re feelings are legitimate and need to be acknowledged.

If your husband is able to validate your feelings, then the two of you can discuss possible solutions. This process helps many people deal with issues that are weighing on them.

If that doesn’t help, talking with a counselor is probably in your best interest. Keeping secrets that lead to long-term rumination can lead to problems in your relationship and negatively impact your physical and emotional health.

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