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From Here To Attorneys’ Fees

I’m 23 and married just over a year. Six months ago, before my husband and I moved so I could start law school, I slept with an older attorney, a co-worker. I was wracked with guilt and confessed to my husband. Now, he’s constantly depressed, angry, and insecure, and I’ve happily buried myself in my studies, trying to forget that another outburst awaits at home. I regret what I did, but I don’t need to be constantly reminded. I can’t help feeling I married too young. I still love my husband although I don’t feel “in love” with him, but I stubbornly refuse to admit failure, and hold out hope things will work out. I’m overextended with studying, and keep waking up with a sinking feeling that something needs to be done. But what?

--Silently Stewing

You take the relaxed approach to marital reconciliation -- simply holding out hope things will work out. You might apply this strategy elsewhere in your life; say, to home remodeling projects. Yes, forget drills, saws, and socket wrenches. Hire psychic construction workers, ply them with beer and Chex Party Mix, and have them spend the day holding out hope your kitchen cabinets will grow new doors.

Your marital problems probably started with an equally relaxed approach to thinking -- a failure to use your head as more than a staging area for your hair. In this, you’re not alone. A lot of people, especially those in their 20s, make life-shifting decisions without really thinking them through. Take that pledge, “Till death do us part,” as in, “I’ll never, ever have sex with anyone but this man.” Can you seriously promise that or be counted on to make any decisions of lasting consequence at 22 -- in lifetime terms, essentially 22 minutes after you’ve recovered from being blind-drunk at prom?

Your approach to cheating seems just as "yeah, whatever." What was the idea here, you’d have sex with this hotshot attorney, hop out of bed, and blithely be on your way? Oops, what’s that thing following you home? Look, it’s a little black blob of guilt! You tucked it away in your purse. But, like Paris Hilton’s Chihuahua Tinkerbell, which she dumped on her mother after it got Tinker-huge, your guilt soon outgrew your handbag. Next thing you knew, you were giving a piggyback ride to a black blob the size of a Barcalounger. “Yoohoo…Honey…” After all, what’s a husband for besides hauling your oversized baggage around?

Now, there’s a creative take on justice: You do the crime, somebody else does the time. (Your future clients should be so lucky.) Meanwhile, you can’t quite get what, exactly, the big deal is. You said you were sorry; how come your husband’s still lying there on the front walk like Humpty Dumpty? Um, just a guess, but it might have something to do with all the effort you’re investing in rebuilding his trust and the marriage you exploded; or, as you put it, “stubbornly refus(ing) to admit failure” (while stubbornly avoiding doing anything else).

Ask yourself what’s really tragic, a marriage that ends or a marriage that goes on too long? Maybe the best you can do is turn this into a learning experience, and resolve to take a leap second/look first approach to life. This isn’t always foolproof, but even if it doesn’t stop you from, say, marrying too young, maybe you could get unmarried in a kinder, gentler way -- maybe by informing your husband it isn’t working, and parting friends. And, wow, maybe that’s what love is -- getting out of what love was supposed to be without mashing the other person’s ego into gruel.

Posted by aalkon at December 10, 2006 8:37 PM

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People who "confess" that they've cheated are self-absorbed and selfish. But wait, that's exactly what your twenties, especially your early twenties, are all about! In which case, a long-term committed relationship, which requires some thought as to the other person's well-being, is not something to do in your early twenties! Amy, your response is positively brilliant.

Posted by: Jessica at December 11, 2006 10:28 AM

Confessing to your husband was a mistake. It was you who were wracked with guilt; now he's paying for it. And while you don't need to be constantly reminded, you are a constant reminder to your husband, every time he sees you.

The biggest factor in a case like this is the loss of trust. Right now, your husband can't trust you. Amy would express this in evolutionary terms: a man has to trust his woman to be sure that he's not spending his whole life bringing up someone else's kids. He's only got one life, so this has evolved to be an extremely important issue. It's not so bad for women, because they know who gave birth to their kids.

I can't give any specific advice except that if you want to keep this man, you'll at least have to convince him that he can trust you. How you do that depends on your circumstances. Holding on to hope, by itself, won't do it, judging by your sinking feeling. Perhaps you could go on an adventure holiday, where there is an element of risk, and start to build up trust by demonstrating your trustworthiness in the face of danger. It's not quite the right kind of trust, but it may be a way forward. Perhaps you could go to parties and pointedly never talk to another man unless your husband is by your side. Whatever you do is going to require some thought and effort on your behalf.

Also - there's books like "After the Affair: How to Build Trust and Love Again (Relate Relationships) by Julia Cole and Relate" (ISBN 0091856728) which can be in your hands within a few days for a few dollars. ("Relate" is a UK marriage guidance & counselling organisation.)

Good luck.

Posted by: Norman at December 11, 2006 10:47 AM

Is this girl for real? She's "happily burying herself in her studies"? I'm appalled. How can people show so little regard for others, especially people they love or used to be "in love with"? She can't help but feel she married too young? Me, either, but I love my husband, and when I think about how lame it is to be married at my age, I remember that I had a chance to voice my opinion beforehand. In my case, and this may be different from hers, it's the institution and not the guy.

I hope you made her cry, Amy.

Posted by: Brenda at December 12, 2006 7:29 AM

Yep, that's a lawyer-in-training all right!

Posted by: Malienation at December 12, 2006 4:04 PM

You know. In my opinion you got married too young. I am 21 and a college student. I am not thinking about marriage right now because I spent 3.5 years with a man who kept me down. I knew i wasn't going anywhere with him and I feel great that i no longer have to put up with him. I relized that haveing a high school sweetheart wasnt the right move. I wanted to meet other people and so i just did that. people who get married at a young age (below 25) are most likely to be divorced. you are young and a student with dreams. marriage should have been the last thing you should have thought about untill you got your degree.

Posted by: Margo at December 12, 2006 11:31 PM

Your responses to this column appear to be a bit more than blatantly judgmental. Infidelity is a widespread issue. I think it's relatively easy to claim that you would never be faced with a similar situation, but who's to say? The husband that you once idolized may soon pale in comparison to an enticing co-worker. Till death do you part may soon be the furthest thing from your mind no matter how mature and prepared for long-term commitment you were when you muttered "I do." Could it perhaps be (gasp!) that not everyone is cut out to be Ward and June Cleaver? I hope it does reassure you all to have a laugh at this girl's expense and perhaps quell your own underlying fears and insecurities. Perhaps it is best that she moves on and learns from her experience, but being "appalled" doesn't help anyone. Get over yourselves. Life is full of unique predicaments in which we never pictured we would be entangled. This girl sounds more "for real" than any of your responses. It sounds like she could have used sound advice rather than being utilized as a punch line in yet another played-out lawyer joke.

Posted by: J at December 19, 2006 10:42 PM

I don't know if you're talking to me, J, but I would never get married, or promise to be faithful forever, as I don't make promises I don't keep. The humor is just part of my column. Actually, I just spoke to Stanton Peele a few weeks ago, who confirmed what I've always thought -- that an indirect approach to changing people's behavior (through metaphor, etc.) is more successful than simply telling them what to do. Dear Abby is *that* way, J. Perhaps you can rent a sense of humor on your way over.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 20, 2006 1:25 AM

I don't think that THE infidelity is the biggest issue. The fact is, she's barely interested in her husband except as a sounding board and permanent fixture. She's walking all over him, and its only 6 months after the honeymoon! This is supposed to be the part of the marriage where you feel like you can't go to the grocery store without each other, let alone fall into bed with some hotshot and then hop right out. This young lady is insensitive, and needs to realize that the person she's hurting the most is the person she vowed to love and honor all her days. Let him go so that he can find someone who'll actually give a darn about him.

Posted by: CornerDemon at December 22, 2006 11:59 AM

I don't think that girl sounded more real than any of us. I think she sounded subhuman. I'm assuming that quoting "appalled" means you were referring to me. You have no idea if I've been in a similar predicament, do you? Why would you assume not? Because I think she's still wrong? Because I don't understand why the girl would happily bury herself in her studies and not want to accept responsibility for her actions? Of course it doesn't "help anyone" to be appalled, but your assumption that it quells insecurities is extremely presumptuous. Perhaps you should follow your own advice and get over yourself...you sound more self-righteous than any of us.

Amy did give her sound advice, like she said, the humor is the shtick for her column, so it's a good thing she's really funny. Rent the sense of humor Amy suggests, then reread the column.

Of course, this is such a long response in coming, you probably won't be back to this page. At least I feel better for getting that off my chest. Whew!

Posted by: Brenda at January 12, 2007 7:06 AM


I agree with you. Although, Amy was just making a joke, and you really should be able to laugh at life upon occasion, or it WILL have the last laugh at you.

Brenda, take the stick out. Everyone is allowed to have an opinion, and the last time I checked, disagreeing with you wasn't one of the seven deadly sins.

Posted by: angie at December 22, 2007 11:17 AM

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