Ask Athena: Hearts & Minds

Practical advice for pain relief, romantic and existential. 

KEEP SAKES

Dear Athena,

Two years ago, I was caught cheating on my wife and part of our marriage therapy included giving her full access to my phone & laptop. She immediately found risqué images of my former mistress that I’d forgotten about, and instead of just deleting them she saved them to her computer. So far she hasn’t done anything with them but she can be vindictive so I’m worried for my ex, who certainly doesn’t deserve to be publicly humiliated. I feel like I should at least warn her, but this would go against my agreement to end all contact. When I try to bring up the photos to my wife, she gets all huffy and accuses me of not being over my affair. How can I convince her to close this embarrassing chapter in our marriage and move on?  — Ray the Reformed

Dear Reformed,

I hope you are still in therapy, because you and your wife need to work this out.  She is hanging on to something that is haunting both of you. Why? A good counselor should be able to help you two suss this out.

Off the top of my head, to me this look like a control issue – perhaps even an unconscious one. Few things can rock a marriage like infidelity. As the slighted partner, your wife probably experienced a great deal of helplessness during your affair.

Perhaps holding onto the photos now helps her feel some more agency in your relationship? Or it could be some kind of revenge thing, maybe it just feels good for her to give you a little Hell after the ride you put her through? Just as easily, she might be depressed and using the photos to beat herself up about failing to keep you happy.

One thing is for sure: to heal as a couple, you need to figure out what’s up with your wife and these pictures! And you’ve got to agree on what to do with them. You’re never going to move forward, until you can put this affair firmly behind you. Ah! Maybe that’s another clue? Make sure you pull these threads with a trusted therapist, and not quarantined at home over a bottle of wine.

BTW, if you seriously think your wife might be gearing up to use the photos against your ex — that’s a big red flashing warning flag. In that case, I’d have to ask you how it benefits you to have a partner you can’t trust?

Ironic, perhaps, given how you were the one who strayed in this relationship. Let’s be clear: your wife has every right to grill you when you leave town, stay out late, don’t answer your phone, etc. But being the “wronged” partner doesn’t give her carte blanche to mess with your head or destroy your ex’s life. You need to know stat whether your wife is offering you real forgiveness, or just letting you back in her life a bit until she makes her next move.  Good luck!

Buck Up

Dear Athena,
Hello from an unremarkable rowhome in Germantown. I’m an even less remarkable single man living the same day over and over since March: coffee, work, eat, TV/video games, sleep.

I’m not complaining! My job is OK – boring, but at least I can work from home. My family’s fine, I have good friends. I do the ZOOM happy hours and get outside when it’s nice. But it feels like forever since I’ve really laughed, or looked around and thought, “This is fun!”

Following the news is such a chore these days I’m resentful. Online dating seems like a cruel tease with social distancing norms.  I used to daydream about catching a cheap flight for a backpack adventure like I did after college – but now even that small joy is gone since our US passports are basically useless.

My life is just a big beige ball of pointlessness. Seems every morning takes a little longer to muster up the energy just to go through the motions again. The thought of doing this for another year or more waiting on a medical breakthrough makes me groan audibly with despair.

If you’re so wise, Athena, tell me: how can I find happiness and meaning in this bland, banal existence? — Gloomy Gus

Hey Gloomy,

Athena is wise – wise enough to know when she is out of her depth. My first thought is that you check in with your doctor and a good therapist asap. This shutdown has led to higher rates of depression, which can be a serious illness if left untreated (not to alarm you but some of what you described sounds symptomatic).

Athena also has one truth for you to think about now: the key to your happiness lies within. Only you know the right path to take for joy and inspiration in life. There are many ways to consider, here are a few of the most common:

SPIRITUAL: Many people find meaning and happiness through faith and devotion. If you identify with a particular religion, seek out a local church/temple/coven/whatever or take up an informal study on your own.

PHYSICAL: Exercise isn’t just good for the body but it’s also a proven mood lifter. See what happens when you make time every day to engage your muscles and work off steam.

SOCIAL: Reach out to friends and family members, and try to get to know them better. Find and build on common interests; seek out new experiences together like sharing books, movies, music, etc.

SERVICE: Feeling needed and appreciated is also a good antidote for the Blues. What are your skills and resources, and who can use them? Try delivering meals, writing for the local paper, volunteering for the 2020 Census. If you can’t think of a cause that’s close to your heart, donate your help to a local time bank.

No matter which route you take, I have some assignments for you.

First, decide where you want to travel as soon as the bans are lifted. Create a budget to save up as much as you can during this COVID crisis – you’re not going out as much, right? So earmark the money you’re saving for the trip of a lifetime! Think of it as your reward for getting through these difficult months.

Second, think about your job and what it would take for you to be The Best at what you do for a living. Is there some training or education you could undertake? Might you know someone in your field who could be a good mentor? Use this extra time to invest in yourself professionally.

And, finally, practice gratitude. Make a habit to acknowledge and thank the people who contribute positively to your life. Notice the beauty of nature in each day. Seek out uplifting stories and videos; let them pull your heart strings. Pat yourself on the back for recognizing you want more out of life, and for every step you take toward growth and happiness.

Athena wishes she had a quick fix but unfortunately, these days it’s appropriate to feel a little down and disconnected. Best wishes for better times ahead.

Agree or Disagree? Please comment below.

Read last month’s Ask Athena here.

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