Secret Liaison

December 02 2018 | by

DEAR DR. POPCAK: I have been married for about 20 years, and we have two children of 20 and 14 years. Lately we have made friends with a younger couple, and she is of Latin American origins. I suspect that my husband is cheating on me with this younger woman. I already have proof that they are meeting secretly, and that my husband is not entirely sincere with me. I can see that tenderness is missing in our relationship, and perhaps it’s my fault. What can I do? Thanks for any help you might be able to give me.


Infidelity is always a tremendously painful and difficult problem to recover from, but what if you aren’t sure? I have many clients who believe that unless they can prove that their spouse is cheating, they can’t begin to work on the problems in their marriage. Whether or not your spouse is cheating on you, the fact that you feel so insecure in your relationship means that you have serious marital problems that deserve prompt and serious professional attention.

The first step in your situation is telling your husband that, because you don’t like feeling so suspicious and insecure in your relationship, you have made an appointment with a marriage-friendly therapist and would like him to come with you. A marriage-friendly therapist is one who has completed actual training and supervision in marital therapy and also believes that marriages are worth saving when possible. Many therapists claim that they do marital counseling, but have no specific training in it. Research shows that such therapists have about a 30 percent success rate while marriage-friendly therapists have over a 90 percent success rate. You can find a local marriage-friendly therapist by visiting a website like or contacting the Pastoral Solutions Institute to learn more about our Catholic tele-counseling services.

You might be thinking, “But what if he is cheating? What good will therapy do?” The fact is, many couples have marital problems, but not all couples cheat. What makes the difference? In general, couples at higher risk of infidelity tend to not be very good at expressing needs and emotions. They stuff a lot of resentment and unmet needs and often develop a kind of low-grade depression that they just learn to live with. Then, one day, they meet someone at work, at the gym, or even at church who makes them laugh and makes them feel good. They may not really even know this person very well, but he or she makes them feel good about themselves and they end up using the illicit relationship (whether emotional or sexual) as a way of self-medicating for the untreated depression.

Whether your husband is cheating on you or not, it is clear from your note that a great deal goes unsaid between the two of you. A good marriage-friendly therapist will help you learn to find safe and direct ways to communicate your needs, emotions, and concerns to one another and work through the things that are making you feel lonely under the same roof. If it is caught early enough, even if there is infidelity, this approach can help the cheating spouse understand that the answer to their problems isn’t finding a different relationship. It is learning to be more honest, communicative, and intentionally caretaking in the relationship they already have.

Incidentally, all of the above is why so many marriages that begin as affairs fail. The poor communication, emotional management and conflict resolutions skills that torpedoed the first marriage simply follow the cheater into the second relationship. After the high of infatuation wears off, the same old depressive feelings come back. Until the person learns to express themselves in a more forthright manner and deal with conflict more effectively, they will always be miserable regardless of who they are attempting to build a life with.

Of course, in addition to all this, you absolutely have the right to insist that the mere fact that your husband is seeing this woman at all without your knowledge is seriously problematic and indicative of a dishonesty that is undermining the sanctity of your relationship even if he isn’t having a full-blown affair.

The bottom line is that whether you can prove that your husband is cheating on you or not, you have plenty of things you can work on in your relationship, and by addressing those underlying issues, you can clarify the real problem – whatever it is – and begin to choose to live for each other once again.

Updated on December 02 2018