When A Husband Who Has Been Caught Cheating Says ‘What Do You Want From Me?’ What Does That Mean?

By: Katie Lersch: Once the cat is out of the bag and someone is caught cheating, there is often a period of shock and outrage.  In terms of fixing the damage, sometimes not much happens during this period.  Much of the time, very little can get accomplished because emotions run so high that all both people can really do at the time is to be reactive. No one is thinking clearly or acting rationally. So sometimes, the best that you can do is to just hang on, know that this time frame will eventually pass, and wait for the time when progress can actually be made – once things calm down.

However, once you’re no longer reactive, it can be a challenge to come up with a plan about how to fix this. Because although you may be at a place where you can think and act a little more rationally, you’re still angry. And you want your old life and your old marriage back. So you may say or do things that are in alignment with this. You may express vague complaints directed at your husband that aren’t directives. These little phrases or comments don’t tell him exactly what you want or expect – only that you want SOMETHING.

A very common reaction to these vague and sometimes heated exchanges is an exasperated husband who exclaims: “well, what do you want me to do?!” Many wives aren’t quite sure how to answer this. They generally know that they want him to fix it. They want for him to make it so that affair never happened. But since these things aren’t going to happen any time soon, they aren’t sure what, exactly and specifically, they want him to do.

Someone might say: “about two and a half weeks ago, I caught my husband cheating on me. At first, he was incredibly apologetic. He followed me around everywhere – begging me not to kick him out. I was sure tempted to throw his clothes on the lawn and tell him to just go. But I did not want for my kids (or the neighbors) to see that. However, I have not really spoken to him much since that time. I basically give him the cold shoulder and an evil stare. He will try to talk to me and I will just leave the room. I’m not much interested in interacting with him just now. Last night, over dinner, we smiled and laughed because my child brought home a wonderful report card and we were very happy for her. My child left the table and went to her room and I guess my husband assumed that we could continue on with the happy talk. I was not interested in this. I shut my husband right down. Then he blurted out ‘what do you want me to do? I try to talk to you. I try to apologize, but you just brush me off. I am trying here, but you won’t let me do anything.’ I admit this made me pause. I was not sure how to respond and I was stunned. So I just sort of shrugged and I left. How should I have responded? I am not sure how to communicate what I want from him.”

How To Buy A Little Time: Well, I can certainly offer some suggestions. However, it has only been a couple of weeks. You may not have any idea what you want from him right now. And that’s okay. But it may help to have a brief conversation with him to clear the air. This may help to keep him from continuing to bug you until you are ready to talk. You might try: “I know that we will need to communicate eventually. And I know that it will help for me to spell out what I want and need. But right now, I’m just not quite ready to do that. Things are too raw. I haven’t had enough time to collect myself and sort out my needs. When I am able to do that, you will be the first to know. And I will lay out what I want and need from you then. I know that we’re both trying, but I am just not ready to define anything yet.”

Spelling It Out Very Clearly: Give yourself some time to think and to sort things out. Once you’ve gotten to the point where you have have some inkling as to what you want, don’t be shy about telling him. As much as might both like it if he could, he can’t read your mind. And I can tell you from experience that you are much more likely to get what you want and need if you very directly spell it out for him. It will feel weird to say these things, but it makes it more likely that you are going to get them.

I know that it’s asking a lot to ask you to deliver a line like: “I have decided that I want us to go to counseling at least once a week. And I want you to come straight home from work. I’d also like for us to go on date nights like we used to. And I want for you to be patient with me. I’m really trying. But this is a struggle. Finally, I want for you to try not to be so defensive and indignant. Because sometimes it feels as if you think that I am doing something wrong when that’s not true. As we go along, more expectations might come up for both of us. Let’s agree to communicate them as we go along.”

I know that this is a mouthful that might feel awkward when you say it, but from experience, defining expectations is almost half the battle when it comes to getting your expectations met. We would love for our husband to “just know” what we want and need, but he doesn’t. Not only that, but he is walking on eggshells and is afraid of doing the wrong thing. So sometimes, he does nothing instead – which isn’t what you want. So in order to get what you want, you’ll have to spell it out. Which is basically what your husband is trying to tell you.  When he says, ‘What do you want me to do?’, he literally wants for you to tell him what do to do. When you’re ready, that’s exactly what I would do – spell it out very clearly.

There were times when I resented having to spell things out for my husband.  But I learned that it was the quickest and most efficient way to get what I needed.  Much to my surprise, my husband preferred it to guessing.  I’ve come to believe that in this instance, men actually want us to give them a road map.  We feel like we’re being bossy to ask, but they would rather us tell them than to have to guess. You can read more about my own attempt at this at http://surviving-the-affair.com

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