I met with Fred yesterday for breakfast. He wanted to explain his side of things, and we needed to clear the air.
It was interesting hearing his side of things. His perception of the events that lead up to their brief separation, and his view of the current situation is quite a bit different than mine, or Ethel's even. I don't think he realizes how his behavior is perceived by others. He's very much wrapped up in himself right now, which probably isn't uncommon in this situation. Unhappy people tend to focus on their own misery and not see how they've affected others. He is still a very angry person, still feeling persecuted on some level. There was a glimmer of acceptance that he did in fact do things on purpose to hurt Ethel emotionally, but it was almost as though he felt it was reactionary - as though Ethel "started it" and his behavior was proportional to her neediness. That also may be true. Ethel may not realize when she's asking more from him than he can give...she's an emotional creature by nature.
I still don't think he understands why his relationship with his "friend" in Arizona was wrong. Since it wasn't sexual he can't see that he was sharing a vital part of himself with someone else. My only answer to this was, "it was wrong...period. In a marriage you don't get to have "friendships" with people of the other sex if it makes your significant other uncomfortable. That's one of the sacrifices you make in a marriage, and you should be willing to do this." You just don't have a relationship of ANY kind and lie about the nature of that relationship to your spouse...period. The fact that he still doesn't seem to really get it is disconcerting.
Ethel on the other hand sees the situation differently. Her perception is that she's made a distinct effort NOT to pick and pry, not to be needy, and not to push him to talk when they aren't in therapy. Her view of their interactions is different in many ways. So where is the middle ground there? I suppose that's why you seek help from a professional therapist. I can't see how you get from here to there and both come out unscathed?
How do you rebuild trust, much less love and affection when there is no middle ground in common? What about intimacy? Fred hinted that their personal life was severely lacking...which I didn't bother to address other than to say, "well we're women, you can't expect us to flip a switch like that. Sexuality and intimacy and safety and respect are all tied up together. When you start fixing the broken things in your marriage that will work itself out in time." I know in my own case that aspect of my marriage had died out long before I left my marriage. It was a symptom of the sickness growing within our relationship. I guess it's a slow process. Ethel said that she understands that it didn't take a month to create these issues, so it won't take a month to resolve them... it's a long, arduous process. Does Fred understand his too?
I'm not sure I would have it in me. I know in my case I stayed in my marriage as long as I could and then I was just done. By the time I was ready to throw in the towel my marriage was too far gone, therapy wasn't an option. I didn't hate him, I didn't feel anything at all towards him. At least with hate there's some kind of emotion there... there is no recovery from total apathy.
At least both Ethel and Fred professed love for each other, so there is some kind of emotion there to build on. I hope they figure this out, or if they can't fix it that they have the strength to walk away and treat each other with respect. It's an awfully big job. I just want them both to be happy, with or without each other.