Dear Patti,

My wife Kara and I have been married for 10 years. Although it’s been a good life, it has also been lonely and empty. I work long hours to support our family. We have three children, and Kara works part-time from home and takes care of the kids. She focuses most of her attention on them and their schooling, and while I understand, I’ve felt left out and ignored for a long time. She’s a good person and does everything “right “as a wife and mother, but has never been one to be romantic or vulnerable. I’ve tried to get her to open up emotionally with me, but it has rarely happened. She cried with me when her mother died, but that’s about it.

As part of her job, Kara emails colleagues at her company from all over the country. Six months ago I came home early from work and found Kara at her desk, softly laughing and emailing a fellow worker. It seemed innocent enough, but there was something about her laughter and the eager, alive look on her face that both surprised and frightened me. She never had that look on her face when with me. Later, after the whole family was asleep, I read her work emails.

I was flabbergasted. I found out she has this open way of handling people with intelligence and humor that was absolutely charming. I found a correspondence from several years back with this one man and she was especially attentive and responsive. I was furious and extremely hurt.

It’s now six months later. Although she has toned down her emails with this man, I’m still very angry. Kara feels my anger is way overboard because she never flirted or said anything sexual or inappropriate. She has never attempted to meet him or even talk to him on the phone. I can’t make her understand that her sweetness and concern toward his life is something she has never done with me. She shared feelings about herself with him that I never knew about!

Kara feels I’m being cold and punishing and acting as if she had an affair. She says she cuts off from me because I’m critical, have a bad temper and is at times scared of me.

I want to forgive her but I’m having a hard time moving on.  

  — Joel

Dear Joel,

I understand how you might feel betrayed. The woman you’ve been committed to all these years has had an impenetrable, emotional wall up — much to your dismay — and now you discover she’s been opening up to various work people, including this particular man. She has been hiding a beautiful part of herself from you and giving others what you’ve always wanted — her charm, personality, closeness, responsiveness and aliveness. To you, it feels like a deep deception and betrayal, even if there wasn’t a sexual component present.

While it will take time to heal your hurt and angry feelings, you need to now focus on forgiving her and starting over if she’s willing to seriously work on being open, honest and reveal her true self to you. The gift in all this of is that Kara doesn’t have a permanently cold and rigid personality. She has a personality which you can admire but has compartmentalized it and obviously has had difficulty revealing it to you.

It’s important you take responsibility for your own behavior, which might be contributing to shutting Kara down. She’s now sharing extremely important information; specifically, that when she experiences you as overly critical or hot-tempered she emotionally retreats. Use this information to change your behavior.

It might be beneficial for Kara to ask herself the following questions: In general, is it difficult for her to open up with someone she’s close to and invested with? Is it easier to be open with people she has never met and who live miles away? Why? Has she had traumatic experiences in childhood causing her to develop an extreme fear of intimacy?

I recommend that you both attend professional marriage counseling and work on these issues together.

How exciting there is a clear path of behavioral changes which you both can make to greatly improve your relationship.


Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, is a psychotherapist in private practice with offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her website, patticarmalt-vener.com.