To me this is a tough one.
For one feelings and emotions are not an on/off switch. I could argue that a WS that could turn off whatever emotions led them to cheat in an instant has really deep issues – as in being capable of risking everything that turns out to be of so little importance to them…
Then there is your back-story of the long-term involvement of the OM in your relationship. He’s had a long time to create his presence, even if (probably) a long time of that was in a non-infidelity way.
What I do know about emotions is that if they aren’t fed then they diminish and eventually disappear. I also know that emotions can be based on one’s perception of what is going on or took place. The emotions revisited might be evaluated completely differently.
Then there is the very normal but maybe not ideal way you are processing all this…
When you are demanding and examining things to prove you know the truth, know she’s being truthful and so on. I really understand the need but meeting it by being an active warden isn’t going to work IMHO.
To me what you are experiencing is not trickle-truth. Trickle truth is if she tells you they met 5 times and never did sex act XYZ, only for you to discover they met 19 times and did everything conceivable. Trickle truth is learning they were in the back of your truck, at your favorite restaurant… Trickle truth is NOT how she feels NOW because that wasn’t an issue in the discovery-phase.
OK – how would I handle this? Probably poorly, but this is how I would council my friend, brother, or son:
First sit down and think long and hard what it is you are saving.
Remove all and every excuse until you are left with one: You want to be married to your wife.
Divorce bad for kids? Well… amicable coparenting is immensely better than dysfunctional family.
Financially not possible? Well… how come so many manage divorce? It’s possible, just have to do the research, the budget and all that. Finances are never a good reason to marry, nor is it a good reason to stay married.
See how it goes? Remove every excuse for not divorcing. You will realize that most of them are based on fear of the unknown rather than fact or reality.
Then consider what constitutes a marriage for you.
It might vary between people, but for me a key issue in marriage is that I want to be with the person I’m married to. I had this want before we had kids, when we were broke, when we had kids, when we were young, when we grew older, when the kids moved out… I can truly say that I want to either be holding her hand when she passes, or she mine when my time comes.
And I want that to be mutual.
I would hate my last recollection in life being my wife searching for the phone to call her old flame.
OK – a bit dramatic, but I hope you get the gist.
Once you have done that and if you conclude that you are married because you WANT to be married to this woman – as opposed to being married for the kids, for the house, for the pension, for the avoiding the shame of divorce…. Then you can grasp some key-factors:
It's not enough that YOU want to be married to this woman.
She has to want to be married to YOU.
Not for the kids, the house, the pension, the shame of….
With that in mind you can start a conversation with her along these lines:
Honey. I love you and want to be married to you, but I also want a true marriage. That’s not something you can offer me while you pine for OM or allow him any positive head-space.
You are free to decide what you want to do. I’m no longer monitoring you, searching your e-mail or whatever to discover what you are up to. If you want to pine for OM then stop it and go see him and be with him.
Only not as my wife.
If this is your choice then that’s OK with me. It’s not what I want, but even less do I want to be your warden or have to compete for the role I – as your husband – should have.
If you want this marriage then you need to tell me why. It’s not the kids because they will be fine if we are sensible as coparents. It’s not the house or the finances or the lifestyle. You can move in with OM in an hour and still live a comparable life. You need to explain WHY you want ME, and then realize that if you chose ME you are doing so on your own free will.
The same free will that makes you hang so fondly on to OM.
Words aren’t enough. I can accept you might need to grieve your affair, the decision to have an affair and even the relationship with OM. But it has to be processed in the right way. Not as the end of something good, but as a series of decisions – wrong decisions – that has caused immense damage.
If you want this marriage – if you want ME – then it’s really your role to show me so and to convince me. I shouldn’t be asking you for accountability, but you show and proving accountability.