You don’t say whether she is a good person in other areas of her life. But at some point, does it matter? Is she a good mother? Does a good mother set such confusing examples for her children? What happens to them when they begin to encounter these “rumors” about mom around town? (This can be especially devastating for sons.)
This behavior has disturbing implications for your own physical health, not to mention your mental and spiritual health.
And that’s leaving aside the whole notion that she and you both are using the abandonment of sacred vows as a means of “punishing each other.” First clean up your side of that street and keep YOUR vows. You can’t control whether she keeps hers.
You have very serious decisions to make. Whether keeping a nominally intact home for your children outweighs your desire to “punish” her or save your own sanity. Divorce doesn’t so much as solve such issues as it does create a whole new set of problems that distracts from the original issue.
If she has repeatedly been unfaithful (Two times in 18 years is minimal to some people who lurk here. They’ve been through worse!) there is a question of psychological capacity to be married and whether she ever entered the marriage (or could enter it based on her background) with the expectation and ability to be faithful. That has implications for the validity of your marriage.
Are you willing to be her friend and stay with her or set her loose to live like she seems to want to just so you don’t have in your face, but still be able to have a respectful relationship for the sake of the children?
There are certain personality disorders that involve persons seeking help who never get to the root of the real problem, and as soon as therapy makes them feel good about themselves, they stop the therapy before dealing with the original underlying issue. That presents a situation where resolving the disorder is unlikely.
Please have a real heart to heart with a trusted confessor. At some point you have to decide whether you’re strong enough to continue this or whether more infidelities will weaken your ability to be a good father and concentrate on your job.
Get yourself tested for STDs, it goes without saying.
And before you abandon ship, try a Retrouvaille weekend. It will at least bring some issues to the forefront and you can find out what she is really thinking and whether you do indeed have anything left to work with. You sound like there is a possibility there. You recognize that her whole attitude of sexuality and her whole image of herself as a person may have been corrupted at an early age by abuse. A COMPETENT therapist would not let her just walk away without dealing with that issue. Please find someone to help HER see that “feeling better” does not equal cured. That it’s like people who quit taking antibiotics too soon and the real infection comes back stronger than before. Otherwise she will take this behavior to other relationships with men who may not be as nice as you (or as good to have around your children.)
And there is the real issue you as the father and protector of your children needs to handle. Can you suck it up for several more years to maintain a semblance of stability and normalcy so your children are not living with her and a parade of men coming in and out as your wife deals with her unresolved issues of worth and dignity with the kind of men who would happily exploit such a confused person for their own ends?
You did make a vow to this woman for better or for worse till death do YOU part. As it is now, in a way you are protecting her too. She has not been completely turned loose on the world out there. If she were and something bad happened with her, would you blame yourself?
You have some very difficult questions and issues to consider. I will pray for you. It’s not just about you. It’s about 4 children also. It’s about their wounded mother. It’s about years of collective damage to your relationship. I don’t get the feeling you’re ready to throw in the towel completely. You probably don’t even know yourself whether you want us to say “Leave her” or “Hang in there. It may get better.” And when there is so much internal doubt, the best thing often to do is to pray a lot and do nothing. Don’t make big decisions. Be the face of Christ and the mercy of Christ to her. Let your children see you putting their needs to have an intact home over your own pain for a while. Let her see you as the one dependable man in her life. Do you really think the kind of man who would prey on a married woman with 4 children has her interests or theirs at heart? Whatever cheating she’s done is with unstable people in unstable relationships. If you walk away from her and the kids, you cede the field to that kind of man in their lives. And don’t think for a moment the courts will consider her behavior when determining child custody.
The courts don’t care.
She may not get counseling, but YOU can go get counseling to learn how to deal with someone with her issues and to deal with your own anger so that it does not make a bad situation worse.
Good luck. I know it’s a hard situation. But based on the little you’ve said here, I personally would not advise you to throw in the towel just yet.