Should a woman allow her husband’s affair to continue?
Dear Neil: Four years ago, my husband of 25 years began an affair while I was overseas. He told me about it as soon as I returned, attempting to address how I would feel if he continued that relationship if he were open and transparent about it.
He claims that he loves me deeply and doesn’t want to lose anything we have, that the things he gets from her are different from what he gets from me, and that this is not a threat to me. And he freely admits that he would be completely devastated if I did the same as him, but I am not so inclined.
I couldn’t help secretly reading their emails, and I discovered much talk of love and passion between them, much longing and desire, lots of “dirty” talk and discussions about plans to spend time together. They claim to love each other deeply, but are okay living separate lives, and they also want to meet occasionally for a night to enjoy one another. He now has a secret email address that I can’t see, so I am only able to go on what he tells me.
I can understand needing something different. I can also understand that love does not have to be exclusive. I love each of my children, but loving one of them does not mean I love the other any less.
Can you shed some light on this for me? Why can’t I share him easily? How do I live with this? How can we make this a win-win without anyone losing out?
—Don’t Know What to do in New Zealand
Dear New Zealand: Wow. Most people could not handle themselves as kindly as you. They would, at the very minimum, issue a cease and desist ultimatum to your husband, and there likely would be lots of unpredictable, volatile and explosive emotions.
You, brave woman, sound as if you are attempting to be at peace with this scenario. So forgive me for saying this, but I don’t see where this is a win-win situation for you at all. What are you winning, exactly? (We know what your husband is winning: he is the poster child for the expression “having your cake and eating it too.”)
This idea could have merit if you wish to stay married to your husband but you just don’t want sex with him anymore. I could understand it if one of you wanted sex and the other didn’t. Or maybe he has grown tired of you.
Either way, a man who says he loves another woman deeply, who feels longing, passion and desire for her, who wants to spend more time with her, that sounds genuinely threatening to your marriage, and I don’t blame you for not wanting to share him.
He started with openness and transparency, but now he has a secret email address so you can no longer see what he’s doing. And although he told you about the affair right away, that doesn’t exactly make up for the fact that he stepped out on you in the first place.
Jealousy a natural reaction
Jealousy can be more about someone’s lack of self-confidence than about actual wrongdoing. But in your situation, jealousy is a mechanism attempting to protect the relationship. It seems completely reasonable that you would fear loss, abandonment or humiliation, and that he very well could choose the other woman over you. Your jealousy is trying to protect and preserve the relationship, and I would venture that just about everyone would feel the way you feel.
Its hard to accept that your husband may feel way more love, passion and desire for her than he does for you. This is one of the reasons people normally agree to be exclusive. Infidelity is extremely threatening to a relationship, and it’s rough on the ego.
I’m trying to tell you that there may not be a win-win in this for you. It appears that he just might choose the other woman over you, and that in essence you’ve lost him.
If this problem were mine, I would be less gracious and tolerant than you are, and I would be way more angry than you appear to be.
Put your foot down
Have you thought about putting your foot down and telling him that this affair has to stop or you’re prepared to throw him out? You could even make it a negotiation: what would he want or need from you in order to be willing to drop the other relationship and fully come back to you — with complete electronic transparency and with no deception or cover up?
There is risk for you to do that, but the way you’re doing it now sounds like genuine brain damage.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder. His column is in its 21st year of publication and is syndicated around the world. You can reach him at 303-758-8777 or email him through his website, http://www.heartrelationships.com. He is not able to respond individually to queries.