My wife is having an affair! I’m at my wit’s end. She has admitted to it being physical one time. That I would like to believe, but I can’t. The most destructive part is, she said our life together is over. She says she doesn’t love me. I’m at a loss. I don’t think she’s being honest. Yet, she keeps bringing up all the faults in our relationship. She’s still seeing the other man, yet tells me she’s not. How can I understand if she’s simply blinded by her feelings from the affair, or if she and I are genuinely done with our marriage?
Thank you for the opportunity to serve. Let me say for the record how sorry I am that you’re dealing with this type of ambiguity and uncertainty right now. I can only imagine how frustrating and anxiety-producing this must be for you. So to help you get some clarity on the situation, I think it’s important that you’re able to make one key distinction:
AMBIGUITY VS. AMBIVALENCE
When a situation is “ambiguous,” it’s vague and unclear. For example, the ending of the movie Inception, which left viewers with more than one possible interpretation. On the other hand, being “ambivalent” means you can take it or leave it. You’re not attached to a particular outcome, either way.
Why is it important for you to sort out these two states?
Well… You say your wife has told you she no longer loves you. You say she has told you the marriage is over. You say she IS having a physical affair. This suggests there’s nothing “ambiguous” about your situation. The information appears to be crystal clear. But you also say she’s bringing up the faults in your relationship (blame-shifting), and that although she’s still seeing the other man, she’s lying to you about it — while at the same time, saying your marriage is over. This suggests she has feelings of ambivalence about being married to you (meaning, she could take it or leave it). And I wonder what’s more painful for you: her ambivalence or her deception? Chances are, it’s both.
Now, the question is, what has caused these feelings of ambivalence?
My guess? She’s under the Emotional Fog.
Let me explain. Affairs trigger emotions that often act like drugs on the brain, leaving people in what’s known as the “emotional fog”, wherein priorities become fuzzy, values shift and people become so caught up in their feelings that they end up trading gold for glitter. Maybe your wife is in this emotional fog since it does cause people to become ambivalent, to act indifferently and to lose perspective.
How do you know if her statements are real or if it’s just the emotional fog talking?
You don’t. You can’t. Because, it’s not until the “fog” wears off that people realize they were in it in the first place. It’s like when you dream at night and your eyes are open in your dreams: You see things, you think, you recognize… and so, it feels 100% real. But it’s not until you wake up to your real life that you realize you were, in fact, sleeping and dreaming. The emotional fog works the same way.
And unfortunately, while people are under the emotional fog, we have very little leverage over them. I’ve seen people walk out of businesses and marriages, and even leave their kids behind, while under the emotional fog.
So what, if anything, can you do?
Suggestion #1: Ride out the storm. Not easy at all, but sometimes, it’s the best option. To simply wait for the fog to pass. To sit back and let the feelings run their course. This means asking your wife NOT to make any rushed decisions right now. Instead, you both step back and let this thing pass. Now, here’s the thing: There are no guarantees that it will indeed pass. Only you can decide if you want to take this path.
Suggestion #2: Divide and conquer. Another risky proposition (but they all are). Remove your wife from this other person’s influence for as long as you can. For example, take her away on a couple’s retreat or a marriage wellness program. Preferably something lasting 10-14 days. Why? Because proximity has power. And when we’re dealing with ambivalence, then it’s important to rekindle and re-stimulate interest and desire. Removing one’s partner from the other person’s immediate influence can sometimes create the space needed to lift the fog.
Suggestion #3: Use the “Scared Straight Approach”. Probably the riskiest tactic of them all (not my favorite, but I’ve seen it work). This is where you lay it all out for her in black and white: everything she is putting at risk. Now, to do this scared straight approach right, you’ve got to do a lot of legwork ahead of time, like making a list of all her potential losses (including financial), the statistics about affairs working out in the long term (very poor), and the emotional toll it will take (loss of stability, certainty, family status). The goal of this approach is to “wake” them up from the fog through their fear of loss.
Since you can’t tell for sure where your wife is coming from, the real question here is, how do you decide what to believe in?
Obviously, since I don’t know you or your partner personally, I can’t tell you what to believe. I can only bring some perspective to help you make that decision for yourself. This situation is a tricky one, and there isn’t one “right way” to deal with it.
I wish I could offer you more… but only time will tell. The question facing you now is, are you willing to wait on time to tell you, or are you going to decide for yourself in your own time? Regardless of what you do, don’t let “fear” make your decisions for you. Because where fear is present, wisdom cannot be.