I’m a wayward spouse that had been involved in a 5-year affair with an ex-girlfriend from 20 years ago. She divorced her husband 5 years ago and is a single mom. I’m 43, married with 2 children. I have read countless material on infidelity and the emotional cost that accompanies it. I’m truly experiencing the emotional fallout of my poor choices. I’m familiar with the “fog” and the “bubble” and the web of lies and deceit I have created. There was no D-day… it ended in secret much like it began. And it’s been 6 weeks of no contact! My problem is that my heart and mind are not aligned. I love her (my AP) and feel that I’m making a bigger mistake by letting her go than my poor choice of getting involved with her in the first place. I don’t want to hurt her more or jeopardize my children by leaving a trail of destruction behind me. I would rather fall on my own sword and sacrifice my own happiness for them. My wife is a good woman. Chemistry between us, however, is non-existent. We don’t fight, but rather, after 10 years of marriage, it’s a sibling love we now have for each other. I feel like I should have chosen the other woman whom I believe I truly love. I feel like I want to end things in my marriage maturely, but also feel that calling the other woman at this point would be too late. I wonder if she has gone on with her life, and now, it’s too little, too late. Would I be a fool to contact her now? Does she miss me? If I showed up now, back and ready and able to commit, would I be setting myself up for road kill? I’m so confused. Please help me… I just can’t let go!
Thank you for the opportunity to serve. I can tell from your email that you’re truly in a dilemma. On the one hand, you want to do the right thing – stay in your marriage and provide the safety net for your children that you know they need. On the other hand, your emotions are tugging you in another direction — towards another woman. What should you do? Now… you say you would swallow a sword for your family (a bit dramatic, but I get your point). You’re truly a dedicated father. And that’s part of your dilemma. You’re already aware that there’s no walking away from your marriage without there being some damage to the kids. I get that. And that you’re willing to “swallow” the feelings you feel towards this other woman – not just to spare your wife, but really to spare your children — I totally get that, too.
Well… first of all, let me say I cannot advise you on which way to go. But I can tell you that either way, you risk. What you have to do at this point is to weigh the risk and make a decision based on the information you have available to you right now.
Here’s the thing: If you access risk from the perspective of “right and wrong,” chances are, you’ll find yourself exactly where you are today — in limbo. Why? Because no one can predict with 100% accuracy in this type of situation what’s actually right and what’s actually wrong for you as a human being.
So the real question here is, which best stacks the odds of success in your favor?
As you said, you’ve read all the literature about emotional affairs. You’re familiar with the stages, the terms and the conditions – you know the risks, you know the drawbacks… but still, that knowledge has not been enough to “dampen” your feelings and still not enough to “pull you out of the affair,” and so here you are, a man who has gathered all the intelligence, knows the facts and yet is still not able to truly make a decision, one way or the other. What is going on here?
Well, a couple of theories come to mind. But before I share them, let me remind you… no one can tell you who to love and why to love. That’s a decision only you can make. I can’t tell you whether staying married is right or wrong – only you can determine that. What I can do is bring some perspective to your situation… things for you to consider and for you to go through the process of making your own decision, such as:
1. Marriages resulting from affairs have a bad track record.
Of course, you already know this. But notice: Knowing is not the same as experiencing. One might know that smoking can cause lung cancer, but that’s not the same as experiencing it. Everyone assumes that his or her relationship is the “lottery winner” of affair partner marriages, and for a lucky few, it is. If you’re the type of guy that likes to bet on the long shot, then maybe, you’ll feel comfortable taking this type of risk.
2. Be careful not to mistake “dormant” for “dead”.
You say you and your wife have no “passion” left for each other, and that your relationship is now more brotherly/sisterly. I wonder what your wife would say about that if she overheard your comment? Would she agree that you’re more like a brother to her? And have you guys talked about this? If not, then I would caution you against assuming that because passion has run cool, that it means it’s run out. In fact, nothing could be further than the truth.
Here’s the reality: Passion never spontaneously renews itself. It’s like a fire… if you leave it unattended, it goes out – but just like a fire, it can always be rekindled. The last thing you want to do is to mistake “dormant” for “dead.” Sadly, this is a mistake a lot of people make… only to find out way too late that passion is like a fire in any relationship – it’s not self-renewing. If it grew dormant in this relationship, it was due to neglect… and won’t it eventually grow dormant in another? And then what? Will you have another affair to “liven things up again”? Something to think about.
3. Love is not a feeling.
“A friendship caught on fire” is how Bruce Lee describes relationship happiness and true love. Seems like you and your wife have the rock-solid friendship that other couples wish they had. As you said, it’s not the most exciting thing in the world, but then love never is “exciting,” is it? Not true love anyway. For example, love has been described as patient, kind, humble and enduring. Where has it been described as exciting, thrilling or obsessive? In fact, those words more commonly refer to “romance” and “love affairs”. Have you ever wondered why? The answer is because love is NOT a feeling. Love is action. Love is expression. Remember how you said you would swallow a sword for your kids? You’re expressing an ACT – not a feeling. Your feelings towards your kids might wax and wane… but your love never does.
4. True love shapes priorities – it does not distort them.
This is an important insight. One that I don’t think you should overlook as you make your decision.
Think about it like this. Remember that flight that crashed on 911? The one where the passengers knew they were doomed? Remember how many phone calls were made? Here’s something you may find interesting: No one called their mistresses, old boyfriends, ex-girlfriends, or the ones that got away. They called their wives, their kids, their parents. Why? Because death is the ultimate clarifying agent. It tells you very clearly who you really love and what priority they have in your life. Ask yourself: If you were on that flight – you have a few minutes – whom do you really want to talk to? That answer is very revealing.
Whatever you decide, I strongly urge you not to allow emotions to decide for you. Why? Because emotion-based decisions often lead to regret. Reason? Because feelings are mercurial. Like the ocean tides, they rise and fall, they wax and wane, they are strong and then they recede. And so, if regret is not a place where you want to be, better leave emotions out of potentially life-altering decisions. And at the very least… don’t your children deserve a clear-headed decision? Whether you stay or don’t, shouldn’t that type of decision be made from a place of clarity, not obsessiveness?
Maybe you should follow the same rule of thumb given to people who are grieving the loss of a loved one: Don’t make any major decisions right now. Chances are, your emotions are clouding your judgment – just the fact that you can’t control your thoughts and that you feel at the mercy of your emotions should be a warning sign that you aren’t clear-headed right now.
If this sounds reasonable to you, here’s one thing you can do: Download and listen to my session on Dismantling Emotional Affairs. In that session, I will take you by the hand and guide you through the process of allowing your feelings to calm down and return to neutral… which will in turn give you a chance to make better decisions.
Does this make sense? Like I said… this isn’t about being right or wrong. This is about accessing risks and stacking the odds of success in your favor. And the way I see it, rational and clear-headed decisions will give you a far better advantage than emotionally charged ones.
Whichever way you go… I wish you all the best.