I have never read any article on infidelity or on overcoming the emotional traumas of an affair like the ones you have provided. For 10 years, I was in a marriage that was rocked by multiple affairs and double lives. It took me well over a year with support, therapy and lots and lots of quiet time to navigate myself back to an emotionally well state. Here is the unfortunate part… I found myself caught up in an emotional affair with a friend of over 15 years who is married. The circumstances were very unique. He was deployed overseas and we started chatting by email, then by phone, and then we ended up meeting. I was in a place in my mind where I thought I could handle being “just friends”, but somewhere along the line, I was deeper into it than I ever thought I would be. I know what it’s like to have another woman in your marriage that you never knew about. Long story short, I know how this ends, I know what I need to do, but I’m struggling with the how. Do I meet with him, email him? Help me with the right words, because I know what is right, yet my heart sometimes overshadows my head, and I end up not saying what needs to be said. Can you help me?
Thank you for your kind words. Let’s talk about what’s going on with you. From your email, it appears to me that there are three separate issues here that you’re dealing with:
- Issue #1: Your unhealed wounds from earlier infidelities
- Issue #2: The current inappropriate emotional and sexual attraction you’re experiencing
- Issue #3: Lack of will to end/overcome these feelings
Notice, I’ve broken them down to three different things. This is an important first step… because if you lump them all together instead of dealing with each of them as separate issues, you run the risk of finding yourself in a state of overwhelm. And right now, overwhelm is not your friend. So now that we’ve put them into proper perspective, let’s deal with each one on an individual basis. Ready? Let’s go.
Issue #1: Your Unhealed Wounds From Earlier Infidelities
Here’s the thing. Healing the hurt and learning how to live with hurt is not the same thing, but many people assume that it is. They mistake “suppressing” for “releasing”, and they mistakenly assume that as long as they take certain steps to “protect themselves from future pain”, that means they have successfully dealt with the pain. And yet oftentimes, nothing could be further from the truth.
As you said, you had 10 years of marriage fraught with infidelities and double lives. It’s my opinion that there are still some leftover resentments, wounds and unforgiveness in that statement, and this new affair partner may have inadvertently triggered some of it.
Check in and ask yourself…
Am I carrying any unresolved resentment towards those 10 years? Did I suppress any hurt that has now resurfaced? Are there any unforgiving thoughts that might be at work here?
Why are these questions important?
You see, resentments are like cancer cells — even one is too much. And as long as they’re present, they compromise your good will towards your husband. And without that sense of good will and that sense of appreciation and respect… you are more vulnerable to temptation, and you are more likely to give yourself permission to do things you know are wrong, because those resentful thoughts might convince you that “it’s okay”, that you “deserve this” after all you’ve had to deal with. So… before you even go any further, take a moment to empty that resentment bucket so it doesn’t cloud your judgment.
Keep in mind…
Building defenses is a sign that you’re protecting the hurt (not healing it), and suppressing the hurt is like burying a vampire — eventually it rises again. True Forgiveness is a permanent state, not a temporary one. Therefore, when you truly forgive, the hurt doesn’t keep showing up years after the event.
Issue #2: The Current Inappropriate Emotional And Sexual Attraction You're Experiencing
If you’ve read my website long enough, you already know how I feel about extramarital attractions. In my opinion, it’s not a matter of IF you will experience an extramarital attraction — it’s only a matter of when. This is why I believe that every couple should do premarital sessions on dealing with temptation. In fact, I think if you’re a monogamous couple, it should be a required course… because the human sex instinct is free. We are not hardwired for monogamy, and being in love does not grant us immunity from sexual temptation.
This is something you’ve had to discover the hard way. You’ve discovered that sexual feelings can be triggered without your consent. You’ve discovered that certain hormones can overrule principles, logic and sometimes even our best interest. You’ve discovered that Mother Nature isn’t moral. She didn’t invent marriage (we did), and she isn’t polite — she doesn’t ask permission. She has one mandate in mind, and that’s procreation (and she has an arsenal of hormones and chemicals to help ensure our compliance).
Notice the intensity of your feelings: the rush, the absorption, the lightness, the breathlessness, the tightness in the chest, the giddiness, the yearning, the compulsive thoughts, the heart racing, the anticipating… the fantasizing? It’s all part of the mating dance, which for human beings is a potent cocktail of lust, desire, anticipation and curiosity, stimulated by romance and the promise of fulfillment.
Take careful notice of that last statement — “the promise of fulfillment” (I’m going to talk about it later).
But for now, as you said, you know how it ends. And so you must ask yourself… if you know how it ends, why is it so hard for you to end it now? The answer to that question makes a lot of people uncomfortable, and it’s this: it’s because your emotions don’t always respond well to logic. You know “intellectually” how it ends, but you don’t know “emotionally” how it ends. And as long as your emotions are running the show, they will continue to run you ragged.
Coach your emotions… not with logic, but with other emotions. You see, the only thing that can impact one feeling is a more intense or a more desirable feeling. For example, you want to start exercising. Giving yourself a logic lecture on the benefits of exercise won’t get the job done. Instead, you have to imagine how it feels to have the body you want. You have to feel how it feels to be admired, looked at, and appreciated. Those feelings will then override the resistance. Makes sense? So in your case… imagine how good it feels to be free from dishonesty… how good you feel when you know you’re living authentically… how good it feels to be guilt-free… how wonderful it is to have peace of mind, to be free from distracting sexual yearnings.
Which brings us back to that “yearning for fulfillment”. This is the biggest trap people (especially women) fall into when it comes to affairs, wherein they have convinced themselves that the affair or the affair partner will deliver the “missing” ingredient from their lives. They imagine they will finally be swept away… finally have the grand romance, the sublime sexual connection, the ultimate fulfillment of the fairytale ending. Of course, you and I know that’s not how the story ends. Because in this version of the story, Cinderella is a married woman and she isn’t longing for the prince — she is longing for the king and his wife isn’t going to simply step aside. The bottom line? Be aware of the stories you’re telling yourself about what’s on the other side of the door. Chances are you will be sorely disappointed. What’s more, once you open that door, you can’t simply close it back.
Issue #3: Lack Of Will To End/Overcome These Feelings
Couple of things. There’s a world of difference between “wanting to” and being “willing to” do something. Right now, it seems that you, on one hand, “want to” do the right things, but on the other hand, you can’t seem to get yourself to do it. We often see a similar type of mental tug of war among dieters. For example, a woman wants to lose weight. She can list 101 good reasons why she needs to lose weight; she knows it’s the right thing to do. And yet when it comes right down to it, when the moment of decision arrives… she finds herself making excuses, procrastinating (I’ll start tomorrow) and/or rationalizing (it’s just a small bite, it’s harmless, I will only do it this one time).
So what’s going on here?
Well, they are both classic signs of what’s called a “split mind”. Think about it like a courtroom drama, with a supporter and an opposer presenting two sides of the argument. The supporter is telling you all the reasons why you should end this… it’s pointing out logically and rationally that you know how this ends, you’ve been on the other side, you know how it feels. And then, there’s the opposer pointing out how good this makes you feel… how much pleasure to have a man validate you, want you, make you feel good.
Did you notice BOTH are arguing for something you want? (1) The supporter wants you to do what feels right, while (b) the opposer wants you to do what feels good. This leaves you not with a decision, but a dilemma because you want both. You want to be good, AND you want to feel good too.
So who wins? Will it be the supporting voice or the opposing voice? Well, that is totally up to you to decide. And as you think about that, I want you to think about this…
- Pleasure is temporary, but integrity and honor? Those are enduring.
- Goodness doesn’t come from pleasure, but from making good choices.
- Innocence is a precious state of mind — it’s worth far more than illicit experiences ever will.
Don’t trade what you value most for what you want now. Remember, feelings wax and wane… they will pass. The key is to remind yourself it’s okay not to act on them. If you need more help in actually disengaging and neutralizing those feelings in a healthy way, download and listen to my session Dismantling Emotional Affairs. In that session, I take you through the daily steps to help reverse your way out of this type of attraction.
Just the fact that you reached out for advice and that you’re aware of how this ends is a sign that you’re way ahead of the game. The way I see it, your job is to simply stay the course. Keep listening to the voice of love and logic… keep trusting that as long as you don’t act on these feelings, with time and distance… they do return to neutral.