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Question 

My husband of 22 years is obsessed with a woman he met while he was out of town. She lives on the other side of the country. It came as a TOTAL shock. No warning. He says at this time he doesn’t want to repair our marriage or the damage he’s done to me but he’s not sure he wants a divorce, either. The only time he went to therapy with me was to tell the therapist that the solution is for us to have an open type relationship so he can have both of us. I was in shock. I’m sure the idea came from this woman who’s been married four times and broke up at least three marriages. But he says he’s in love with her. When anyone says midlife crisis, he walks away.

He did go to individual counseling once, but left when the therapist told him he’s being delusional and living in a fantasyland. Now, he’s left the house to think and not be bothered by all my crying and pain. I found a secret phone after he said he broke it off with her, but he says the pull to her is too strong to end it cold turkey. He’s angry with me for not accepting his “solution”. Now, he says the last 22+ years were a waste of time for him. Do you have any help for me?

Answer

Your husband doesn’t love this woman. That’s the wrong word. Your husband is infatuated with this woman. There is a huge difference. Love is about commitment, sacrifice, loyalty, unselfishness, and compassion. Infatuation is a completely different emotion.

The reason I make this distinction is because when an unfaithful partner uses words like “love” to describe their feelings for the other person, it can make you feel like you weren’t enough. The reality is that it’s impossible for them to make a direct comparison. The conditions of the two relationships aren’t similar in any way. An affair is a fantasy based on lust and selfishness.

Dr. Shirley Glass researched affairs for over thirty years and found that unfaithful partners believe they’re in love when in reality they’re experiencing the high that comes from obsession. The following are conclusions she made about the feelings of “love” in an affair:

  • People compare and confuse the intensity of being “in love” during an affair with the secure, comfortable feeling of reality based “loving” that occurs in long term relationships.
  • The feeling of being “in love” is linked to idealization, passion and infatuation.
  • True love, which you grow into, is characterized by acceptance, understanding, and compassion. That is why so few people end up marrying their affair partners, and those who do have an extremely high probability of divorce.
  • Once the affair is no longer the forbidden relationship that takes place in a golden bubble, the cold light of day soon bursts the romantic fantasies.[i]

Your husband is in an affair. He’s not capable of offering you or this other woman love. You have to decide if you want to wait around while he continues his affair. He says he’s taking a break to think about what he wants. However, if he’s taking time to think about the relationship with you while he’s still engaging in a relationship with her, then he’s made his decision. You have to now decide what you’ll do.

You committed to be faithful to each other when you married. Your husband wants to break that agreement and change the rules. If he had an issue with that agreement, he should have talked with you about his concerns before he broke the promise. He’s now changing the rules because he doesn’t want to give up the high he’s experiencing from this affair.

You have a difficult road ahead of you. None of this is fair to you, but you have to make a decision of what you’ll do. You’re in shock and are having difficulty making sense of this awful reality he’s dumped on you. Get some professional and spiritual help to guide through the decision making process so you can make the best decision for you and your family.

 

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at geoff@lovingmarriage.com

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

You can connect with him at:
Website: www.lovingmarriage.com
Twitter: @geoffsteurer
Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT

[i] http://www.shirleyglass.com/afterword.htm