A Reader Writes…
My husband of 25 years had had an affair with a work colleague.
I decided to forgive him after he convinced me the affair meant nothing; it was pure physical sexual release for him from stresses of life, loneliness etc.
We have come a long way since December , when I found out, and our marriage is stronger than ever. We have read your books How Can I Ever Trust You Again? and Make Love Like a Prairie Vole and found them hugely helpful.
We have had couples therapy, have spent hours and hours talking about how we found ourselves in such a terrible situation when we love each other so very much, we have had a lot of weekend breaks; lots of fun and intimacy and I can honestly say our marriage has never been better. Our sex live is incredible – we never realised just how good it could be which is amazing considering how long we have been married.
But I’m not completely happy, Andrew. I have periods of such intense sadness and grief over what has happened. I get many, many intrusive thoughts about the intimacy my husband shared with this woman; I’m obsessed with wanting details of her body, how she ‘was’ at sex.
My husband does not want to talk about it – he is desperate for us to move on; tells me that episode of his life was the worst thing that has ever happened to him and he wants to forget it. He is deeply ashamed and full of guilt and tells me is completely devoted to making it up to me – will do whatever it takes.
I have no doubt about his deep love for me and know he made a terrible, terrible mistake that meant nothing to him at all. But I need help with dealing with this angst at the thought of him with her. I should add that he is still working with her which is acutely painful for me. He is, however, actively job hunting. Please can you help Andrew?
First of all, I want to congratulate both on the progress that you’ve made. I’m really pleased that your sex life has been turned round and that you’re both putting so much energy into making things better.
Next, I want to offer reassurance. December is only six months ago, so I’m not surprised that you have days of intense grief. It is perfectly normal and probably part of your healing process.
However, I am concerned for the level of detail that you want about the other woman’s body and what sex was like with her. Some details – like where you with her on that date – can be helpful in laying ghosts.
Some details—intimate sexual material—are more like torturing yourself. So please stop asking your husband. You’ve got enough information to improve your sex life and that’s all you need. Honest. Anything else will just play through your head like a bad porn movie.
So why are you obsessed with her? It feels like you’re in competition:
- Who has the best body?
- Who is best in bed?
- I know teenage girls line up behind the prettiest classmate with the best boyfriend. But do you only feel ‘good enough’ about yourself if you are the best?
- Did you have intense sibling rivalry with a sister?
- Did you parents give you the message: “We love you but only if you’re good, get the best grades or are dressed nicely?”
I suppose, what I’m saying is that this is probably about you—not her. In fact, like most people whose partner’s have had an affair, your imagined version of the third party is twice as attractive and twice as good in bed than reality.
Most people trade down for an affair—because the truly gorgeous have their pick and don’t have to put up with part-time attention. Most affair sex is exciting but ultimately quite empty in comparison with the tender loving with all your body, not just rubbing genitals together, sex that you’ve found with your husband.
So what should you do? Next time, you get these images about her try one of the these three techniques:
- Distract: Imagine pushing the image out of your head and trying to remember the lyrics to a favourite song from your teenage years.
- Replace: Think of something nice instead – like your last love making with your husband.
- Thank her! You will never let your marriage drift again.
If this doesn’t work, it’s probably because you’ve got unfinished business. So write a letter to this woman (not to be posted!) and say everything that you need to get off your chest. You could also write one to your husband (not to be given to him) because you have not allowed yourself to be angry enough because you were trying to build bridges.
Finally, write one to yourself because you’ve probably been accusing yourself of not having 20/20 vision and heading this affair off before it started. Look back at these letters and ask yourself again: Why am obsessed with this woman? What can I learn about myself?
You might find some help in this task from Learn to Love Yourself Enough.
Wow, this story is almost identical to my own. My wife of 17 years had a three month affair that ended three and a half months ago. We have five children and have been focussed on raising them for the last 14 years, to the detriment of our own relationship (failure to meet emotional needs and festering unresolved conflicts). Fortunately, we still loved each other (but were not ‘in love’) and I was able to win her back almost immediately. Once the ‘fog’ lifted she realised it was huge mistake and lapse of judgement, fuelled by some some artful wooing on the part of the AP. For the last three months our relationship has been better than it ever has in the past – we have been spending almost every spare minute with each other (sans kids) and feel like teenagers again. Lots of past grievances have been aired and examined and I feel like I’ve been on a voyage of self-discovery (cue theme music to the Kung Fu TV series). However, like the lady from the original post, it seems like my emotions are a dichotomy – either ecstatically happy or really down. I still get periods of intense sadness and hurt that usually results in shedding tears. I try not to dwell aspects of the affair (there was a *lot* of physical action for only a few months), and sometimes just wake up in the morning feeling sad without having consciously thought about details. Unfortunately, this often results in a downward spiral leaving me quite upset and exhausted by the end of the day.
I guess what I really struggle with are the lies and deception that went on, right in front of myself and the kids. Putting myself in her shoes, I just can’t imagine being physical with someone else upwards of 20 times inside of two months or so (more action than I got in the last two to three years prior!!) and then coming home and looking her in the face, watching her interact with the kids etc. without imploding from the guilt. Plus, she was still intimate with me – I feel used and violated.
Having come from a broken family myself, I will not inflict that pain on my kids under any circumstances, and I still love my wife deeply regardless of what she has done. It is very clear to both of us now as to what really matters in life: keeping our love alive and nurturing our family. The technique I’ve been trying to apply recently when I get down is to tell myself that it was not really ‘her’ (i.e. the person I love) at the time who did this to me. From what I understand, the feelings generated by an affair are almost like a drug. However, if true, are these feelings any different (or less real) than those generated when you are single and first fall in love? How long will I continue to experience episodes of such intense pain and sadness (I haven’t managed more than three consecutive days of feeling “normal” so far)?
Andrew G. Marshall says
It’s natural to have good days AND bad days. When you get the latter, accept the feelings (ie pain) and challenge the thoughts (have you been exaggerating, have you been using black and white words like ‘never’ and ‘always’ and have you been taking evidence from one area and putting it into another). There is more about this is Wake Up and Change Your Life’. I can’t predict how long the intense feelings will last but three and a half months is early days – though it does sound positive that you’ve managed three consecutive days of ‘normal’. I think many people in your situation would be pleased with three hours. It could be this will bring up issues from your own childhood, so think about talking to your parents about things which remain unresolved and, in general, talk to your friends and family about sadness so it’s not just you (and your wife) doing this on your own.
Thanks Andrew. I’ve been reading ‘How Can I Ever Trust You Again’ and the concept of compartmentalisation does seem to help with understanding how folks rationalise their actions. I’ll check out ‘Wake Up and Change Your Life’ too.
My story & feelings are almost exactly like Marks, other than my husbands sex only affair went on for 2 years when I was out of town, with a very unattractive trailer trash whore. Which I ended up with the gift of an STD. I would like to know how he’s doing now with his wife and if the thoughts in his head are gone?!
Andrew G. Marshall says
I have posted your question to alert Mark. Back to you Mark, have you got an update for Carolee?
This article is perfect for me. I’m not imagining the same things but really struggling to get her out of my head. She was a friend. Thank you for this. It’s only been 6 weeks for me so I feel better already and hope my sleep improves
Andrew G. Marshall says
You have two losses to get your head round: the marriage you thought you had with your husband and the friendship you thought you had with this woman. So it is not surprising that you are struggling, be patient with yourself. You might be interested to know that I cover this sort of double betrayal in my book ‘I can’t get over my partner’s affair’
That is the worst “advice” I’ve ever heard. It’s not obsession, it’s you want to know what your husband did with that female. It’s your right to know because he was giving husband benefits to someone who is not his wife. If he loves her he would be completely honest and tell her what she wants to know.