I married my wife out of duty over 45 years ago after we learned she was pregnant. Even though my wife is a wonderful woman, we’ve gone through the motions in the marriage.
Seven years ago, I delivered the eulogy for a childhood friend. As I sat down the woman seated next to me clasped my hand and said, “Good job”. I was married, she was not. After the funeral I contacted the woman who held my hand. We ended up having a seven-year affair. She had two bad marriages, we never fought, and it was a physically and emotionally satisfying relationship.
She wanted more and I told her that I would not leave my wife. I also told her that one day someone would come along and fulfill her needs and when that when that happened, she should go for it. Well, it happened. She abruptly broke off with me. I know I should be happy for her. The suddenness has left me depressed.
The man she married was someone she had dated over 50 years ago. He evidently said all the right things and now she is in love with him. What’s your take on this?
This would be much easier to discuss if we were sitting across from one another. It’s difficult to get a read on your situation because I believe I’m missing a significant piece of information. I can’t detect any remorse for the long-term affair you had on your wife of 40-plus years. I don’t even know if you’ve told her about it. It’s difficult for me to know what you need. Are you wanting me to help you grieve the loss of an illicit relationship that never should have happened? Or are you wondering how to repair things with your wife? These are two very different questions. I will speak plainly with you to help you clarify what you want to do going forward.
I can certainly understand that when we form a bond with someone, even a forbidden bond, it still impacts us deeply when we lose that connection. You allowed yourself to enter a competing attachment seven years ago with a woman who isn’t your wife. It sounds like this became your primary attachment and you now feel more devastated by this loss than losing the connection to your wife.
I understand that you claim to have married your wife out of duty. That may have been the noble thing to do fifty years ago when you ended up in an unexpected situation. However, did you care about her when you were sexually active with her before you were married? Marrying someone out of duty is risky, especially if you have no intentions of building a loving relationship with them. You may have married her out of your integrity to right a wrong, but what happened to your integrity in caring for your marriage all these years? There’s no honor in staying married to someone while neglecting them. All I hear in your description of your marriage is blame, passivity, and victim thinking. Truthfully, it all sounds like the justifications you used to start the affair.
All affairs are driven by failure of integrity. They are full of deception to self and others, including the affair partner. Have you told your wife about the affair? Have you any interest in repairing things with her? Regardless of how you handle things with your wife, this is an opportunity for you to confront your own patterns of integrity abuse.
Please consider the integrity abuse patterns outlined in your question above. I only point these out so you can stop deceiving yourself and others. Here are the ones I see based on the limited information you’ve given me:
- You married your wife when you didn’t love her.
- You tell me you respect her, but you disrespected her by cheating on her.
- You don’t show any signs of guilt or remorse for your infidelity.
- You told your affair partner you wouldn’t build a life with her even though you stayed in relationship with her.
- You told yourself you were committed to your wife and wouldn’t move on with this other woman after not being committed to your wife for all these years.
- You are hurt that she believed you and moved on.
- You present yourself as noble, caring, and thoughtful, but your actions show otherwise.
If you want to be a man of integrity, it’s important to self-confront on how these patterns are showing up everywhere in your life. You have some tough questions to face, and I hope you’ll do the work of repairing the damage you’ve done to yourself, your marriage, and your family. If you only worry about how this impacts you, then you’ll never find actual healing. We can’t heal when we’re incongruent. I encourage you to work closely with a professional to work through these blind spots and begin repairing the damage you’ve caused.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
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About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, host of the podcast, “From Crisis to Connection”, and creates online relationship courses. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
The advice offered through Geoff Steurer’s column is educational and informational in nature and is provided only as general information. It is not meant to establish a therapist-patient relationship or offer therapeutic advice, opinion, diagnosis treatment or to establish a standard of care. Although Geoff Steurer is a trained psychotherapist, he is not functioning in the role of a licensed therapist by writing this column, but rather using his training to inform these responses. Thus, the content is not intended to replace independent professional judgment. The content is not intended to solicit clients and should not be relied upon as medical or psychological advice of any kind or nature whatsoever. The information provided through this content should not be used for diagnosing or treating a mental health problem or disease. The information contained in these communications is not comprehensive and does not include all the potential information regarding the subject matter, but is merely intended to serve as one resource for general and educational purposes.