Spouse Had an Affair

Parent Q&A

  • After an Emotional Affair

    (6 replies)

    My spouse had an emotional affair with a co-worker two years ago. He asked for an open marriage to have a physical relationship with this person, which I declined. (No judgment, just not for me.) The first year was a tough but growing time in our marriage. We talked (and listened) a lot about what led to that point. We recognized the role we each played in our marital strife. A few months after the affair, he found a new job, albeit at a firm where this person also occasionally consulted. A year later, she went to work for this firm also, so here we are two years later -- they still have weekly meetings alone (not optional) and occasionally get together for coffee or lunch (clearly optional). They still have long business trips a couple times a year together (not alone). I trust him when he says that they have not returned to their emotional affair, but he wants to remain friends with her. He doesn't have many friends, so he says he values their friendship. He says he likes her (at the time of the affair, he said he loved her) and they enjoy talking to each other. He says he is still physically attracted to her but wouldn't act on it, because I've drawn the line and he loves me too much and wants our marriage to survive/grow. I told him that I find his unwillingness to give up the friendship hurtful and difficult to understand. Have you experienced a similar situation, either as the party in my shoes or in my spouse's? How did you handle it? Did your marriage survive? If so, what helped most? I'm not looking to hurl stones or to give up on my marriage, but I also want to protect my own self-worth and not be blind. Thanks!

    RE: After an Emotional Affair ()

    I did experience something similar. My marriage did not survive. I am more aware now of things that I should have done, but was not eager that back then. I am happy to chat if you are open to.

    RE: After an Emotional Affair ()

    Hi Anonymous, this sounds really difficult and it sounds like you're grappling intelligently and gracefully with it. I have so much respect and admiration for you, you are resilient, patient and compassionate. I have not experienced this exact situation, but due to a hiccup in my own marriage recently (and without the time or money to afford couples therapy), I began listening to Esther Perel's podcast "Where Should We Begin?" (https://www.estherperel.com/podcast) -- and been skimming her new book "The State of Affairs." I know offering these pop cultural resources is not the same as offering advice from a personal experience. But if you have a long commute or time to plug in, it might help foster connection and divine community with the millions of couples who are going through something similar. You are not alone. 

    Yours in solidarity,
    An Anonymous Friend 

    RE: After an Emotional Affair ()

    It is addictive and you have to treat it like an addiction. The only way out is for him to completely stop seeing her. Every time he sees her the pathways in his brain are reactivated and reinforce his feelings. You can’t will yourself to “like” instead of “love”. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Also see: Advice about Infidelity

June 2002

I can't believe I'm asking for this kind of advice, but here I am. I just found out last week that my husband is having a long term affair with one of his employees. I have many pieces of evidence that expound his love and longing to be with this person. I am a working mother of 4 year old girl/boy twins. I am in shock, I'm numb and really angry. We have been going to counseling for about six months. I suspected something back in Jan/Feb and asked him point blank in our counseling sessions. He said no that he and his employee were friends. During this time he put little effort into our relationship, made me feel like it was all my fault and continued to see this person. I'm taking steps to protect myself and my children, but I know I'm not thinking clearly. My family knows and his does as well. They all know that this situation lies directly with my husband. Any and all advice is deeply appreciated. Scared and Angry Mother

You situation sounds exactly like what happened to me, though my children were older at the time. I had decided before I knew for certain that he was having an affair that I did not want to be married to someone who would not put his marriage and family first (needless to say, he was very detached and not around a lot at the time). I asked him to move out and the affair was confirmed after that. I immediately filed for divorce, my feeling that I did not want to be married to such a person stronger than ever, and wanting to get on with my life. It was scary, but the benefits were immediate. The atmosphere at home improved 100% and 10 years later the kids and I are happy and doing very well. It is hard to raise kids in a single-parent household, but there are so many resourcse--family, friends, etc.--that you may not realize you have to make it easier. The important thing is to think about what sort of future you want and can imagine for yourself and your children. I simply did not want to stay with someone who obviously did not respect me or our family.

It can be hard to get through a time like this, no matter what you decide (he had had an earlier, less serious affair when our first child was an infant), but the hurt and anger will lessen, especially if you decide to do what is best for you, to shrug off the burden his affair places on you. It's hard, but don't let his bad behavior ruin your self-esteem or set you back. anonymous

My advice -- leave him! If you have the proof and say that he is still seeing this woman, don't put yourself through anymore hurt. It won't help the kids by staying with him. It'll hurt in the beginning, but you'll be SOOOOO much better off!!!! Kristin in Alameda

First off, I am so terribly sorry that you are in this situation. I'm sure everyone on this list feels horrible and wishes we never had to see these types of posts. But such is life...

You are in counseling, which is the natural first step. But it sounds as if your husband is not working on your marriage. I've been involved in counseling for alcohol addiction and the advice is the same = the first step in solving the problem is to STOP. No going slow - you must go cold turkey. Your husband cannot possibly think he is going to begin to repair his marriage if he is still actively having this affair. If he is committed to your marriage and saving it, he needs to stop seeing this person now and FOCUS.

Obviously, you have an unhappy road ahead of you for the time being. If your husband won't 'buck up', start taking steps to protect yourself (your assets, children, etc). If he won't stop seeing this person, you have to ask yourself if you'll stay around and wait, or just leave. Its up to you and its a hellish decision either way.

Unfortunately you can't change someone else - they have to want to change. If he isn't going to change, you'll save yourself continued heartache by taking action now.

Again, I am so sorry you have to go through this. I truly hope it works out for the best. Julie

I had a similiar experience with my ex-husband who began to betray me while I was pregnant. He acted mean and angry and aggressive towards me right through to my baby's birth and for months later. He too, denied having an affair. We did the therapy thing and he was dishonest within the context of that too. I had already kicked him out, then allowed him back in, only to be burned once more time by woman #2 when my baby was 10 months old. I felt like I had to try everything to forgive him and make it work for the future of my child, and of course to preserve what I thought was my dream marriage and family. I was extra humiliated by the effort to put things behind us but I can't regret trying because I will alway know for my child's sake I gave it everything I had. My feeling is unless the man professes a love and committment to you and a certain contriteness about what he did (mine never did) there is minimal chance of 'happily ever after.' There is a great book called ''When Your Lover Lies'' by Susan Forward which helps to be on alert to more lies and deception and how to best adapt an attitude to protect yourself now and in future relationships. My belief is that when betrayal is revealed and the individual continues to lie and sleeze, it is a whole nother ballgame. I don't recommend mediation, and therapy functions best in an environment of honesty and vulnerability. Allow yourself (as much as possible away from the twins) to be as angry and ballistic as you want. Protect your interests and set yourself up in life as best you can, try to negotiate calmly and with clear determination. This seems to happen to more women of young children than I ever realized and the costs (emotional/psychic/material) inflicted by men of this kind are great. However you get through this horribly traumatic time, your inner strength and creative resources will bring you to a place far beyond where you dreamed possible. I'm sorry this happened to you. Bon Voyage

I feel compelled to reply to your post, because I was the ''midlife crisis'' poster a while ago, who experienced a related hurt and benefitted greatly by the responses received, incl. the book tips. I looked at my marriage, excluding the ''not in-love'' issue, to see how rich it was or not. I saw sharing of resources, spending fun family time together, equal share of household and child care duties, relief time for each spouse to go out with friends, honest straightforward conversation with each other, and enjoying the night sky together. That is a lot to be happy for. It also sunk in that I have no ultimate control over someone elses action. (Maybe it's good that I found this out before my child got to be a teenager). I only have control over my actions and feelings and had to define for myself when enough is enough. Pay close attention to your health and promise your body what you will do to protect it - you are your own best friend. You cannot stop your husband's feelings/sexual arousal for someone else and you cannot make him be intimate with you, but you can decide under which conditions you continue to live with him or leave or divorce. Does he want to be a single parent with 2 children or look forward to paying alimony for 2 and pay for another place to live? All of that for having sex with an employee? Does he want to live with her, start a family with her? (My husband realized that he never wants live with another woman and start over, and never wants to have another child with another woman). You also cannot make him stop seeing this woman. However, you can clearly state that you prefer that the affair be ended and tell him upfront what your limits are in terms of staying together. Establishing new boundaries has helped us a great deal. And it's not one person telling the other ''that's the way I'll do it and you deal with it.'' Somewhere, compassion for each other has to play a significant part in it and you may find a new positive definition together for what you guys are at this point in time. I think a strong friendship is essential to get there. We have defined ourselves as affectionate best friends who have been married for a long time and want to raise our child as best as we can together. The new commitment is to take care of our own sexual needs as they arise (but not with other partners) until we're ready to be intimate again with each other, embracing the uncertainty that it can take a long time or may never happen again. Starting another outside affair means divorce. As harsh as this reads, we're both happier than ever. Maybe your marriage can be redefined to something that feels good to both of you, maybe there is no common ground. Your counselor should be able to help you with that. We arrived there on our own. I am still occasionally grappling with trust issues, but this is my own insecurity and I will deal with that myself. I've ordered the book ''after the affair'' and hope to gain some help from that. The book ''Forgive for good'' has helped me tremendously to move beyond the grievance and replace fear and anger with peace of mind. I can highly recommend it to you for the situation you find yourself in. (Note: forgiving does not mean tolerating nor reconciling). Anonymous

Firstly, my heart absolutely goes out to you. What a profound breech of trust you have endured. Since I can't be in your mocassins, as my mom would say, I can't presume to suggest what you should do. I can however, suggest what I would do, which is the following. I would call my folks, or someone I really trust, to look after the kids for a three-day weekend. Then I would call my best friend, who lives in Philadelphia, and ask her to head to the airport, and she and I would meet in a sacred healing place (which for me would be Santa Fe, New Mexico, but it could just as easily be the Big Sur coast, or Pt. Reyes, or Muir Woods and the Pelican Inn) and I would cry for the first 48 hours or so, and then with the next 24 hours I would deeply meditate on my path (and that of my children). I would need to know the following: Is my path, most importantly, in this marriage, or not? I would trust that in that setting the answer would make itself known. Either way, with husband or without, I would know the road ahead to be incredibly painful. But only you know whether, regarding your husband, he is for you and you are for him at this difficult juncture. Upon returning home, I would find myself a great therapist and call upon all my girlfriends for support. And I would tell my kids as much as possible without totally rocking their world, even when I didn't have all the answers. Best of all possible luck to you during these difficult times, and thank you for sharing your concerns with this community. Deborah

If your situation does head toward separation and divorce, then I recommend calling Kids' Turn, a nonprofit group that helps kids deal with their parents' separation and divorce. I've heard good things about them. The number is 835-8445. good luck to you and your kids. Sarah

you have every right to be angry and scared, but don't let it paralyze you. sounds to me like you need to get out of the ''marriage.'' suzie

My heart goes out to you--this is a horrible shock and I would imagine you feel incredibly frightened and betrayed. I work with couples frequently and the subject of affairs has never come up without it feeling devastating for one or both partners. My hope is that you can continue in couples therapy and that you feel safe enough to talk about, cry about and be angry about all of the things that have come to light. I would highly recommend a book called ''After the Affair'' (Janis Spring Abrahms) as a way of, on your own, getting support and perspective on what has and is still happening and as a way of maintaining some hope that things might turn out in the best way for you and your family. And if you aren't already, you might also want to consider finding an individual therapist so that you can, in addition to working on this in couples therapy, work in a safe place on your own. Feel free to call if you would like a recommendation for an individual therapist. 433-2959

My best to you, Michael Simon, MFT

First of all let me say that I am very sorry you are going through this torment. I can only imagine the pain and suffering you're experiencing not having been exposed to that type of situation.

However, as a mother I can't help but concern myself with how this is affecting your two young kids. In times likes these, I believe parents often forget how perceptive children are to their surroundings and how too they are affected by their parent's trials and tribulations. Having said that, I really think you should consinder or accept the fact that counseling is no longer a solution but perhaps your last hope to hold on to an unstable marriage. If you want to continue going to couseling, I think you should look into going to something for yourself, and find something that will help make you stronger and more focused on what your next step should be.

I know it can be scary considering the possibility of being a single mom, especially with more than one young child, but sometimes children are better off with two seperate stable parents than with two unstable married parents. Like my mom always says, ''It's better to be alone, than in bad company''. My advice to you, prepare yourself for the worst case scenario. Don't allow yourself to be surprised by a sudden separation or divorce. Do what you have to do to make sure your and that of your children's future become a more stable and healthy one.

Best of luck to you. Sympathetic Friend

I would like to share my experience, in the hopes that it will help you through the painful experience you are having. Your story could have been mine---20 years ago. When I was pregnant with our first child I found that my husband had been unfaithful. He travelled a lot and the pattern of affairs when he was out of town continued over the next few years. I stayed with him and tried to put it all behind me and concentrate on the positive things in our relationship. I told myself that it was important for my daughter (and then a second daughter) to have their father in their lives. Many years went by, in fact, it took 17 years for us to come to the point of divorce. And the strange thing was that even all those years later, when our family therapist asked me ''when did the marriage end for you?'' I realized that my marriage had ended the moment I found out about the first affair....17 years earlier. Even though we had been living together as a family for all those years. I won't go into all the details of the price I paid for those years of living the illusion of being a family. I'll just mention quickly that it turns out that I was not protecting my daughters, in fact they suffered as much as I did from the betrayals. I thought they didn't know about them, but it turns out that kids know much more than you ever tell them. The good news is that now, 3 years after the divorce, I have met an incredible man, who really loves and respects me and my children. My kids definately show the scars of living in our family, and we are all 3 working through all our pain and trying to learn a few lessons from the painful experiences of the past 20 years. But it is never to late to do the right thing for yourself and for your children. My best wishes are going to you and may you find a way through your pain to the peace and love that are waiting for you on the other side. anonymous

I too suffered through this type of betrayal with my husband, but I had just delivered my 2nd child. He stated point blank in therapy several months previously, that he was not having an affair. Well, without going through the humiliating details of the desperation I felt, it all seemed to come down to a couple of facts. I still felt love for him, and therefor was willing to travel that painful journey to forgiveness. He desperately wanted to be a good father to his children and realized that he could not accomplish this as well, outside the marriage. Coupled with a reality check regarding how he could actually have a life of fantasy while paying child support and providing another home for his children? His love for me has rekindled in the process of healing and therapy. And I realized that I was accountable for my part in this. I helped to drive him away with anger. The anger I think had something to do with sleep deprivation from child 1, and from my feelings of frustration at trying to be a good mother, and a good full time employee, and a good spouse. I think I subconciously blamed my husband for not providing well enough for me to stay home and raise the children as my mother had. I needed to revisit my goals and priorities, and make some changes. So, that said....do you love him enough to forgive him eventually? Does he love you and the family enough to cease his behavior, ask and seek forgiveness? Do you have a therapist that you really trust? Its a long hard road, and you may not be able to answer any questions right now. Focus on holding it together for your children. If necessary, ask him to leave(but he cannot move in with the OTHER), to give you both space to consider your feelings and thoughts. Make sure he will care for the kids 50% of the time if he moves out. Let him stay at home and you go stay with a friend or family member, this can be a crucial step in detachment and perspective! Lastly, my best wishes are with you. anon