What to Do with an Unfaithful Wife
Dear Dr. Harley,
My wife and I have been married for 7 years, have a beautiful 3 year-old boy, and have
climbed the ladder very quickly in our careers. For the last 6 months, my wife has been
spending more and more time away from our son and I, mostly with her younger friends
at work (we are both 31), and while I have been coping okay, it has started to affect our
I confronted her with this a short time ago, and the timing wasn't the best for her (she was
in Florida with two girlfriends). Nevertheless, after speaking with both grandmothers and
our daycare provider, I felt I had to take a stand and do what was best for our son.
We BOTH have been spending too much time away from him, and I laid this out to her as
clearly as I knew how, but all she took away from it was that I had betrayed her, talked
about her behind her back, ruined her much needed vacation, and basically pushed myself
further away from her than I already was. She is now talking separation.
Interestingly enough, she has agreed that we have been spending too much time away
from our child, and we have started to spend more time with him. We can see a change
in our son's demeanor already. I don't know where she and I are heading, but we have
had the worst week of our lives, and are trying to just be friends enough to give everyone
a chance to calm down.
I would appreciate your thoughts regarding our situation.
I agree with you that from your description, your marriage is in trouble. You have grown
apart in the past 7 years and are very likely to divorce unless you make some changes
However, the issue is not how much time you spend together with your 3 year old. It is
how much time your are spending alone together without your 3 year old. You are
probably not meeting any of each other's emotional
needs, and the rare time you do have together is probably filled with unpleasant
conversations, or silence.
How can you grow back together again? My Policy of
Joint Agreement that's described in this web site is part of the answer: Never do
anything without an enthusiastic agreement between you and your wife. Your marriage
has probably gone too far to implement that policy with ease. Your wife is probably
unwilling to follow it if you would suggest it to her. She has her own life now, and would
not be willing to change any of it to accommodate you. She may feel she already tried to
integrate her life into yours several years ago, but to no avail. Now she must create her
own safe niche in order to survive.
While she may not be willing to follow the Policy of Joint
Agreement, you can. And after you have agreed not to do anything without her
enthusiastic agreement, she may feel safe enough to do it herself.
Look at my Basic Concept, the Three States of Mind in Marriage. Your wife is probably in the
Withdrawal state, a state where negotiation is out of
the question. You need to reach her with the message, (1) I want to learn to meet your emotional needs, (2) to avoid being the cause of your
unhappiness, and (3) to become emotionally bonded to you. Would you help me learn to
But there's a possible complication that you may need to face: From your description, your
wife may be having an affair.
The time she spends away from you, the emotional distance you feel, and her suggestion
that you separate could be symptoms of a romantic relationship she is having with
someone at her office. If, indeed, you discover that she is in love with another man, don't
despair. Very few marriages ever end because of infidelity, and very few ever have a
permanent relationship with someone with whom they've had an affair. In most cases, a
husband and wife learn to straighten things out, and can get their marriage back on track
again in better shape than it was before the affair.