What to Do with an Unfaithful Husband

Letter #1

Introduction: Most spouses are totally unprepared emotionally and intellectually for the shock of discovering unfaithfulness, and the letters I receive almost daily reflect their despair.

This week I focus my attention on the plight of women whose husbands are having an affair. These letters will not only help you see how cruel infidelity is, but you will also see that reconciliation is neither hopeless nor masochistic.

I have posted five letters, so much of my advice is redundant. But for those going though this crisis, redundancy is often welcome.

Dear Dr. Harley,

My husband and I have had a difficult marriage of 7 years as well as 3 years of living together before marriage. About six months ago, he informed me that he was very close to a woman in a nearby office. He said he was unsure of how he felt for her. After a week or so of "discussing" this situation, we agreed to work on our marriage if for no other reason, our 4 year old son.

My husband promised not to talk with the other woman other than in passing, but he did nothing to improve our relationship at home. He essentially moped around the house and pouted as if he had lost his best friend. I tried showering him with affection and attention and later found out he considered it "too much."

During this time we saw a counselor. My husband did not consider himself to be at fault for his relationship with the other woman. He thought the kiss they shared to be nothing. But last week he informed me that he is in love with her and "loves" me only because I am our son's mother. I threw him out of the house.

He discussed the situation with the other woman and they decided that too many lives would be negatively affected by a relationship between them. She has asked for a transfer to a different location to eliminate their daily contact. My husband wants to come home. He is unsure how he will deal with his feelings for this woman. He doesn't know if he will ever love me as a wife again but he wants to keep his family together.

I have not a clue as to what to do. Is it possible for him to love me again? Any insight or revelation is appreciated! I look forward to your response.


Dear M.S.,

Your approach to the problem, so far, has been quite reasonable. First, you tried to meet needs that his lover was meeting, in an effort to win him back to you. But he was in an emotional state of Withdrawal, and wouldn't let you meet his needs (that's why he said you were doing "too much"). Then you asked him to leave when you found his relationship with the woman ever-increasing in intensity. Again you did the right thing. It's what I recommend in chapter 13 ("How to Survive an Affair") of my book, His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-proof Marriage.

He reacted to your rejection of him in a reasonable way, too. He discussed it with his lover, they decided to try to end the relationship, she moved to another location, and he is wanting to restore his love for you.

So far, so good. Now, what's the next step.

First, we should discuss what your husband is up against. An affair is usually more than a choice, it's usually an addiction. Even though your husband knows what he should do, he will have great difficulty doing it, because he's addicted.

Your husband probably does love you (even though he didn't sound too convincing) and cannot imagine leaving you. Furthermore, he does not want his family broken up, and he has decided to make his marriage with you work. But in spite of his resolve, he is suffering from the effects of his addiction. He is almost powerless to resist his lover.

Not all affairs are addictions, of course, just like not all people who get drunk every weekend are alcoholics. I have treated many "alcoholics" who simply made a decision in my office to stop drinking. Even though they were suffering the physical effects of years of drunkenness, from that day forward they never had another drink. And they told me that they had almost no craving for liquor after they stopped drinking. I don't consider these people to be addicts. From my perspective their drinking was always something they could have stopped any time they wanted because they were never addicted. The proof was in the fact that they actually stopped cold turkey and suffered no withdrawal symptoms. Another proof was that they were able to avoid alcohol for the rest of their lives. I have known some of them to have remained sober for over 20 years.

Cigarette users can be the same way. Rush Limbough claims that after years of smoking he simply gave it up one day, and has never smoked since. I know of many like Rush who, in my judgment, were never addicted to nicotine. That's why they were able to give up smoking with relative ease.

Affairs can be the same, particularly when a spouse is not in love with his lover. Many affairs are one-night-stands, where a spouse has sex only once with someone who happens to be available. Even when it is repeated, a relationship of sexual convenience without the feeling of love is relatively easy to stop when it is exposed. That's because a relationship without love is usually not an addiction, although it is still devastating to the other spouse when it is discovered.

But it's difficult to know whether or not a relationship is an addiction until a husband has left his lover for good. A husband may claim that he does not love his cohort, as a way to deflect attention from the relationship. Then when everything is back to normal, he gets back together with her. Addicts are notorious liars, and sincerity is their specialty.

An alcoholic that I once counseled told his wife that he had simply made the decision to give up drinking. He was convincing for two years. But one day, he was rushed to the hospital for drinking automobile window washer fluid. It seems he had been adding blue food coloring to gin, and stashing it away in a window washer fluid container. Unknown to him, his brother had filled the container with the real thing, and he just about killed himself drinking it. From that day on, his wife knew he was an addict, and he voluntarily admitted himself into treatment.

In your case, your husband is most certainly addicted because he loves the other woman, and he had so many of the withdrawal symptoms when he tried to leave her. So let's look at ways that addicts must be treated to help them overcome their addiction. Having owned and operated chemical dependency treatment programs, I am well aware of the most successful methods.

To be on the safe side I usually treat most affairs as if they are an addiction. If I'm right, we get to the root of the problem without wasting valuable time. If I'm wrong, going through the steps necessary to avoid seeing the former lover, which should be done whether or not it's an addiction, is simply easier to do.

Treatment for drug and alcohol abuse begins by simply separating a person from the addicting substance. In most cases, it is done in a hospital. There is a period of withdrawal, after which the person is no longer physically addicted. From there, treatment usually focuses on the emotional addiction that helps addicts resist the temptation to go back to the addicting substance. Support groups usually try to help build values and moral character that prevent a relapse. The goal of most successful programs is to help an addict completely avoid the addicting substance for the rest of life.

It is easier to create a place free of the addicting agent for infidelity than for substance abuse. For infidelity, any place will do, as long as it's not where the lover resides. Unlike drugs and alcohol, where there are copies almost everywhere, infidelity involves an addiction to one and only one item, the lover. So it's much easier to remove the temptation because you know where she is, and where she isn't.

It is unlikely that your husband will be able to establish a meaningful relationship with you until his lover is no longer available to him. While she may be in a new location at work, I doubt that they will be able to avoid making contact with each other. So the first thing you and he need to discuss is moving to a place where he cannot make contact with her.

To provide an environment free of temptation to your husband, I usually recommend the drastic step of moving to another state. While that may sound impossible, or at least impractical, at first, moves are not all that unusual in America. In fact, it may give your marriage a whole new breath of fresh air. It will help you form a lifestyle that you both enjoy much more than the one you have now (using my Policy of Joint Agreement). And it will certainly make it difficult for your husband to keep his relationship with his lover alive. He can still do it, of course, but most addicts don't want to be addicted, and lack of easy availability is usually all it takes to break the habit.

At first he will go through withdrawal, a period of depression that will make him not much fun to be around. You've already experienced some his moping around when he was going through withdrawal a few weeks ago. Well, he will go through it again when he first comes home to you. Those who let themselves be trapped in an affair pay a terrible price for it all. Many of those I've counseled wished they were dead. But when the period of withdrawal is over, they have a chance to make their marriage better than it's ever been.

Then, what's the next step? How can you restore the love you had for each other?

I complement you on your willingness to work things out with your husband. You have had to put up with frustration, humiliation, and very hurt feelings to try to prevent your family from breaking up.

But you should acknowledge an important reason that he had the affair: You were not meeting at least one of his most important emotional needs. And because of his frustration, his feelings for you are not what they should have been. The woman he now loves met that need, and ended his frustration. If your marriage is to succeed, you will have to take her place in meeting that need.

The purpose of my Emotional Needs Questionnaire (that you can copy from the questionnaires section of this web site) is to help spouses identify their most important emotional needs so that they can learn to meet them for each other. While your husband is still separated from you, ask him to fill one out. He wants to save his marriage for the sake of your child, but you both need much more than that. You must learn to meet each other's most important emotional needs, and then you will have the marriage you have always wanted.

It's entirely possible that your four year old child has something to do with your failure to meet your husband's emotional needs. What changed between you and your husband when your child arrived? It could have prevented you from meeting his emotional needs. Privacy, for one thing. Maybe you didn't have much time with each other to talk, to connect emotionally.

You say that your seven years of marriage were as difficult as the three years you were living together. Have you both been the victims of Love Busters? Have you been destroying your relationship with angry outbursts, disrespectful judgments or selfish demands. Make a two copies of my Love Busters Questionnaire so that both of you can identify Love Busters that may be wrecking everything you are trying to create. Even if you know how to meet each other's emotional needs, Love Busters can ruin your efforts. On the other hand, if you know how to throw the rascals out, the love that you build will stay put. The love units you deposit by meeting each other's emotional needs will accumulate in the Love Bank, and you will both be in love with each other once more.

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