What to Do with an Unfaithful Husband

Letter #3

Dear Dr. Harley,

This past Summer, my husband of 14 years confessed he had been having an affair with a woman from work for the past two years. He contemplated leaving me and our two children many times but could not bring himself to do it. He claims he loves us and cares about us but he is not in love with me.

Our love relationship started going down hill after having our children with all the pressures of family life. But it didn't really get bad until after he started the affair. Our power struggle has always been him not having enough sex, and me not having enough affection. We recently read your book, His Needs, Her Needs, and agree that we were both at fault.

The logic of it all is easy to see but my husband is seeing everything from an emotional view, he feels love for her and he doesn't feel love for me. He has not been seeing the other woman even though they work at the same place and I believe he is sincere about it. We have been just riding it out until our emotions start to level out but we are both growing impatient.

I have suggested counseling but my husband is reluctant because he says he knows what his feelings are. I asked him, "If we could restore the intimacy we once had, would he want to stay with me?" He said, "Yes." My husband is a truly wonderful person with qualities that are had to find. I love him more than anything and the last thing I want is for him to move out; but the tension is so high. Sometimes we do relax and have a great time but that seems to scare him and he gets depressed and withdraws again.

Right now I feel like the only way to win his heart back is to separate for awhile. It would mean that the kids and I would have to move back to my family, out of state, in the meantime. He feels that would be unfair. He doesn't want his life disrupted like that. He wants to have access to his children. The move would be really hard on all of us but I cannot stand thinking I will have to live in our home with all our memories without even having the love and support of my family. My real question is would counseling help at this point considering his emotional state or am I better off letting him find out what his real feeling are for me by separating?

I don't want another marriage to end up in divorce because of a communication problem. But my husband feels the love is too long gone to get it back.


Dear W.M.,

As you know from having read my book, I advise your husband to never see his lover again. He must move to another job and possibly to another state before he can reconcile with you. Otherwise, he will continue to love her and be unable to resist seeing her from time to time. Even if your marriage improves, he may never be able to overcome his feeling of love for this other woman unless he stops seeing her.

But, from your description, he is unlikely to accept my advice -- at least at this time. All of his talk about the way he "feels" proves that he is addicted to his lover. So I recommend a three step plan to you.

The first step is to be the very best wife you can possibly be. Do everything you can to meet his needs, and don't do anything to upset him. Set a period of time that you think you can do this without getting too upset, say, three weeks. Tell him that you think both of you need a fresh start somewhere else.

If he does not respond to your kindness and respectful suggestions within that period of time you're ready for the second step: pack up yourself and your children and move near your family and friends for their support. It should be far away from his lover -- another city or even another state. Have absolutely nothing to do with him. Don't talk to him, don't see him.

If you are forced to say something to him, tell him that you love him and hope he can free himself from the addiction of his affair. Let him know that the only way you will consider restoring your relationship with him, is for him to quit his job and move to where you are. From there you will start life over again. Be certain that your words and tone of voice communicate your care for him, not your anger.

Your husband is not likely to follow you right away after you've given him his ultimatum. He will try to develop a relationship with his lover first. But in the vast majority of cases, it doesn't work out because he needs both you and she. She meets some of his needs and you meet others. He will discover how much he misses you when he is with her.

In the event that he stays with his lover and he does not come back to you, you avoid untold sorrow trying to reach a man who is in love with another woman. As you wait for his decision, it is very important to surround yourself with your family and friends as you go through this crisis. In the end, if he chooses his lover, the experience will be much harder on him than on you.

If he eventually agrees to your terms, you begin the third step, which is to start again with a new commitment to meet each other's needs and avoid Love Busters -- in a new location.

At first, he will be depressed because he misses his lover. He goes through a grieving process that usually lasts a few weeks. For some, it takes as long as a year to overcome, but this is quite rare. His affair is an addiction, and the withdrawal from his lover, puts him into a very painful emotional state. If he calls his lover on the telephone, or inadvertently sees her, the clock is set back to zero, and the period of withdrawal begins again. That's why he must avoid all contact with her for the rest of his life.

After the period of withdrawal has ended, he will open his heart to you and give you a chance to meet his need for sex, and other needs his lover met. He will also learn to meet your needs, particularly your need for affection. You will have an opportunity to build a new lifestyle together, one that fits your needs so well that it will affair-proof your marriage.

When the ordeal is over, you will both know what a marriage should be -- what yours could have been, right from the beginning.

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