What to Do with an Unfaithful Wife

Letter #4

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 child.

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.



Dear J.M.,

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 soon.

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 do that?

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.

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