Romantic Encounter Brings Life-Change Options

Reader’s Question

My husband and I split up a couple months ago to work on our marriage (apart in separate homes) due to his ongoing depression and inability to be involved in an intimate relationship. It has been over 4 years since he has touched me (no sex, or anything more intimate than occasional hand holding), and two years since we started marriage counselling which has been nothing more than a dead end for us. He says he loves me, but is always angry, unforgiving for any offence I may make, many perceived, and some I am honestly guilty of (though nothing I say in way or regret or sorrow for having done these things makes him happy…my response is never good enough and there is no penance he feels I can ever make to make amends for any of my mistakes, some of which were lies that he will never understand the reasons for nor does he want to even though he has been caught lying to me too…he feels that is different). I feel pretty worthless in his eyes, honestly.

On December 25th, I went hiking with a real-estate group who does it every year on Christmas morning and met a very attentive man with whom I shared a deep attraction. I thought at first it would be OK to just maintain a friendship with this man, but have found myself being drawn in by his humorous personality, romantic attention, the fact he enjoys all the same things I do in life like music and art, and last night went home with him and stayed the night. This leaves me with some pretty serious questions regarding my husband and what to do.

I was obviously wrong for having let myself spend the night with a man other than my husband…or was I? I will need to tell my husband but feel torn about my commitment, what I want in life now that this has happened, and worry if am I ready to face the consequences. I do love my husband, though it is no longer romantic love and would never deliberately hurt him. But I cannot help that I am falling in romantic love with this new man in my life (he has brought a warmth and smile to my face that has not been there for years, how could I not love him?).

My questions (sorry, they are many):

How do I explain this to my husband without hurting him, or with as little hurt as possible when he has a problem being depressed? How do I know if this new man is not just a replacement for the intimacy I have missed? Am I wrong for allowing it to happen? My husband must have known something was up, because this past week, he suddenly has become much nicer and has even tried to hold me. I am not sure I even want his physical touch anymore. Too little too late perhaps?
My leaving our marriage would mean a total loss in financial support, having to move from the home I have lived in for the last 8 years even though he has moved out into a different home, and at 50, this feels pretty scary. Should I stay and work on our marriage or leave slowly with a exit plan, or get it over quickly and just do it? What causes the least amount of hurt and still lets me feel like a worthy human being?

Psychologist’s Reply

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About 75% of extramarital affairs occur under times of high stress. In your situation, you have discovered that your emotional equipment is still working strong. This is actually a dangerous time for you. While your feelings for this new man are strong, the relationship is a 1% relationship in reality. You actually don’t know who this is if you think about it. Those warm, loving feelings are much more fantasy than actual romantic experience. Rather than view that relationship as the solution to your four years of misery in your marriage, view it as an awakening and a recognition that you want to live differently.

You’ve established that from your standpoint, everything is still working. You can fall in love, you can feel love and emotional warmth, and you are still sexually very much alive. When you look at your marriage, your husband has already physically, emotionally and sexually left. He lives in a different house! From your description, there is very little “working on the marriage” going on here. He may actually be in the same situation as you — feeling trapped by connections, finances, etc.

I would recommend that you consider your options:

  1. a probation period for one last effort to repair the marriage,
  2. the development of a slow exit plan to leave the marriage,
  3. continue contact with the new man but at a safe distance.

Keep in mind that the solution to your situation is not the new man as he has absolutely nothing to lose by continuing the relationship with you — while you have everything to lose. You will have a strong attraction to this new man but the intensity will be very one-sided at this point. Be extremely cautious. What may be a romantic/emotional awakening to you may be viewed as a wonderful sexual opportunity to him. Remember…you don’t truly know him yet.

In an odd manner, your new-man experience may actually improve your marital situation. You and your husband have been involved in one of those miserable, til-death-do-us-part marital relationships — sharing misery and depression. You now have a smile on your face and some spring in your step. He may have noticed your renewed energy and is responding by being nicer and even attempting some romantic warmth.

Bottom line? See where this goes. I can’t recommend telling your husband about the recent romantic situation. Rather, consider it a lesson learned about yourself. This entire situation may be the spark that starts pulling your life out of misery.

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