Attraction to My Ex-Wife is Threatening Current Long-Term Relationship

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Reader’s Question

I am a 49-year-old man, twice married, twice divorced. I am presently living in a long-term relationship, a marriage in all but paperwork. Both marriages ended after my spouse had an affair, and I struggled to lose my feelings of love for my second wife in particular, whom I will call ‘Rose’. I have two sons from my first marriage, aged 18 and 21.

About a year ago, my father died of cancer, and I emailed Rose via a social networking site. She was very sympathetic. We exchanged a few emails; that was that. Very shortly after my father’s burial, my first wife also fell ill with cancer and later died. My sons both moved in to live in our home at that time, and Rose heard this news too from a social networking site. Once again she was very sympathetic, and we exchanged more and more emails. We subsequently met just for a chat and to catch up with how the kids are, and it became clear that a mutual attraction still remains.

In the meantime, my current partner was reacting very badly to having my sons stay with us. Her reaction was far from understanding or empathic. I have grown to resent her attitude about this more and more, and about a month ago it became clear that there was a good chance they would be driven to leave home before they really were ready to leave. My partner and I argued fiercely about this and eventually she took the point and things have improved since.

My problem is that in the midst of all of this and the coldness of recent months at home, in the meantime I have fallen in love with Rose again, who is unattached. It is clear that those emotions are reciprocated. We are in danger of having a full-blown affair if we were to continue to meet, and neither of us sees that as fair.

It’s clear I have a decision to make. Every ounce of me says that I should be with Rose. But my present relationship has lasted 7 happy years before the bombshell that brought the kids to live with us. My partner reacted badly to that, but I understand that it is a big thing to ask of anyone in her shoes.

I don’t want to hurt anyone, and yet (maybe foolishly) I’ve placed myself somewhere where I have to. What’s more, I feel that a decision has to come soon for everyone’s sake. Can I trust myself to make a sound decision in the midst of this emotional soup? What should I consider? What are the rights and wrongs here?

Psychologist’s Reply

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You indicate quite clearly that you did not really want to end your marriage to Rose but that an affair on her part made made that necessary. You also report that infidelity was a feature of your first marriage. Now, at least the risk of infidelity is presenting itself in your current long-term relationship that is “a marriage in all but paperwork.” And the main reason you give for considering an affair is that you still feel an “attraction” to your ex-wife. You also indicate that you find your ex-wife to have been more “sympathetic” about some things than your current partner — although one might wonder why such empathy for the matters of your heart weren’t strong enough to keep your marriage intact.

It would appear from all that you say that there are not only abundant commitment “issues” to go around here, but also some issues related to how much importance physical attraction has in your relationships — not only for you but at least for two of your partners who cheated on you. You have had two marriages end by affairs and are now facing the possible dissolution of a long-term relationship because of your “attraction” to your ex. Rather than considering the “rights” and “wrongs” of matters, it might be worth your while to do some soul-searching about the things that really mean something to you with respect to keeping and nurturing a relationship. You might do well to visit with a counselor about such issues and to gain more insight into your own value system, the values you look for in others, and the impact those values have had on your relationship history thus far.

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