Reader: New to your site, I’ve enjoyed much of what I’ve read so far. My problem is the following.
I am 49. My wife (48) and I have been married for over twenty years. Two children (19 and 15). In the last 5 or 6 years, our sex life has gone from bad to worse to becoming virtually non-existent. Why? Work pressures. My wife’s unhappiness with her professional circumstances. Financial pressures. Diverging sex ranks (by your criteria): me up, my wife down.
Almost two years ago, I met and fell in love with another woman (35). Absolutely beautiful, and with whom sex is out of this world. We connect on every level (intellectually, physically, aesthetically) and she wants me to stay with her. I am very much in love with her, and cannot bear the thought of losing her.
Nine months ago, I suggested to my wife that we separate, saying that our relationship was no longer working. Six months ago, I told her about the other woman, and moved out (living alone).
The problem is that, despite all the above, I am still prevaricating. Some deep conflict is preventing me from going ahead with the divorce. I still am very fond of my wife, and she is intent on our remaining together, and has forgiven the “affair”. I feel little or no sexual attraction to her, but do feel a strong compassionate bond, and find myself wondering, probably naively, whether marriage counselling could help. At the same time, I know that it could never approach anything like I have with this other woman, with whom I can honestly say I’m passionately in love. (After almost two years, can it be dismissed as mere infatuation?). I also feel a strong family responsibility as father of two children.
With all of this, I have reached a deep crisis, in which I no longer know whether I am being prevented from going ahead with the divorce by (a) lack of courage, or (b) some deep love for my wife and family (despite the sexlessness of recent years, and the fact that I now also love another woman).
Any thoughts you may have on the matter would be greatly appreciated, as this indecision has brought me to a point of near desperation. Thank you.
Athol: You’re essentially doing the same thing a woman does by having a relationship with a Bad Boy and a Nice Guy at the same time. You’re getting your Alpha / dopamine fix from your lover and your Beta / oxytocin/vasopressin fix from your wife. It’s taking both of them to get you what you want. You haven’t made a decision to dump one because both women are tolerating you keeping them on the line. When one of them makes a move, you’ll decide who you want to be with.
I do sympathize with the temptation to get involved with someone else when your marriage has been less than enjoyable. You having a higher Sex Rank than your wife does make you leaving her or having an affair a higher probability outcome.
However that being said, I’m not really in the business of advising how to have an affair and then make the transition from dumping your wife to moving to a new woman. Right now your relationship options are both going to be problematic.
Your wife: If you return to her, you’ve created a huge drama for her to move past in addition to whatever her structural attraction issues are that she needs to solve. Plus the kids probably have some crap to deal with as well. So you’ve made her turning into the wife you want more complicated. Maybe not even possible. It’s unknown.
Your girlfriend: If you move in with her, you’ll always associate her with the pain of the loss of your family, and that’s going to put a damper on things. Plus she’s the type of girl that sleeps with a married man, so she doesn’t actually respect marriage. When she’s 45, you’ll be 59 and possibly dumped by her as too old anyway. There’s no way to tell if she’s going to be a good stepmom… the kids won’t like her much that’s for sure.
This is why when I wrote the MAP I was insistent on taking the moral high ground. You should give a fair warning and not cheat on your spouse. If you have higher Sex Rank than your partner and frame the seriousness of the situation correctly, there’s a decent chance they will respond the way you want. If they do respond, then there’s no affair drama to work through. So all their efforts are focused on before what you want them to do. But if you’ve cheated on them, then the issues of trust may never resolve. She may simply no longer be able to ever relax with you enough to be sexually free with you. It’s all simply unknown as to how she’ll react.
If she doesn’t react positively to a fair warning, then that allows you the ability to leave the relationship as something other than the bad guy. You tried your best. All you were asking for was a proper marriage relationship and she wouldn’t or couldn’t hold up her end of the agreement. It’s one thing to leave a relationship as someone who tried and was open and honest, and quite another to leave as someone caught with their pants down.
That moral high ground allows you to find a new relationship as someone that has a more positive relationship track record. You’d be getting involved with someone as a fresh start, rather than as a slowly rotting decline. You’d be getting involved with someone who isn’t taking part in an affair to be with you. If your marriage had come to an end three years ago and you’d met your girlfriend two years ago, wouldn’t your relationship with your girlfriend be in a much better place today?
So…. what to do now…. your options…
(1) Dump both women and move on. This gets you the complete fresh start.
(2) Commit to your girlfriend. My hunch is that you’re not going to do this because you haven’t already. If you do, the odds aren’t fabulous that the relationship survives. It’s not impossible, but less than ideal.
(3) Recommit to your wife. This is large part up to her willingness to let you back in and ability to fix the structural attraction issues she was having for you.
My general advice for recommitting to your wife is to hit the relationship reset switch to issue the fair warning, and proceed from that point, “As you should have done it in the first place.” And yeah, you do have to apologize for not offering her a fair warning the first time around.
(a) Apologize for your lack of leadership. (Captains face their problem head on rather than seek the easy option)
(b) Apologize for your lack of a fair warning.
(c) Express what it is you need from her that was lacking in the marriage that helped create the situation where you start an affair.
(d) Determine if your wife can actually do things to meet your needs effectively.
(e) Move back home.
(f) End the relationship with your girlfriend and go no contact.
(g) Express your grief for losing your girlfriend. (This is very counter-intuitive for the wife, but allowing you to express grief speeds up the process a great deal)
(h) Both commit to having a conscious relationship rather than letting things go unspoken and ignored between you.
(i) Both commit to improving your individual attractiveness. (She in particular needs to learn some Girl Game.)
Marriage counseling may also be extremely helpful, but a bad counselor is worse than no counselor. So if you do, take steps to find a good one and don’t just settle on the first one to return your call.
Also those points are a set. You can’t really pick and choose the ones you want. It’s all in, or all out.