Why did my wife have an affair?
Dear Dr. Stanton:
I am a therapist who has been married for 20 years. My marriage and family could be described as idyllic. My wife and I have a healthy sex life, we communicate and I am affectionate and committed to my marriage and family. As a therapist I have had many clients involved and impacted by infidelity and this training and experience is not helping me in my own situation.
Here is my situation (my wife agrees with my synopsis). I found out a month ago that my wife has been involved in an affair with another man for 3 ½ years. She states it was over in the summer but she was caught by friends having a lunch with this man in the fall. This man is 40-50 lbs. overweight, loud, abrasive, opinionated and has a problem with alcohol. He is a high roller but is disliked by many people. I might add that he is not attractive even in the most charitable of lenses.
By contrast I am the same age as this man, I work out and stay in shape I am more on the attractive side than not and I play nice with everyone. My wife states that it was her idea to initiate the affair, she found herself attracted to this man because a) her friends didn’t like him, b) he was gregarious and opinionated and very different from me. She has stated and I believe honestly that the sex was sub-standard; apparently this man in combination with a large belly has a small ‘family organ’. She said he doesn’t know how to kiss and his hygiene although not poor leaves something to be desired.
They had sex intermittently over this 3 ½ year period (reported 15 occurrences) with months in between with no contact. I have asked my wife to tell me when and where they had sex and when I compare it to my calendar find that many times her liaisons with this man come either immediately prior or on the heels of great times with me, e.g. marital vacation, family vacations, after a romantic date with me, etc. My wife states that outside of initiating this affair, which for her was an intended “one time fling,” she has never contacted him or initiated lunches or sex. This chase sequence was this man would call her and she would say “yes.”
My wife reports she does not miss him, she never loved him and each time following sex (his home, motel, car) she would come home and shower. Over this last year she began to drink more and was resentful to me when I pointed out her drinking was not healthy (approx. 20-30 drinks per week).
Dr. Stanton, what do I have on my hands? If this report is true my wife initiated and has stayed in an affair with a man that she says is unattractive, under equipped, self-centered, a man who she was attracted to but never “loved” and stayed in this affair despite telling him twice she was ending it.
My wife states she loves me and wants our marriage to remain intact. All my experience and research points to affairs growing out of deficits in the marriage or individual. I am a complete loss as I can’t make sense out of why my wife would initiate and be a part of such a destructive act where the only pay off appears to be the “secret.” She has in fact said that she believes she was in love with the affair but not the man. Can this happen, and if it can, any ideas on the direction we should take in therapy? I love this woman and have no intention of leaving her but the pain is at times unbearable.
We just finished a marital session that did not go well. I asked my wife to use a calendar and go back to when the affair happened and put down to the best of her ability the times they were together. I did this not so much to review the gory details but to see the pattern of this relationship. What I found was a pattern of her lying as to events. Many things didn’t make sense so I went to the man who she had the affair with and he filled in details she hadn’t. My wife has lied about frequency, location, her feelings toward him even though I told her I would forgive everything and work toward a reconciliation.
The affair appears to be over and he even stated they don’t see each other anymore. I’m not sure why the lies continue when I am willing to forgive. My sense is she fell in love and can’t admit it even to her or she is a pathological liar. I’ve not known her to lie about other things but I think my wife has a mental health problem. She appears like she was addicted to this man as if he were a drug.
I agree that, in cases like this, your wife is seeking an affair to remedy deficiencies she experiences in her marriage. And your task is to imagine what these could be.
If it is true that she finds the man deficient sexually and hygienically, then it may be a need to feel needed she is seeking; somehow, you are not giving her a sense of her place in your relationship and contributions to you.
But you also say that she likes the man because he is “gregarious and opinionated,” unlike you. Of course, you can’t change your personality. But maybe there is something in her description that can lead you to make changes where possible. I don’t know what these are – to be less opinionated? More revealing? More modest? Less controlling?
Only you can determine what she might be seeking, and what you are able to change. Given that you accept that she has abandoned the affair, I think that seeking additional details will not get where you say you want to be – in a rejuvenated, more mutually accepting and acceptable relationship.