Tell Me About It: This must be what bereavement is like
PROBLEM: I have just ended an affair with a married man that has been going on for the last number of years. It started out as a flirt and then a fling and for the sex, but we soon fell deeply in love. He is quite simply the love of my life. I am married myself but very unhappy with my husband. My lover is not unhappy in his marriage and loves his wife and family. But I know that he loves or at least he did love me, by the way he has shown that love to me, respected me and treated me like a woman but at the same time his equal. No one else has ever treated me this way, least of all my husband. We both agreed that we would not break up our marriages to be together.
It ended badly and I am largely to blame. I was very resentful of his wife and almost to punish him for being happy with her I picked fights and put distance between us when my heart and body wanted more than anything to be in his arms. In the end he ran out of patience with me. When it came to a head a lot of very unkind things were said by both of us. We have had rows before but it’s different this time because he has not tried to smooth things over as he normally would and I’m ashamed to say that even when I was in the wrong I used to let him be the one to make the running.
I know that this was wrong from the very start and should never have happened. I’m not writing to ask for absolution or seek advice as to whether or not to continue. I am writing because my heart is breaking and I am struggling not to pick up the phone to him if even just to hear his voice. The only other person I could have spoken to about this is him. He really was my soul mate. I have hurt him badly, and him me, but I know him and if I did call he would be kind and gentle and probably forgiving.
I can make myself cold and close his memory out, but not all day and not every day and when I let myself think of him and how wonderfully he treated me, I am just overwhelmed. I have never had a close bereavement but this feeling must be what grief is like. My biggest fear is that he will go through the rest of his life not knowing exactly how I feel for him, even if we are finally over.
ADVICE: You sound as though you are deeply in grief and the difficulty is that the lost person is not gone and you still have the opportunity of contacting him. This keeps you caught up in that possibility and perhaps the acceptance phase of the grief is eluding you.
You say your biggest fear is that your lover will not know how you feel about him but if you open up communication again, you are doing so at a lot of risk to yourself, your ex-lover and his family, and your own family. That is a huge responsibility when you know you could not handle the small part of his life that he offered you and you are likely to again demand that he choose you over his wife and children.
You sound surprised at the level of respect and dignity that you received at the behest of your lover and this begs the question of what kind of relationship you are in now. Does your own marriage need attention and decision-making and what affect is your affair and heartbreak having on your husband?
Even though you were treated well in the affair, there was never the option that you would be number one in the life of your lover and this might be something you should set as a bottom line in your current or future relationships.
To go back to your lover would be to assume a secondary role and, as you found out previously, this ultimately is not acceptable to you and unhappiness and fighting is the result. From your letter it seems that you do not feel number one in your husband’s life and he is definitely not top of your list of love.
This situation sounds intolerable and it is likely that you are causing emotional damage to each other and instead of addressing this situation you are investing in an impossible love affair. Facing into and tackling your marriage difficulties would be the first step in dealing with reality and then perhaps you might begin to create a new reality in which you can construct a relationship worth fighting for.