Tell Me About It

If my wife discovered my affair, she might just have a nervous breakdown

Tell Me About It: You are being deceitful while being the dutiful father and husband

PROBLEM: Eight months ago, I was at a conference and I saw a beautiful woman across a crowded room. Since that moment I have been head over heels in love. I have nurtured, watered and watched the flower of this love grow, despite our being separated by 200 miles of land and water.

It has been a beautiful thing, with poetry, passion and deep and meaningful connections. The problem is that I’m a happily married man with two children, and my wife of 15 years has no idea about the relationship, which I have taken great pains to keep secret. No one knows about it apart from myself, my lover and her best friend. I say happily married because our family life is good, our communication and our sex life too. However, honesty is an important part of my marriage and I have never cheated before, but my question for you, Trish, is this: if the love affair makes me a happier man, and enables me to love my wife more fully and effectively, and she too is happy (she tells me she is, and certainly seems to be) then why would I put my wife through the pain of discovery, the painful process of coming to terms with another woman in our relationship and all that this could do (eg the potential breakup of our family)?

Respect is important, I see that, but this thing has happened, and I can see that if my wife discovered that I am having, or have had, an affair, she might just have a nervous breakdown. If I can continue to love my wife, give her what she needs in life from me, and be there for my family . . . are some things not better left unsaid?

ADVICE: You have framed this story as if your wife is the beneficiary of your affair and I wonder if you truly believe this – as you are asking a question about it.

You also say that honesty and respect are the basis of your relationship and I wonder if you were at the receiving end of this situation (ie if your wife was having a passionate and poetic affair) would you be agreeable to it as long as you still felt loved? Would you feel respected? It is not that what you say is untrue – at the initial phase of love, the infatuation phase, we are much better versions of ourselves: more generous and glowing and we view the world as more benign. It is like a gift but one that disappears and then we have to do the work to make that new version of ourselves the true one.

You describe your new love in luminous terms and perhaps this has been maintained due to the distance and the idyllic manner in which you communicate – it can be hard to maintain such perfect relations when messy life has to be contended with. It is wonderful to be seen as the object of such desire and passion but there is the nagging question of what you are also being: secretive and deceitful as well as being the dutiful father and husband.

Delayed gratification and the ability not to act on every desire is part of how we become happy and fulfilled people

We teach our children that to be a grown-up we have to learn that we cannot have our cake and eat it. We want them to understand that there are consequences for their actions so that they can become trusted and valued members of society. Delayed gratification and the ability not to act on every desire is part of how we become happy and fulfilled people – this is how we stay fit and manage our many possible addictions (food, drink, porn, shopping etc). Desire is hugely important in that it delights and stretches us, but it may also need to be reigned in at times or it can become harmful if it is constantly satiated. You have a huge desire for romance and imaginative interplay, and you can totally immerse yourself in this, but then you must also bear the consequences when they arise. As an adult, you can see clearly what these consequences are, and it is up to you to decide if they are worth it.

Breakdown

You say your wife might have a breakdown if she discovers your infidelity and I wonder if this is telling? Does she depend on you for her self-esteem and if so, can you and she have some discussion about how she might get some help with this? Or, have you cast her in the light of someone who is dependant on you totally and you do not see her capacity to make her own choices?

In either case, it seems as though your marriage is not as robust as it could be and perhaps this current situation highlights this.

Your question of whether you should leave some things unsaid is one only you can answer. But there is no doubt that you have started some self-examination that will have ramifications for many people – so address this situation with clarity, truthfulness and consciousness.