Q. What to do with husband who wants to claim independence by having friends of the opposite sex, yet serially gets caught in emotional affairs?
A. You raise an important subject that many spouses like yourself deal with. Access to the internet has increased affair statistics, where emotional connection is as “instant” as the press of a button. Yet, affairs are as old as the creation of monogamy.
Psychotherapist Esther Perel has recently said that in the past, divorce was considered shameful but that now, “staying” in a marriage after the discovery of an affair is “the new shame”.
My focus today is less on your husband and more on you. When you ask “what to do?”, I wonder if you are asking if you should allow him to have opposite sex friends? Or leave him?
By trying to limit his friendships, you would be trying to control his cheating behavior. You are not responsible for whether or not he cheats. Your power there is limited and it’s up to him to decide whether or not he wants to honor the bonds of matrimony.
An emotional affair involves several components that typically look like this:
- Sharing personal and intimate thoughts/feelings with someone other than spouse
- Not disclosing the “friendship” to spouse
- Secretly trying to make time for the “friend”, more than for your spouse
- Looking forward to and longing for meetings with “friend”
- Spending more time alone with “friend” than with spouse
- Sharing things with friend that are not shared with spouse
If your husband engages in these behaviors, repeatedly, and admits to doing so, what work has he done to address the issue? How does he practice turning to you instead of to an affair partner?
And if he doesn’t acknowledge that he’s doing this, or denies it, and you know for sure that this is happening, what keeps you in this marriage? Why endure the repeated cuts of an affair from someone who refuses to acknowledge the knife they carry?
If you feel so wounded by him, it makes me wonder if on some level, you inflict punishment on yourself by staying. Now, do not get me wrong. I am not a divorce pusher. I am a strong advocate and believer that couples can heal from affairs – I’ve seen them do it. But the couple must acknowledge their problems, work hard, together, to recover from infidelity and strengthen their marriage.
Your role in that equation requires you to draw a hard line and say, “Enough is enough! This marriage goes no further until we get help”.
If you continue to just endure the pain and not draw the hard line, new affairs will emerge. If you stay with the status quo, you enable the affairs to continue. You actually play a role in this too.
When it comes to serial cheating, it doesn’t make sense to point fingers at your spouse, we already know what he’s doing. Instead, I ask you to step back and ask yourself, “What role do I play in this? Why do I allow myself to repeatedly get hurt?”