The question Despite having no issues in my marriage, I’m pretty sure I’m entering into the preparatory stages of a highly destructive affair. I’m a man in my 40s with a loving wife and four young children. We have a good sex life (considering we’ve been together 10 years) and wonderful conversations.
Thanks in no small part to her, I’m now at a point where I have a great job in a large company. But all this is threatened. I’m certain a member of my team – “V”, in her early 30s – and I have become infatuated with each other. We haven’t done anything physical (unless you count one drunken night where our knees touched for about half an hour) nor expressly discussed it. I’m sure that this is not me simply misreading the signs. She has told me I make her want to tell me things that she’s never discussed with anybody. I’m aware that the dopamine hits I get from V are a simple addiction that is naturally self-reinforcing, but nevertheless things seem to be getting more intense.
I know my behaviour is a cliché of a man of my age. I have no intention of leaving my wife or cheating on her. I don’t think I should talk to my wife about V. It might make her feel insecure. I also don’t see it as sensible to have a direct conversation with V. My plan is to carry on as usual, but have a drunken conversation with V littered with how much I love my wife. The only other solution I can see is to start actively looking for other jobs.
Philippa’s answer If your marriage wasn’t good, the advice I’m going to give you might be different: don’t jeopardise your family. Don’t be a chump.
You can stop having this affair by deciding to stop it. Not just trying to stop it – that never works.
Things that might help: until you have this under control, stop drinking with colleagues, maybe stop drinking altogether (alcohol might be contributing to your problem). When you fantasise about V don’t stop when you get that dopamine hit, but carry the fantasy on. Imagine the children being shocked and miserable as their world is broken apart; imagine them angry or trying to guilt-trip you well into their adult lives; imagine you trying to make your wife into a bad person to justify your actions; imagine a decade into the future when sex with V is OK (bearing in mind that you’ve been together for 10 years), but there is this new young person at work who is really into you; imagine your kids starting to call your wife’s new husband “Daddy”; imagine you are in your 90s and looking back at your life, and have the power to correct the past and stop yourself doing that stupid thing you were about to do in your 40s.
When you’ve decided to take control of your current obsession, you will miss the thrill of knees touching under the table. When you keep your conversations strictly about work, you’ll miss the intimacy – albeit non-physical – you had. You will lose something, but it will not be the same as the pain that you are saving yourself and family.
Some people split themselves into two, thinking they are being a good, dutiful spouse and stay attentive at home, but also carry on with their affair. They see themselves almost as two different people, one having little to do with the other. Some people can manage this splitting and can keep up the deceit for decades. Do you want to choose to live like that? What can often happen is that although the deceived partner may not consciously know they are being deceived, they can become anxious and lonely. And, if you are having your deepest, most connected conversations outside your marriage, you are in danger of hurting your spouse even though you might not be betraying her physically.
Sure, quit your job if that is the only way you can stop, but are you going to quit a great job every time you fancy someone? You don’t need dramatics! Affairs don’t just happen to you, you control your behaviour, you are not passive in this. Your emotions can churn away all they like, but you do not have to act on them. Take responsibility to stop this affair going any further. It will hurt to stop this flirtation, that’s OK, you can stand that pain. It’s nothing compared to the destruction of carrying on or of hoping it will just disappear without effort on your part. Don’t act on your churning emotions. When you stop feeding them, they will lessen in time. If necessary, tell V you think you overstepped the line and your relationship will be purely professional from now on. I hope, one day you will be able to be open with your wife about all this. I wonder whether it is your insecurity that you fear, rather than hers.
In a long marriage, there will be temptations on both sides. The trick is not to act on the fantasy, not to take your feelings about the fantasy seriously, laugh about it, preferably together.
Short answer: feel the pain of ceasing to flirt with V and stop it anyway. Don’t be in thrall to your emotions, be the boss of them.
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