Dear Dr. Archer,
I had an affair which stopped when my wife of 20 years found out. We're still together on our relationship. Eight months after the affair, a contact with this other woman was made through a work related issue. I arranged a meeting at her work with the intent to meet her again.
I ended up not going to the meeting, but I am still worried that the desire, want or need to see her will come back. I tell myself I don't want to, but I'm afraid that desire will overpower all reason. The saying goes that once a cheater always a cheater, but I was once able to resist and not see her.
I am not in love with her, but more in love with the fantasy of her. When I was with her, it was as if it was just she and me, and all our everyday problems of life were gone; to have that feeling is almost intoxicating or addictive in a way.
My wife knows about my relapse and she was furious.... all the time we spent working on building up our relationship to where we had it before has been taken away because of my attempt to see this other woman.
I am not sure if this kind of behavior on my part is a type of addiction or if what I did is just plain stupidity. I don't want to be in the category of "once a cheater, always a cheater."
I want to keep what I have at home -- my wife and my children, and I want to make things better and make what happened never happen again. I just don't know where to start or what I should be doing. Please, please help.
I commend you for wanting to do the right thing by your family and for not keeping the meeting with the other woman. To answer your question, no this is not an addiction. You don’t love her, you love the way the situation makes you feel. Big difference.
You're not in love with the other woman, but the fantasy of her. When you're together, the rest of the world, and all the problems that go along with it -- don't exist. That is a very intoxicating feeling; it's the feeling you had when you lived at home with your parents.
No responsibility, no problems, except perhaps if you could get the keys to the car. Freedom and fun rule the days. Who would not want to live that life? Well it’s ok for a teenager, but you are a responsible adult - time to leave childish things behind.
It is impossible to return to carefree and worry-free days, Steve, but you can do the next best thing. At least once a week, you and your wife need to have a date night which takes precedence over everything else. The very marriage could be at stake, so it should receive the priority it deserves. You need to create that fantasy with her.
Dinner, a movie, dancing, a concert..... anything the two of you decide to do, do it. Lay down the ground rules: while on the date, no problems will be discussed - only fun topics. Concentrate on each other.
If you have family that can help out, let the children stay over for a weekend. Take a trip somewhere and do something you enjoy, even if it's to sit on a beach and do nothing. The two of you need time to get reconnected. As for your problems, have a set time to discuss, perhaps twice a week after the kids have gone to bed.
Your wife has shown incredible faith by forgiving you of your indiscretions. I suggest you do anything and everything within your power to make sure she knows how much you appreciate her, love her and want to keep your family and marriage intact.
Reassure her, because she's going to need it. Never call the other woman again; if work requires she be contacted, let someone else take it. You'll never regret it. I wish you both much success, and a long life together.