Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Affair Partner Wonders What Will Come Next

September 28, 1998

Dear Dr. Farmer,

I am a married mother in my mid-thirties. I have been having an affair with another married man for seven years. Over time this relationship has grown . . . We are both emotionally involved. This situation is not ideal and I wouldn't wish it on anyone! This man and I both love each other very much. I am afraid that my emotional tie to him will consume my life.

My question for you is this. Is it possible for the two of us to continue this without changing our current living situations? I know we have the same feelings for each other or we wouldn't still be involved. Do affairs ever go on for such long periods of time without changing?

I know this is not an ideal situation. I do think I would go into a depression if this man were to disappear from my life. I feel so alone when I am not with him but I can't share my loneliness with anyone. I am hoping that you can at some point address this kind of situation.

Your affair is morally wrong. You are not being fair to your husband and children. You are depriving them by diverting your love and energy to another relationship. They are being cheated though they may not be fully aware of it. The married man you are involved with is not being fair with his wife.

Setting the moral question aside, I'll address your questions. Can the two of you continue without changing your living situations? Do affairs ever go on for such long periods without changing?

If you and he were absolutely content with the current situation and you weren't discovered, maybe, just maybe, it can go on an even longer period without changing. It has already gone a long time. But you are not content. He might be, but you aren't.

So many affairs start with an understanding that both partners are satisfied with the arrangement. But it doesn't stay that way. Emotions take over. Love develops. What was once acceptable becomes frustrating. Tension develops. That's when the affair becomes a heartache.

My observation of affairs is that one person is more committed and ready for change while the other remains ambivalent. Only 10 percent of affair partners end up with each other. They may be happy, but at a terrible emotional cost to innocent children and spouses. I wrote a column once entitled, "There is no happy ending for an affair." I believe that.

Are you ready for a divorce? Is he? Put him to the test and see what he does. Find out where you really stand. If he can't be specific and take immediate steps, he may be stringing you along.

You are living a life without sharing a future. Hopes and dreams create a bond. Shared problems create a bond. Family memories create a bond. By sharing emotional and physical intimacy, you are sharing only a small portion of what marriage and a life together can offer. That is why you are asking if your living situation needs to change. Of course things need to change. A relationship can only go so far without a life together.

Life is short. You aren't finding happiness in your marriage and true happiness with your lover is tantalizingly out of reach. You are wasting your time and immorally wasting your husband's time. Face the truth and get on with life.

If you don't get an immediate commitment from your lover, break it off. Confess the affair. Work on your marriage to see if there is anything there to rebuild. Your marriage needs to stand or fall based on its own merit. It doesn’t need any interference from a third party. That way, both of you will have a chance at a loving relationship. This way you don't.

If you find this advice too strong, get into mental health or pastoral counseling and talk these issues through. You need to face reality and deal with it. You will become strong enough to make hard decisions regarding your lover, your husband and family. Something has to happen or you'll sink into a depression anyway.

Even if you go through a depression by not having this man in your life, your chances for a happy future will improve. Marriages can be rebuilt after an affair. Or after divorce, people can find a companion to really share their love and life with. Right now, without change, without truth, your prospects for happiness are nil.

An affair partner doesn't have a sympathetic support system to fall back on when his or her relationship ends. Losses have to be absorbed. Again, professional counseling may be a place where you can gain a better perspective and find comfort in dealing with losses. Then you can move on with your life.