Maybe that affair isn’t such a bad idea after all


by Cyn Collins | 5/28/09

Dear Cyn,

My husband and I were married young, and we just celebrated our 20-year anniversary. We love each other and in many ways we have a very good life together, but in terms of intimacy, affection, and excitement, we’ve been drifting apart for years. It’s not just about “rekindling the spark,” it’s something deeper. Our relationship means so many good things for both of us that it seems crazy to divorce over this, so we haven’t even had that discussion. We’ve just been spending more time going out independently. I admit that I flirt for the fun of it, and I’ve considered going further. When one of my friends saw me slip my wedding ring off last weekend, she told me I was heading down a path I’ll regret later. Maybe, but I don’t see what the harm is in getting this out of my system. What do you think?


Dear Jess,

Like all temptations, you either get it out of your system, or you keep wanting more—it’s like an addiction. This is a tough spot to be in, and it’s not that uncommon. A recent film, Just Another Love Story, featured a similar dilemma. I was startled by an astute observation in that film: that marriages are like cars. As long as they’re driving, they seem fine on the surface, but they need regular care to maintain their high-level performance: the oil changes, cleaning the seats, vacuuming, etc. Otherwise, they slowly deteriorate without you really noticing it. Similarly, marriages need near daily caregiving—the touching, sharing, small gestures—or gradually, without your noticing it, the intimacy is gone, and you can’t really fix the deep fissure from the accumulated effects of the long term neglect.

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Even in very good marriages, the intimacy and affection ebbs and flows. I’m not sure any marriage can have much “excitement” after several years, unless you believe the Viagra commercials—that may be too much to expect. But without intimacy and affection, it’s hard to sustain a marriage and people drift apart. It becomes even harder to put up a façade, and so you start doing more and more independently—as in your case. In a sense, I think your marriage is evolving to a natural state, possibly to a state of conclusion or, on the flip side, to one where you are both getting intimacy and excitement elsewhere and have an unspoken “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule. Or, in your wanderings, you may find a new one you want to develop a relationship with, or who at least catapults you out of the marriage. It is a very common story among those who marry young and in later years no longer feel the romance. So many of these end due to affairs.

Cutting to the chase, you are heading down a path you may regret later. Or not. It seems mostly inevitable that you will wind up going further than flirting, when you’ve been frustrated at home for so long. You can’t really go back, as an affair will put a deeper wedge in the marriage even if he doesn’t know, because you will likely drift further away. You may find someone else you want to hang out with and end the marriage, especially since you married young and never really got much of a taste of other possibilities. It may be time to explore and move on. On the other hand, if the lover is fun but lacks most or all the qualities you value in your husband, you may realize that you love your husband more. Take a long, thoughtful consideration of all the things you said: the marriage sounds good on many levels, so you may have to settle for it being what it is.

The only way you can avoid going down this road is to quit flirting so much or set some boundaries for yourself, and attempt, strange as it will feel, to pour yourself and more affection into the marriage. This may be an exercise in futility, but “fake it ’til you make it” is my motto. Or, if you’re more into a “damn the consequences” frame of mind, go for it. Know that he is likely having the same ideas and actions—potential or actual. You could go on for many more years enjoying the aspects of the marriage that you do, and getting your physical needs met elsewhere. The best scenario would be an open marriage, where you’ve had the discussion, and acknowledge this is where its going and agree to let each other do this. You don’t have to talk about what you do if that’s too painful for each other.

Since you married young, and have been drifting apart for years, I recommend going for it if you feel you need to, but tell him what you’re thinking about. An affair will shake you up and change your perspective—but that can be a good thing.

Good luck,

Photo by DCvision2006 (Creative Commons)

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