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How to deal with a wife having an affair

Carolyn Hax
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Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

My wife is having an affair, and I know all about it. In fact, I knew about it before it even started, as she came to me telling me she was interested in a physical relationship with someone she had just met.

Ever since then I have been faced with the choice between telling my wife to stop, or allowing it to continue to its conclusion.

What I really want is for her to want to stop on her own and, more importantly, to want me in the same physical and emotional sense that she wants her fling. Though my wife denies it, I have always felt like a “check-box husband” — the kind who has all the qualities she would write down on a piece of paper when thinking of her ideal husband (though I’m far from perfect). But rarely has she demonstrated the passion or desire for me that I would hope for from my wife.

Her affair demonstrates she is capable of such emotion, but maybe not just for me. The affair is the symptom, what do I do about the disease?

— Check-Box Husband

Terrible situation, I’m sorry.

Unless they agree openly and upfront to other arrangements, spouses deserve either to enter marriage feeling completely wanted or to have the wedding called off.

I think it’s time to stop thinking about how you want this to turn out, though, and start thinking about how it can turn out.

For example, you say: “I have been faced with the choice between telling my wife to stop, or allowing it to continue to its conclusion.” You actually have other choices besides this, but you don’t mention them. Maybe you aren’t even thinking about them … and I suspect it’s because these are the only two that allow you your happy ending, where your wife returns passionately to your marriage. Right?

In both of them, she at least stops the affair — at your initiative or hers — and stays married to you, and from there your hope for passion stays alive.

It is a hope, though, that reality apparently doesn’t support.

So I urge you to start thinking of options that reality says are possible.

Those include: your ending the marriage, of course; or your staying in the marriage as-is, knowing you’re right about the check-box despite her denials, and adjusting your expectations of her accordingly; or staying in the marriage, but doing so as she does — with no compunction about getting your needs met on the side when the marriage itself doesn’t meet them. Just tell her, as she told you, when you’re interested in someone else.

It’s not a great lineup of choices, I’ll grant you that. However, each of them involves doing something different, whereas now you are waiting for something different, without any sign that anything is going to change. That’s torture. Whatever you choose, please don’t choose to put yourself through that.

Email Carolyn at [email protected], follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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