Brian: After nearly two decades of marriage to a sexy, loving woman – with whom I made love almost nightly – I came home from work one evening and told her I was moving out, leaving her for another woman.
Lucky for me, my wife refused to give up on our marriage, and my “moving out” lasted only two weeks. We are now closer and more committed than ever. She captured my heart twenty-one years ago and still has all of my love and desire.
What you’re probably wondering is, if I loved my wife so much, why did I do it? So I will tell you what I was seeking in another woman’s company, and you may be surprised to discover that it wasn’t sex. It was respect and admiration.
Anne: I was living a fairytale – or so I thought. I was 38, had a great career and three teenager kids, and was still very much in love with my husband. Yet from one moment to the next, I found myself on the brink of divorce. My husband announced he was leaving me permanently for another woman. I hadn’t even known he was having an affair. I was Cinderella, but the clock had struck twelve, and I was forced to open my eyes and face reality.
Questions wracked me. My identity as a happy wife and partner was shattered. Who was I really? And who was Brian? How could he do this to us? My heart was broken and shocked. Was the other woman younger? No! She was my same age. Was she prettier? No! According to my husband, she even looked like me. When I met her, I could see the similarity.
There had been no warning. My husband had not been away in the evenings. Life had been going on as usual. So how did they meet and when did they get together? They had met through his job, and they carried on the affair during his lunch hour at work. How long had it been going on for? Two months. In two months, Brian had decided to throw away a great marriage – and throw the lives of our three teenagers, who he deeply loved, into a tailspin as well.
We are back together now and we both want to talk about why this happened in our marriage – so that it doesn’t have to happen in yours. You can learn the lesson we did without suffering the shattering pain.
The kind of affair that Brian had is becoming almost commonplace. According to a recent article in USA Today, the real threat to a marriage today lies not in sexual attraction to another, but in the emotional ties that a spouse can create with a member of the opposite sex. With people spending more time at work than ever before, and more women in the workplace, the article continues, both men and women are finding themselves with greater emotional voids and greater opportunities to create friendships with the opposite sex at work. According to marital researcher Shirley Glass, 62% of unfaithful men and 46% of the women met their illicit partner through work. “In the new infidelity, affairs do not have to be sexual…Infidelity is any emotional or sexual intimacy that violates trust,” she goes on to say.
This was exactly what happened with my husband. Luckily, two weeks after Brian left, he came back. We committed the next year to rebuilding our relationship and identifying what the real issues were. Because I truly loved Brian, and I knew that deep down he loved me too, I decided to give working out our relationship an honest effort. Today, I’m glad I did. It’s been almost three years and my marriage is better than it’s ever been. Although that scar on our marriage will always be there, we managed with help to take our crisis and transform it into an opportunity for a better relationship and a message of hope for others.
What was the real cause for the affair? Is it true that infidelity is not about sex?
Brian: Well, despite what everyone thinks, not all infidelity is about sex. Anne and I were having great sex, even after 18 years of marriage. But other things in my life were bringing me down. I was 40 years old, had suffered a major business loss and a corresponding bankruptcy, my father had died and I had a wild teenage daughter who refused to respect me as her father. I needed someone to look at me with admiring eyes, respect me, value me and hear what I had to say.
Anne: The problem was I did not know how to really listen to Brian when he needed to talk about what was going on for him. To him, I now see, that felt disrespectful. I became just another person in his life who did not appreciate him. But because our lives had become full of responsibility and challenges, the majority of our conversations were now about solving those problems. I needed to learn how to listen to Brian, to show him respect (and admiration) by being interested in the things that mattered to him, even if they seemed trivial to me, like discussing sports or local news events. I needed to stop taking life so seriously and just have fun sometimes.
In addition, when Brian was trying to honestly share things he was dissatisfied with in our relationship, instead of showing respect by really listening, I would become defensive. “No, it’s not like that,” I’d say. “We do have a great relationship,” or “I’ll change” (but I didn’t), or “You’re wrong for feeling that way.”
The truth was that I had tremendous love, admiration and respect for Brian, but my words and actions were not communicating those feelings to him.
When my husband met the other woman – I’ll call her Helen – she was very unhappy in her marriage. She was attracted to him and invited him to lunch. He went because he thought he could help her with her relationship. But in realty, he was unhappy himself. Unbeknownst to me, she began to provide the listening ear and light moments of escape, during Brian’s difficult time that I was not. (Does this mean that I was responsible for Brian’s infidelity? No. It does mean, however, that my actions were a contributing factor.)
As Brian and Helen’s relationship continued to deepen over the next two months, it was the friendship, not the sexual attraction that was driving the affair.
Brian: I found myself talking with Helen because she seemed to have interests in things that mattered to me. She liked to talk about sports and working out at the gym. Our conversations were light and casual, free from stress, and I felt respected for my thoughts. I didn’t feel put down because I liked to watch sports. What I missed the most in my wife – respect and admiration – I was finding in Helen.
Anne: My husband told me later, that the whole time he really longed to be sharing this level of emotional intimacy with me. He just didn’t know how. He never loved Helen, I think most men really do love their wives. Yes, they need lots of great sex, but men are also genuine individuals, who prefer to have that sex with a woman whom they deeply love.
Brian’s affair might never have taken place had he maintained a close friendship with one or two of his buddies. He is a very outgoing and likeable guy, and I would have thought he had lots of friends. I suppose he did, but none of them was close enough to him to say, “Hey, buddy, you look a little down lately. What’s going on in your life? How are things with Anne?”
Brian: Are you wondering why I didn’t talk to a friend instead of to Helen? Well, not too many men I knew spoke highly enough of their wives for me to believe that they could give me sound advice about my relationship. It takes time and effort to find the right people and develop really close friendships with them. And I guess it’s not always that easy for us men to share our feelings. Then again, when I did spend time with my friends, I would come home only to be met with Anne’s complaints about my not having spent the time with her.
Anne: Brian and I had somehow forgotten that life needs to include fun and recreation. Oftentimes in midlife, the demands can be overwhelming. We have aging parents on one end, unruly teenagers on the other, and our financial demands are the highest they’ll ever be. So we work, work, work, with hardly a moment to spare. And when we finally do get time off, we’re too tired to do anything, so we just veg out in front of the TV. Brian and I now make it a priority in our lives to have fun. It’s not optional – it’s a necessity. We go places and do things we’ve never done before. We even eat in different restaurants to experience something new instead of just settling for the same old thing.
Was it easy to fix our devastated relationship? No, it was really hard work for both of us. It wasn’t all going out to new restaurants, that’s for sure. One of the hardest parts for me was taking responsibility for my part in our relationship breakdown. Did I cause the affair? No. Did I deserve this? No. Still, my lack of knowledge about healthy communication contributed to this situation. What you don’t know definitely does hurt you.
Was the work we did worth the effort? You bet! What’s it worth to you to live with your first love and the father of your children for the rest of your life? I have talked to many individuals personally on both sides of the equation whose marriages were broken up over infidelity. In most cases both parties regret having reacted too quickly and not having put in an honest effort to work out their relationship. Several years removed from the emotions of the moment, the situation comes into perspective, and both parties see that they had genuinely loved each other and could really have worked it out after all. Instead they often find themselves in second relationships that are no better than the first, only now they have all the complications of children, step children, blended families and ex’s.
The rewards have been great. We not only ended up with a better marriage, but I am wearing a new diamond ring, am wined and dined in many fine restaurants, and was written a love letter that I can take out and read any time the painful memory of the affair comes back to haunt me.
Brian: We are able to put aside the problems of the moment and have fun together. We actually enjoy some sporting events together. We watch TV for laughs. It’s such a kick to take Anne out at night – she looks hotter now than when we first got first married.
Anne: Best of all, we enjoy real, honest, open communication with our best friends (each other), and we have hope for our future based on reality, not on a Cinderella fantasy.
There is no such thing as an affair-proof marriage, but by developing open, honest, respectful communication in your relationship, including the ability and commitment to give and receive constructive criticism, you will have a foundation on which all other differences can then be discussed and resolved. And when you are meeting the deepest needs of your spouse, and your spouse is meeting yours, you take away the opportunity for an outsider to come in and wreak havoc in your relationship.
Conclusion: Marital Infidelity – It’s not about sex!