Cat, I have just finished reading your brilliant book, but I need your help.
I have been having an affair for the past year and my wife is about to give birth. I know how terrible that sounds, believe me, and I have been feeling disgusted with myself since the affair began, but I love ‘Michelle’ whereas I just don’t think my wife ‘Sarah’ loves me any more, and I don’t think I love her.
The tragedy is that I have always wanted to be a father, and I couldn’t be happier about our baby, but it isn’t enough to go back to living in misery with my wife. I don’t think we can find happiness together, and I don’t think I could hurt Michelle by ending our affair; but I know I am going to terribly hurt my wife, and possibly never be allowed to have a good relationship with my child.
Having read the chapter in your book on affairs I am clearer about what led to mine. I realise I have never felt good enough for my wife. I loved her from the moment we met, and I always wanted to be worthy of her. When we started going out and she said she loved me and would marry me I was the happiest man alive, I have never felt so wonderful about anything. But after the wedding, I realised that she wanted me to be different. I have a stressful and busy job that I love, and she works in the same field so I thought she understood, but she started to be resentful of the job I do, and would want me to do things with her that we had never done before. I thought she had been happy in our relationship, but I see now that she thought I would change because of how much I loved her.
I tried to change to make her happy, I really did, but nothing I ever did was good enough. I would book a place to go for a meal, or a weekend away, but I wouldn’t choose the right place, or be wearing the right clothes that she thought I should be wearing, or want to do the things she thought I should want to do. I became more and more miserable and started working longer hours, which of course made her more mad.
Sarah wanted a baby from when we first got married, so we were trying straight away, and it just didn’t happen. I feel she blamed me for that as well, she said I drank too much and was too stressed, I probably was, but the stress of trying for a baby for months and months was killing me, and, looking back, it put the final nail in the coffin of our relationship.
I began my affair with Michelle a year ago. It wasn’t meant to happen, it was at a work function which my wife couldn’t attend, we both got drunk and we ended up in the same taxi home, and I walked her to her door, and she invited me in, and one thing basically led to another.
I am not at all proud of what I did, but I see now how low my self-esteem was at that time. I was lonely and miserable in my marriage, I was stressed and felt unappreciated at work, despite all my efforts, and on that drunken night I found solace and escape in the arms of another woman. I was meant to be a one-night thing. I woke up the next morning feeling sick with what I had done. But I also felt a sense of release. I had found something which was making me feel happy and alive, and I wanted to feel that way again, so the affair continued.
My wife got pregnant a few months later. The ironic thing is that we were sleeping together much less by then, but it actually felt better together because I was happier. I had Michelle, my secret lover, and, I know it sounds awful, but having her gave me self-esteem. She said she loved me, and I quickly felt that I loved her, it was intoxicating and I couldn’t see how to live without it.
So now, a year on, what do I do? I know why I had the affair, and I know there is no excuse for it, it is a horribly hurtful thing to do to anyone, but I don’t think I can regret it, because I love Michelle and she loves me, but how do I tell my wife? When do I tell her? Before the baby is born, or after? What are my family and friends going to say? They are going to hate me for doing this, I am going to be scum to them, and I deserve to be thought of like that, I know I do.
I don’t know what to do for the best. I know I can’t do the ‘right’ thing, it is far too late for that, but how can I do the ‘least bad’ thing in this situation?
Thank you for getting in touch. I am glad you came across my book and found it useful for exploring what led to your affair. You express your feelings and emotions clearly, which is a good thing; obviously, had you found a way to do this earlier in your marriage you may not have ended up in the position of having an affair, but the fact that you have come to know yourself now is a positive thing.
When and how?
You specifically ask when and how to tell your wife, ‘Sarah’, and you are naturally worrying about her reaction and the reaction of your friends and family. I can’t say when would be best to tell Sarah, although perhaps sooner is better than later, as long as you have thought carefully about what you intend to say, and how you will say it.
Write it down?
I was told by someone in a similar situation to yours that he wrote down everything he needed to say in a letter to his partner and, having carefully written and re-written it several times, read it to her. He said, although it was still a horrible thing to do, he at least had spoken to his partner face to face, and had carefully thought about what he would say, so that he didn’t ‘mess it up’ when the moment came. He then left the letter with her so that she could read it again whenever she wanted to. This could be one ‘least bad way’ way of breaking the news?
A “horribly hurtful thing”
As you say, you have done a “horribly hurtful thing” and your wife has the right to react however she needs to. Having said that, everyone makes mistakes, so don’t condemn yourself too much, you are human, not perfect. The best thing you can do is be as honest as you can be, take responsibility for your past, and face the future with courage.
Don’t defend yourself by implying she is to ‘blame’
You have explained how lonely and unloved you felt before the affair happened, and I can empathise with that, but be careful not to imply that your wife was to blame in any way for your actions. She was just as responsible as you were for the happiness of your marriage, but she did not ‘make you’ have an affair (I know you didn’t say that).
If she in anyway feels that you are trying to blame her for your actions then she is far more likely to feel even more angry towards you, which could have very damaging consequences for the future.
Take full responsibility for your decision to have an affair, but do also explain why you made that choice, that you felt low self-worth at the time due to work, stress, and your relationship. Your wife will have known that things were not perfect between you a year ago, and I’m sure she will have picked up over the last 12 months that something was ‘wrong’. She might come to agree with you that neither of you were happy, and that you are both better off with other people, but don’t expect her to agree that it was okay for you to have an affair because of how you felt.
Be honest but think of Sarah’s self-esteem
Be honest about what you hope for in the future. Tell Sarah what kind of father you want to be, and tell her that you want her to find happiness with someone else. Think of her self-esteem though, don’t mention how happy you are with Michelle, she doesn’t want or need to hear that. The main consequences of an affair on the person who is cheated on is that they can feel embarrassed, humiliated and ‘not good enough’ to be faithful to. You need to bear in mind that Sarah is likely to feel this way, which is why you need to be clear your decision to have an affair was because of how you felt, not because of her ‘not being good enough’. She might be the opposite and see herself as ‘perfect’ and you as a ‘total scumbag’ if she takes this view then don’t get angry and defend yourself, just state that you are not perfect, you have made unfortunate choices, but you are trying to be honest and do the best you can now.
Be patient and consistent
Don’t expect her to take in anything you say at first. The next few months, or even years are likely to be the hardest you have ever experienced, but, take charge of your self-esteem, and find the courage to be consistently honest and loving, no matter what the reaction is from other people. You must allow your wife, family and friends to react and to grieve in whatever way they wish to, and not to resent them for that.
Some people might come to admire your honesty, others might disown you forever, you have no control over this, but you can control your own behaviour, and you can state clearly that you want to be a good father, and to make the future as positive as possible for your child, and for Sarah, and Michelle.
Prepare yourself and look after each other
You have a hard task ahead of you, but it sounds like you are prepared to face it ‘head on’. Michelle will need to be very strong throughout the next few months as well, she has to be ‘the other woman’ which is a horrible position to be in. Your relationship is about to face the ‘harsh light of day’. Stay strong together, make time for things which will help you to remain positive, don’t let the words or actions of others get you down too much, those who condemn you the most are those who need to feel better about themselves by doing so, they will not be perfect either.
Unfortunately hundreds of affairs happen every day, you are not the first or last. You are however rare in the fact that you have approached me in this way to ask how to do the ‘least bad’ thing, you should feel proud of yourself for that, it shows a lot of thoughtfulness and maturity.
Ask for professional help
I would recommend seeking support and guidance from face to face relationship counselling. Going with Michelle would help your relationship to survive the turmoil the next few months will bring, and/or going with Sarah would equally help you to discuss the future, especially with regard to being parents together. Relationship counselling can help to keep difficult discussions as ‘conflict-free’ as possible and help you both to explore your emotions, and feel heard.
– Take full responsibility for your emotions and actions; don’t in any way blame your wife.
– Have the courage to be honest about how your feelings and emotions led to the affair.
– Allow your wife and those around you to react in any way they choose, you cannot control this.
– Don’t take their reactions too personally, time is a great healer, so be patient.
– Stay focused on yourself and Michelle as well, you deserve to be happy just like anyone else; don’t let the love you have found be swallowed up.
– When your child arrives be the best father you can be and maintain as positive a relationship as possible with Sarah, never speak negatively of her. If you can do this then your child will feel loved even though you are not together.
Good luck and best wishes to you all. Cat x
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