I recently had a client say this to me:
“My husband is infatuated with our daughter’s dance instructor. He talks about her all the time and wonders aloud how she’s doing, because for some reason he’s become her confidant as she goes through a divorce. Now she’s starting texting him at all hours for support. I heard him jump out of the shower this morning when his phone chimed. When I told him he was becoming obsessed with her, he told me that my behavior is pushing him away. Then he announced he was heading out to help her move.”
I can’t say it’s the first time I’ve received a complaint like this. From my perspective, the situation can be broken down into a few constituent elements.
The first is the infatuation element, which is something we see in all problematic extramarital “friendships.” In fact, it’s something that we see at the beginning of almost all relationships – didn’t you and your significant other feel infatuated with each other in those early days? Of course you did. And since you did, you know how intoxicating it can be. There’s no reasoning with it. The old saying, “love is blind” is true. During the infatuation phase of a relationship, even a person’s flaws can be appealing.
In successful long-term relationships, couples notice when they’re transitioning from the infatuation phase to something deeper – true love – and they choose to do so. That is, they choose to trade in the constant buzz of infatuation for the comfort and meaning of a long-term relationship. They may remember those early days with fondness – remember how we couldn’t keep our hands off each other? – but they also go on to build new memories, and they find value in them, too.
But that doesn’t mean a wink from a long eye-lashed damsel in distress can’t catch the eye and trigger those same infatuation hormones – which is precisely what had happened to my client’s husband (and which he later admitted to).
2. From thinking to acting
The fact is, it’s common for people to have passing infatuations with another person now and then. The operative word, however, is “passing.” They don’t last and they certainly don’t segue into an actual relationship. Which leads me to the second element in this complaint – the fact that this situation has escalated from a passing fancy to private all-hours texting and in-person meetings. That’s certainly increased the odds of an emotional and physical affair developing.
3. Turning away from one’s spouse
And finally, the third element – the husband’s behavior toward his wife. To me, this is the most troubling element. Because unbeknownst to her, this wife was being cast into the role of the chastising parent, one whose attempts to correct her husband’s behavior accomplishes only two things – it makes him feel irritated toward her, and it gives him an excuse to justify his behavior. That’s why she’s hearing the “you’re pushing me away” line.
So all of this beg the question – what can this woman do to break the spell her husband seems to be under? Well, like so many women before her, she tried the usual things. Talking to him. Explaining why his behavior was wrong or hurtful. Telling him how hurt she was. Demanding he stop seeing her. Crying. Giving him the silent treatment.
When you’ve tried everything, but nothing works…
“I tried everything,” she told me. “You’re going to think I’m so stupid, and I’m embarrassed to say it, but I even tried curses and voodoo.”
“Don’t be embarrassed,” I replied. “Those behaviors only speak to your sense of powerlessness and desperation, and your desire to regain a sense of empowerment, of input, in your own life.”
In fact, I’ve had clients in this woman’s situation say they sought all kinds of solutions. A religious person may turn to prayer. Someone else may turn to astrology or Tarot cards to predict what may happen, or to look for guidance. Still others may rely on the power of positive thinking or manifestation. Some even use magic spells. And honestly, depending on a person’s worldview, these may have their uses, if only to bring a sense of comfort to someone in turmoil, to make them feel that their life has a purpose or is bigger than what is happening, or that they’re not alone. They’re all a way to soothe the spirit, and that’s natural.
So I don’t believe this client was stupid. Far from it. She was a successful professional, actually. What I do believe is that she felt powerless enough to try something that, to her way of thinking, was an act of desperation and a grasping way to see whether she could get some power back. She admitted as much.
And that’s what I didn’t like about it. Because I’m a firm believer that personal empowerment never comes from a desperate or grasping place.
Find comfort – but get clarity, too!
So by all means, turn to those rituals and beliefs that give you strength and peace. Frankly, you need them now. But don’t turn away from who you are. You don’t need to. In fact, I’d say to do the opposite. Know yourself. Know what you’re willing to tolerate in marriage, and know what you aren’t willing to tolerate.
And if you aren’t willing to tolerate your husband jumping out of the shower to answer a text from a woman who isn’t you, then I can offer a less ethereal but very effective path to peace myself – that comes in the form of my online audio “crash courses” which cover a range of problems including inappropriate friendships, extramarital affairs and midlife crises. They offer usable insights and strategies that can help you navigate your way through your spouse’s behavior in an empowered, sensible and perhaps at times surprising way.
The element of surprise
I say “surprising,” because the fact is, you’re probably reacting to most of this on instinct and emotion. And that’s fairly predictable. It’s probably fairly ineffective, too. Instead, you may need to approach this problem with less emotion and more considered, clear behavior.
And that may surprise your husband as much as it surprises you. But trust me, that’s a good thing. Because you need to stop inadvertently acting in those ways that can make a bad situation even worse.
Yet that’s sometimes easier said than done. If you’re tired of the drama, pain and frustration, I offer plainspoken, convenient and instant-access resources to help you manage this issue and move ahead in your marriage – and life.
– Debra Macleod, B.A., LL.B., International Relationship Author-Expert & Creator of the “Fair, but Aware” approach. Now available online.