Father Tony

Go Ahead. Step Over That Line.

Filed By Father Tony | December 03, 2009 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: cheating spouse, marriage counseling, seven year itch

Dear FT,

About 10 years ago I met a guy. He was in on business from another state and asked me out. We went out a few times before he went home, and we had incredible chemistry. Things didn't work out, and he broke it off with me. I can't help it, but I still think of him from time to time. I got married to another man, and had 2 children. I love my husband, but I feel I am falling out of love with him. It's lack of communication, and everytime we do talk, it escalates into an argument. I always feel I have to walk on eggshells around him.

Recently I contacted this old flame. I know I shouldn't of, but I did. He is starting to flirt with me, giving me that attention I crave, and I like it. He has mentioned me coming out to see him, and I have thought about it-that is if I could get away with no problems, which is impossible. I sometimes feel the only way I can find true closure is if I sleep with him. I feel these thoughts are really corrupting with my life. I know I should just break it off, but deep down I don't want to. I have so many mixed emotions.

Please help.


Dear Tani,

As the Yoda might have said, "Down the bad road have you already gone, young Tani."

I like your letter because it uproots the hidden problems which, if left unattended, will overtake the garden, spreading below the surface, strangling and stunting all that you had planted with hopes of flowering. It also contains a dilemma faced by everyone in a relationship: the "if I could do it over again" fantasy.

Some of our readers are getting immediately impatient and agitated, wanting me to say "Girl, if you really love your husband, you need to tell him what you've done.You need to tell him how discontent you are with the lack of communication and the arguments and the eggshells. Then you need to stop chatting with your old flame and get to work on fixing your marriage. You've been bad. Come to your senses before you do something that cannot be fixed!"

Other readers will eagerly want me to say to you "Lady, you've made a big mess by marrying someone on the rebound and having children with him. It is obvious that you never really loved your husband. The only decent option is to do him a favor by telling him the whole truth and pack your bags and leave before he shows you the door. Don't call your old flame until you've made a clean break with your husband."

Before I offer advice, I'd like to list some things that are common to all relationships/marriages - both the good ones and the bad ones.

1) Even when communication between partners is stellar, there are always some things left deliberately unsaid. The real answer to "Were you flirting with him at the party tonight?" is often one of them. The real answer to "Do you ever fantasize about someone else when you make love to me?" is often one of them. The real answer to "Do these jeans make my ass look fat?" is always one of them. Words between lovers should be gifts, not guns. Do not underestimate the ribbons and wrapping.
2) All lovers imagine what their lives would have been like if they had either remained single or hitched their wagons to different stars. It is, of course, an impossible construct because the "present day" you is the result of the relationship you actually have and what you have built together. Imagining the "real" you in a dream life with someone from your past is foolish. Do you like the person you have become? If the answer is yes, the husband you find lacking had more than a little to do with that.
3) All partners sometimes become secretly alarmed with the feeling that they don't love their partners enough. I have yet to see on TV a pill for RHS (Restless Heart Syndrome) even though I am certain it is more common that Restless Leg Syndrome.
4) It is human nature to be imperfect as a lover. The longer you live together, the better you know each other, BUT, the more you have opportunities to do something injurious to your relationship. The fiercest iceberg always hits the Titanic while you are toasting to your happiness. Real relationships are not endless pleasure cruises. They are an adventurous succession of launches, sinkings and shared lifeboats.

What should you do? Tell your husband that you both need to talk, and suggest a time and a place that will signify love, not war. Is there a restaurant that is significant for the two of you? Some place with good memories? I am guessing that if he has been holding back the attention you say you crave, he must be harboring some things he would like to get off his chest. Set the ground rules: no yelling, no fighting, no accusations just an honest unveiling of feelings framed with a sincere desire to avoid hurting each other. Agree that this first session will be clumsy, and that further similar sessions will be better. Remind yourselves of the days when there was good communication and affection.

You may both decide that the premise of your relationship was wrong from the beginning and that you both want to call it quits. Before you fold the cards too quickly, you should realize that the premise of each and every relationship in the history of the world is flawed. Physical attraction sags with time. Unavoidable work replaces the expectation of play. Boredom sits down next to fascination at table. Had Romeo and Juliet lived, they would have become their parents. Once Adam and Eve got booted out of Eden, they turned into the Bickersons. Are you wearing soft-focus rose-colored lenses?

If do decide to separate and then call up your old flame, I would be willing to bet a sizable amount of money that you will not establish a lasting and loving relationship with him. I've heard too many stories in which the old flame ends up being a temporary tool of transition. And when he is no longer your fantasy, you'll be wiser but alone and wondering if that old husband may not have been so bad after all. This ice cream will never taste as good as you remember it tasting all those years ago. It's got freezer burn, and so do you. Enjoy the fling forewarned that it may be nothing more.

If you both decide to stay together, be sure your expectations are clearly mapped. We often rewrite mortgages. Why are we so hesitant to rewrite the terms of our significant relationships? You are both not the people you were when you married. Suggest a new contract. Once things are going smoothly and you are both feeling better and more respectful of each other, you'll be surprised by spontaneous affection and laughter that will seem to appear out of nowhere. And the biggest bonus? You will have taught your children a very valuable lesson and given them the home they need and deserve.

Basically, you've got a bad case of the "Seven Year Itch". Rent the movie. Watch it with your husband.

PS: If you decide to work things out with your husband, you should immediately end all communication with your old flame by telling him you were stupid and have come to your senses. Tell him not to respond and that he will not hear from you again. Stay true to this promise. Also, I see no reason to tell your husband about your dangerous flirtation once you have ended it.

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Good advice indeed. Thanks for sharing since we've been having a bad morning around the house and this may help with perspective.

Good post. However, I'm a little curious what your advice would be for a gay guy in the same situation. I assume and hope it would be the same.

This is great advice, Father T. You have a real gift for understanding human behavior and relationships.

Tani's phrase "things didn't work out" raises a red flag. What is not being said here? I suspect the answer would give the reason why seeing her old boyfriend is not based in reality.

Tani, love is doing what is right regardless of how you feel. Nothing will change if you don't change the way you interact with your husband. It's very hard work, and there will be tears before there is laughter. (And please note I did not say that you must change HIM. Only he can do that.) Good luck, honey.

Tani, the marriage vows in the Book of Common Prayer are "To have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part." Sometimes those words can sound threatening if you feel stuck in a marriage that has gone stale, but I'd suggest you view them from a different perspective - see them as inspiration for how to approach your situation.

Marriage exists so that two people can come together to do life as a team, sharing the load between the two of you. That's right at the heart of those vows. And if the marriage goes wrong in some way, you need both of you to repair it - you cannot do it on your own. So you (singular) can start the process by talking to your husband; but to continue the process needs to be you (plural). He needs to be as committed as you are, else no amount of effort in the world on your part will be enough.

I hope he makes the wise choice.

dharmapupil | December 4, 2009 4:02 AM

My comment is a little sideways from the main thread:
Is Tani a woman? There's nothing I get from the letter that tells me that. Just because they have kids doesn't mean Tani birthed them...
Where's Jack and his homonormative worldview when we need him?

Dear Dharmapupil,
I also was not sure and reread the letter a few times for clues. I also emailed the sender but got no response, so I made an assumption and changed her/his name.
I reread my response with this in mind before publishing it and I think that what I said might hold water in either case.

I confess that the phrase "had two children" and the spelling of the name you used led me to the assumption the writer was a woman. I did think about it and reread for clues. (It wouldn't be the first time a straight woman asked advice here.) My response works for any party in a relationship.