If you've been having a long-term affair and your spouse just found out, you may be facing an angry ultimatum, probably something like, "It's me or him/her." If so, you're probably having one of four basic reactions:
- You realize how much you love and value your spouse, and how much you want to heal your marriage. So you know the affair must end.
- You realize that you want out of your marriage, and you probably should have ended it quite some time ago.
- You realize that you enjoy cheating -- lying, keeping secrets, the "high" of illicit sex -- and you want to keep doing it.
- You realize that you love your spouse and your affair partner equally, and you want to continue with both relationships.
This article addresses the fourth option, discussing what you'll want to consider as you decide which relationship you value most. Needless to say, this is a painful, gut-wrenching process, especially when your spouse is breathing fire and pushing for an immediate answer. If your affair partner enters the fray, you'll have two people pushing for an answer, likely telling you that if you don't make your decision right this instant then they'll make the choice for you. And you know that whatever you decide, it's going to affect not just you and your spouse and your affair partner, but your kids, friends, and many others.
As you examine your dueling relationships, you need to understand this is not an apples to apples comparison. It's more like apples to cheesecake. In other words, your twenty-year marriage with three kids is not the same thing as your highly sexualized year-long affair with a hot 30-year-old who thinks you're perfect. So contrasting and evaluating is tricky at best. With your spouse you have history, home, family, friends, intermingled finances, chores, fighting, responsibilities, and more. With your affair partner you probably have a great sex life but none of the rest. Most likely, you've never mowed the lawn, done the laundry, or cleaned out the litterbox at your affair partner's house. Nor have you dealt with him/her at his/her worst--tired, hungry, ill, in a bad mood, etc. So yeah, apples to cheesecake.
In general, you'll want to consider three primary areas--the past, the present, and the future.
When looking at the past, it is important that you not "rewrite history" just because your spouse is incredibly angry and unpleasant right now. Ask yourself:
- What qualities attracted to me to my spouse in the first place (beyond physical appearance)?
- What qualities made me fall in love with my spouse? Does he/she still possess those qualities? Do I still value those qualities?
- If my relationship with my spouse ended, what would I miss the most?
- Of the major problems in my marriage, who is primarily responsible for them? My spouse or me? (And if you think the answer is your spouse, run that past an impartial observer -- your therapist, a close yet neutral friend, an unbiased family member, etc.)
Now ask the same questions about your affair partner.
When analyzing the present, it is again important that you push aside your spouse's justifiable anger so you can look at the situation objectively. Ask yourself:
- Do I love my spouse?
- Do I like my spouse, and do I generally enjoy spending time with him/her?
- Do I feel like he/she has my back no matter what?
- Do I value the life that we have built together -- our home, our friends, our children, our shared interests, etc.?
- Am I willing to do the work of healing my long-term relationship, no matter how unpleasant that may at times become?
Now ask the first three questions about your affair partner. (The latter queries are less relevant with an affair partner.)
Lastly, you need to look at the future and what it might hold. This may be your most important consideration, as the past and the present can't be changed but you do have a say about your future. Ask yourself:
- What do I want my life to look like five, ten, and twenty years from now? Do I want to be with my spouse? My affair partner? Someone completely new? Or would I rather be alone?
- How will my children (and others) be affected if I stay in my marriage? How will they be affected if I end my marriage and move on with my affair partner?
- If I think I might want to end my marriage, am I willing to take the financial hit, lose friends, anger family members, etc.?
- Can my marriage heal and perhaps become stronger than ever if I re-earn my spouse's trust? And if I don't, will I ever behave in a trustworthy way in future relationships? If I go with my affair partner instead of my spouse, will I end up cheating on him/her, too?
Whatever your decision, you need to understand that moving forward into a happier and healthier relationship will not be easy. For starters, you're going to have to examine and question your motivations, learning to make different decisions. In other words, you are going to have to live differently, with honesty and integrity becoming a higher priority than instant gratification. You will need to learn from the mistakes of your past so you don't repeat them again in the future, and you will need to find healthier ways of getting your needs met in your marriage (rather than simply running away and cheating to get a quick fix). This, of course, can be a very difficult life transition. However, if you want a better and more enjoyable primary relationship, it's an absolute necessity.