Are You Having An Affair? Do You Even Know?
Are you having an affair? Do you even know?
Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Of course you know if you are having sex with someone other than your spouse? And, you may even know if you are having an emotional love affair, one without sex. But it’s not really a silly question. There are many other types of affairs.
Stereotypically men’s affairs are with work or alcohol, or with hobbies such as golf or boats. Stereotypically, women’s affairs are with the children or hobbies such as horse dressage or volunteer work. In recent years, women have begun affairs with their careers, too.
An affair, as used here, means investing your emotional energy and time in lieu of, not in addition to, your spouse. When Tom and Lois married, they agreed she would be a stay-at-home mom, and he would devote whatever was necessary to build his law practice. This way he could provide a comfortable lifestyle and give Lois relief from having to have another — a paid — job.
Most emotional affairs start slowly after a couple has been together long enough for the infatuation to wear off, for their children to convert them from lovers to parents, and from the hecticness of their daily routine to envelope their entire lives.
Tom and Lois find fulfillment in their separate jobs. She finds satisfaction in giving her children the kind of attention she hadn’t received from her parents. For Tom, changing diapers, playing Barbie, talking with Lois doesn’t give him the same emotional rush he gets from work. They begin drifting apart.
Lois resents Tom’s lack of interest in her day. After spending her time nurturing the kids, in the evening, she wants her own nurturing – cuddling from Tom, but she feels he is only interested in sex. To protect herself from the pain of his rejection, she throws herself more into the children.
Tom resents Lois taking him and what he is doing for the family for granted; he doesn’t understand her withdrawing from him sexually. Tom protects himself from the pain of her rejection; he throws himself even more into work.
On the surface, Tom and Lois live together relatively comfortable as roommates and co-parents. Their lost romance becomes a cherished memory. Their separate affairs in the earlier years of their marriage didn’t interfere with their closeness. Over time, though, the loss of the intimacy they once knew leaves an emotional void that needs to be filled – if not by each other, than by something or someone else. This is a dangerous point in marriages.
By the time the children have left home, Lois has less distraction from her affair and is more aware of what she is missing in her marriage.
Around the same time, Tom is feeling dissatisfied with his life. He has a successful commercial law practice so he can slow down, somewhat. The pull of his work affair has weakened. But he feels something is missing in his life.
Often, life happens without specific plans. Tom was flying back from abusiness trip and struck up a conversation with the woman next to him on the plane. They had a drink together during their layover. Tom took her phone number.
Lois is now ready to turn back to him but he is already turned to his nextaffair. With less attention necessary at work, he now has more energy for a love relationship. It fills the void he has been feeling. It also disrupts his entire family.
Lois is in turmoil. Does she fight for him? Her children, now married with their own children, are pulling her in different directions. She was never really satisfied with her marriage, but she hates to think about all the family events that he won’t be part of, that she will attend alone.
Lois and Tom are in a familiar spot. Many couples weather their non-sexual affairs during the early and middle years of their marriage. But come retirement, children leaving home, sixtieth birthdays looming ahead – the emptiness becomes so apparent and painful that people look for ways to fill the space. Men stereotypically find another woman. Women often become depressed, calling it Empty Nest Syndrome.
But it’s more than that. It’s empty heart syndrome.
If you find yourself in this position, here are some tips:
- Men, before starting a new relationship, end your marriage. In the process of ending the marriage, men often re-discover how much they want their wife and their life together, it’s just become empty.
- You may want to re-ignite the affair with your lover – your wife. You may be able to do this on your own, or you may need professional counseling.
- You may realize how much the two of you have grown apart. If you need to end the marriage, do it properly; you owe it to your wife and kids. Seek a Collaborative Divorce (see International Academy of Collaborative Practice, IACP.com) where you both eschew litigation. Work with a mental health professional to help mourn the marriage you are putting to rest. Do it lovingly, gently. Only then are you emotionally ready for a new relationship.
- Women, empty nest syndrome is another name for the end of your non-sexual affair. If you are depression, or devastated to learn your husband is having an affair, or you overwhelmed with “what next” in life – consider you may be suffering from PMZ (post menopause zest).
- You may want to consider professional help in sorting out these complex feelings. You may want to consider a retreat for women in transition, where you have an entire weekend to devote to identifying the feelings and deciding how to handle them. This might be divorce or a couples’ renewal program, or going back to school, or starting a new career.
Whatever you decide, don’t get stuck as Lois and Tom did, with each of their affairs ending and no idea what that meant for them or how to move past it. These post-children, post work years can be enriching – if you seek the right affairs.
If you have questions or comments or want more information, contact me at:
Dr. Karen Gail Lewis
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