QUESTION: Joe, I am in a quandary. My husband and I have both had affairs. He recently ended his. Mine, which has lasted 3 years, is more complicated. My “other” lives out of town, and we see each other once a year. Even though I rarely see him, he calls me every three weeks to see how I am doing. This is hard, and my feelings for him are overwhelming. So…even though I am committed to staying with my husband, how long will I suffer through these feelings for my lover? When will this end so that I can be normal and not obsessed with him?
Your quandary has at least two dimensions.
The first is your relationship with the man for whom you feel the overwhelming emotions. The second is the relationship you have with your husband.
You write that your affair is more complicated than your husband’s. I assume you mean that his was more about sex, while yours is more about an emotional connection. If that is correct, then you may be right in your analysis.
We call your type affair limerence. I apologize that I do not have time to write about it in detail here, but if you wish to know more, I recommend my book The Art of Falling in Love or articles on MarriageHelper.com or JoeBeam.com. For now, let me say that your choice of the word “obsessed” fits well. As you developed your emotional connection, chemicals in your brain played a strong role in deepening the bond. Limerence is not a calm relationship, as you well know. It can feel like a rollercoaster of emotions ranging from ecstasy to anxiety to possessiveness to jealousy. You think about him constantly. You cherish and adore things associated with him, such as letters, words, and events. You feel a powerful sense of understanding of him and are willing to sacrifice for him. You crave an emotional union with him much more strongly than you feel sexual desire for him, though the sexual desire is strong.
Wonder how I know all that?
It is because I work with people in limerence regularly. Though everyone is unique, at core, we are all similar. Whether the person in limerence is a man or woman, very young or middle aged, the characteristics are pretty much the same.
The bad news is that you cannot change these feelings for your “other,” as you call him, just by wishing it so. Nor can you force them to go away. Emotions are not so easily controlled, especially emotions underwritten by powerful chemicals coursing through your brain.
The good news is that it will go away. It always does. Limerence brings people together; it was not designed to keep them together. On average limerence lasts somewhere between three months and 36 months. If you were with your lover more often, likely your limerence would be ebbing already. Because you see him rarely, it takes a little longer to run its course. But it will. No matter how much any person wants it to last a lifetime, it does not. It cannot. If I had time, I would explain why. For now, I simply must make the assertion with this pithy explanation: If limerence lasted a lifetime, humanity would cease to exist because people would lose all focus on anything but their lovers.
You can hasten the end of your limerence by stopping ALL contact with your lover. No phone conversations. No texts. No emails. No Facebook friends. No Twitter. No asking mutual friends how he is doing. Absolute annihilation of communication with, to, from, or about him. In the short-term it will be painful. In time, your feelings will fade and you can focus on making your own marriage good.
Which brings me to your second quandary.
Both you and your husband have had affairs. Your marriage is in a very, very bad place. Typically, people have the kind of affair you have because they are vulnerable to needing validation, friendship, understanding, acceptance, or support. I do not know enough about your husband’s affair to speak to the vulnerability that opened him to that possibility. Maybe it was about sexual needs, though it may have been about anything. Understand that I am not justifying either affair. I speak only to the underlying vulnerabilities that allow a person to be susceptible.
Whatever the vulnerabilities, it appears that your marriage lacks something – maybe a lot of things – that each of you needs. If you wish to have a marriage that is strong, healthy, loving, trustworthy, and fulfilling, both of you must work together to figure out what is lacking and then how the two of you can fix those things. Whatever the problems, they are fixable. However, you likely need others to help you figure out where the difficulties are and the best solutions.
There are many who will help. If you wish my organization to assist you, please call us toll free at 866-903-0990 or email us at info@JoeBeam.com.