QUESTION: My husband is having an affair. He has gone from being a respected member of the community and church to someone who has thrown away all of his morals and values. He met this much younger woman in a runner’s group, and “fell in love” with her. He told me that he doesn’t love me anymore, that he never loved me, and that he just wants to be with her. He wants a divorce, refuses counseling, and hasn’t been swayed by all the friends and family who are fully standing with me. Our kids are devastated. What do I do? I love him, but I don’t know him anymore. He is not the man I married, and I fear that man is gone forever. Do I stay and fight, or do I move on?
ANSWER: I am so sorry to hear of your difficulty. Unfortunately, our team hears similar stories from wives and husbands every day. It seems that adultery runs rampant.
A culture has developed that focuses many on what they feel rather than on their beliefs and values. Think of some of the advertising phrases that became bywords – Schlitz’s “You only go around once in life so you’ve got to grab for all the gusto you can” or Nike’s “Just do it.” While I certainly do not claim that those companies intended any attack on morals, I believe that those kind of attitudes tend to focus people on themselves more than at any time in my lifespan. Add to that the many novels, movies, and television programs that capture imagination through heart-rending stories about people leaving “bad” relationships for true love with another.
If the people who produced those “leave the one you’re with for the one who can be your true love” stories sought accuracy, they would show how badly most of those new relationships turn out after the passion fades.
Your question indicates that your husband bought into this “romantic” lie fostered in so many ways in our culture. He is enchanted with the younger woman to the point he has allowed his emotions to convince him that she is worth giving up things that were once important to him – God, you, his children, and the respect of people who once believed in him.
1. The person in limerence sees no flaw or any negative characteristics in the person for whom he feels those emotions. In his mind, she nears perfection. He believes he has never felt for anyone what he feels for her and that he could never feel the same for anyone else. Therefore, anything associated with her – letters, gifts, places they visited together, etc. – becomes special.
2. He thinks about her constantly, even when it affects his productivity at work. Think of him as an addict. She is the “fix,” so he obsesses about her. He experiences fluctuating emotions. When things go well with her, he feels ecstatic. When things go badly with her, he feels apprehension. He wants to possess her. He experiences jealousy if anyone pays attention to her, or if she does things without his participation.
3. He changes in ways he believes she wants him to change. Some people lose weight, change the way they dress, choose different hairstyles, participate in activities that never attracted their interest before, and more.
4. His mind rewrites history in order to justify his involvement with her. He actually believes the new version of things. Therefore, when he told you he never loved you, he believes that. You should not believe it.
5. If anyone tries to intervene in his pursuit of her, he perceives that person as the enemy. Therefore, in a sense you are the enemy. So is your church. Same with any friends who do not approve. Eventually, if necessary to continue his actions, he may even see God as his enemy…or, as some do, change his belief system to one in which God wants him with the woman.
I could go on, but this should give you enough information to understand that what he feels is not within his rational control. That is why you feel you no longer know him. In many ways, he is not the man you married.
In the most important way, he is.
Underneath those overpowering emotions, he exists.
The good news is that man will someday reemerge.
The bad news is that when it does, it may be too late to help your marriage. If so, it very likely will also be too late for him to restore many parts of his life to what he once had.
How can I be sure that his limerence will eventually end? Because limerence does not last forever. People in limerence think it will. They make life-altering decisions based on that expectation. However, it always ends. It must; no one could live with that level of emotional intensity for a lifetime. Unfortunately, it can take a couple years or more to run its course. You love him and want to rescue your marriage now, not two or three years from now. So, what do you do?
Because of his emotional state, logic and reasoning have little power to counteract his involvement with her. Therefore, if you choose not to give up yet, but to fight to save him from his out-of-control emotions, you must address his emotions rather than his logic.
You asked him to go to counseling. That failed. Anything you request probably will fail if he perceives that what you ask may negatively affect the decision he made to divorce you and be with her as quickly as he wants that to occur. Counseling, for example, takes weeks or even months. He wants to divorce you for her. He reacted negatively because he perceives counseling will draw out the divorce.
Therefore, through his eyes carefully consider what you ask of him. If you can approach him in a way that he sees as potentially getting him what he wants in a shorter period, you have much greater sway over getting him to cooperate. Probably he has already tried to manipulate you into giving him what he wants either by being kind, or by demonstrating anger, or both. Rather than allowing him to manipulate you, use your strength to work within his emotions to get him to do something that has the possibility of turning things around.
One Potential Solution
Allow me to give you an example. (This will sound like a commercial, so feel free to skip to the next section if you wish.) Regularly, couples attend our workshop for marriages in crisis though one of them is in limerence with someone else. The limerent spouse has no desire to save the marriage. Why does s/he come? Typically because the spouse wanting to salvage the marriage makes an offer such as, “If you will take just three days and attend that workshop with me, then I will _______.” In that blank they offer something they know the other person wants. Usually, that means giving up something in the divorce that the other person very much wants, such as a pet, an object, visitation rights with the children, or similar. More often, the spouse wanting to save the marriage agrees to hasten the divorce proceeding if the reluctant spouse comes. On many occasions, I have been told as the workshop begins, “I’m only here because my husband/wife agreed to sign the divorce papers is I did.”
Why would someone take that risk? Why agree to such a harsh consequence if the other comes? Two reasons. The first is that because of the other spouse’s limerence, nothing else they tried worked and they were trying one last thing. The second is that our workshop has a success rate of 3 out of 4 couples saving their marriage, even if one of them walked into the room in full limerence and divorce papers in hand.
As you know, 75% is not 100%. However, those odds are much more favorable than the likelihood of saving the marriage if a valid intervention does not take place. If you wish to know more, call us toll free at 866-903-0990 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Okay, commercial over.
If you are not interested in our workshop, may I offer a few suggestions for you to try? These still base on approaching his emotions rather than his logic.
1. Pray that God will intervene in the situation your husband is in and create havoc between them. Remember from the information I share about limerence that your husband is fluctuating in emotions and will experience apprehension when things do not go well with her. Pray that things do not go well with her and that he suffers emotional distress because of it.
2. Pray that God will put barriers between him and her. If that means he needs to have less access to money, pray that he is fired. (I realize that hurts you as well, but if having no money delays his plans to be with her, then asking God to remove money makes sense.) If it means her being separated from him, pray she gets a fabulous job offer on the other coast. You do not have to offer all the suggestions; God knows what to do. Fervently ask Him to create barriers in every way He will.
3. Delay the divorce using every tactic you can, no matter how angry he gets, no matter what threats he makes about money or friends, no matter how much he manipulates or even begs. Limerence has an end. You may not be able to delay the divorce until that point, but if you love him, try it. However, you must hold to your guns if you do this.
4. Be kind and gentle to him, no matter how much he tries to anger you. Show him who you are in spite of what he is doing.
5. Demonstrate to him that though you love him and want him to come back to his family, you can and will succeed in life and love without him. That means no begging, whining, or pleading. It means no attempt to control him or manipulate him. Instead, you make it clear that you are a strong, capable woman who will not only survive but also prosper whether he comes back or not. (Trust me on this one.)
6. If your children are old enough and mature enough, help them continue to demonstrate their love while also making it clear to their father how his actions affect them. If they can tell him how hurt they are, it may touch him emotionally, especially if they continue to do it. If they do it just a time or two, he will rationalize that they are getting over it and will be okay with time.
7. If your children are strong enough, suggest that they tell him they will always love him, but that if he continues this action, they will not participate in any future event where she is present. (If they are not strong enough for this, do not suggest it to them. If in doubt, do not suggest it. You do not want to harm them in this process whatsoever.)
8. If he does anything that puts you into an economic bind, find a good attorney and file for legal separation to protect yourself and your children financially. (You may feel that if you do this, you in actuality start the divorce. Very likely, he will try to convince you of that. However, you must protect yourself and your children financially, no matter how negatively he reacts or how much you fear its effect on the future.)
9. Work on yourself to be the best person you can be. Do not think that means that he left you because of something you did, no matter what he throws in your face. Remember, he has to justify leaving you for her. Instead, it means that you know you are not perfect because no one is, and that you accept that you have done some things poorly. Therefore, you choose to become better, to grow, and to develop yourself. Do not do it for him, but for you. Interestingly, it may very well affect him in due course.
10. Involve yourself with friends and family in ways that build you emotionally. That means find things to do together where you are NOT talking about your problem, but you are enjoying them and enjoying life. As part of that, get with God as you never have before. It is quite okay to continue your prayers about your marriage, but make sure you add praise and learn to enjoy God as your all in all.
Notice in the above suggestions, I said little about what you do to make him come back. Yet everything I suggested can be part of emotionally touching him if you are diligent and patient. With time, prayer, and self-growth, you may see him come to his senses. If he does not, these things still work well for you and your future.
If your marriage is in trouble, there are many who will help. If you wish my organization to assist you in getting the help you need, please call us toll free at 866-903-0990. We will listen and we will help if we can.