I have been happily married for seven years. In the 12 years since we’ve been together, I haven’t so much as looked cross-eyed in another man’s direction. However, that has recently changed.
About a year ago, I met someone that I was instantly very attracted to, and I started thinking about him on occasion, even though I have only seen him once since that initial meeting. Over the past several months, I find that he consumes much of my thoughts, which is odd to me because I haven’t even seen him in close to a year. I do have occasional email communication with him, but that is it.
To further complicate matters, he is a friend of my husband’s and is also married. But I do want to get to know him, badly. I just can’t figure out why. Part of me thinks it is because my husband tries so hard to keep us from communicating at all because he doesn’t trust him when it comes to me. I’m like a child, though, because the more he tells me not to do something, the more I want to do it! So I do tend to be flirtatious in my emails.
What worries me the most is that I really haven’t been sexually attracted to my husband in about three years. We do have sex about three times a week, because I feel like I should do that, but he doesn’t realize that I could go weeks without it and not miss it. He’s a very attractive man and in the best shape of his life, but I’m just one of those women who can take it or leave it when it comes to making love.
However, I fantasize about being with the other man constantly. For the first time in my life, I feel as though, if the opportunity presented itself, and I knew no one would get hurt, I would have an affair. I’m scared to death that I’m capable of feeling this way. I just want to know that I can get back to a place where I’m attracted to my husband in the same way that I am this other man. I’m borderline obsessive in my thoughts about him and I hate it, yet I can’t stop them. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. — T.C., Las Vegas
First, the good news. You do not — yet — have a mess to clean up. All you are thus far is an ordinarily human spouse. Truth is, over 30 to 50 years of a marital lifetime, it’s unusual to meet a spouse who did not at least once have at least a passing fancy about someone other than the mate.
If a stray neighborhood cat happens to be spending time on your back porch, and, for whatever reason, you don’t prefer the cat’s company, then I only know one way to make the cat go away: Stop feeding it.
The same is true for men who stray onto the back porch of your psyche. If you want your emotional/instinctual attachments to this man to go away, then you will have to stop feeding those attachments. You will have to starve them to death. The emails, containing flirtation or not, must cease. All clandestine contact must stop.
If I know anything about the human condition, your first response to that idea will be to become anxious. Your instinct will be to grip harder to the fantasy of the stray man. This is because the fantasy is playing an important protective role for you. Specifically, it is helping you put off a deeper confrontation of self. This, too, is an ordinarily human ego-defense.
You say you "could go weeks without (sex) and not miss it." You describe yourself as "one of those women who can take it or leave it when it comes to making love." T.C., I would like to invite you to doubt this truth. Because it’s not true. What’s true is that your instinctual hunger for intimacy, a hunger you try valiantly to ignore by telling yourself sex is no big deal to you, has escaped the cage of your denial and has attached itself in fantasy to a married man.
You can get back to a place of emotional/sexual attachment to your husband. It will likely mean exploring your motives for becoming unattached — from your husband, and quite possibly from yourself. If you’re willing to include your husband in this work of selfhood and marriage, and if he’s willing to participate, then your chances for positive outcome skyrocket. Four to eight sessions with a skillful marriage counselor might serve you both well here.
This I promise: What’s happening to you has nothing to do with the stray married man on your back porch. Nothing at all. Just because a feeling is powerful and real does not preclude the possibility of the feeling being pure illusion.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of "Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing" (Stephens Press). His columns also appear on Sundays in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at 227-4165 or firstname.lastname@example.org.