Wife's Affair Tearing Him Apart

Q: I read about something called the "emotional affair," but I was skeptical of the term, having watched the damage a full-blown affair had caused in my parents' marriage. Now this term has hit me in the face full-force. My wife has been keeping company with a much younger man. They have been alone more than once at his house late at night. She swears the two have not had sex, though there's not much else they haven't done (by her own admission). And clearly this man has her heart. I am hurt so deeply by this information, especially the part about a man not much older than our son "having her heart." Even if she is telling the truth about them not having had sex, I'm not sure it would make matters much (if any) worse than they are now. Am I out of my mind, or is an "emotional affair" (at least in some ways) even worse than a full-blown sexual affair? — Tom, 53

Dr. Susan: You're not at all out of your mind. Your wife is having an affair. Period. Adulterers typically offer only bits of the whole truth over time. She and her young lover are almost certainly having sex. "There's not much else they haven't done" is a stark admission they've been physical. A one-night stand without any emotional involvement might be easier to understand and easier for the betrayer to pull herself away from (men typically seem to manage it), but most affairs contain elements of both physicality and emotion, and are tough to end.

Tell her that you will take steps to end the marriage if she doesn't stop all contact with this guy. If she values the marriage at all, she may agree to see a counselor with you to figure out how to handle her mixed feelings. It's not her heart that's causing the problem as much as hormones aflame. She may not want to give him up, but allowing her to continue on this way is only going to prolong the misery for you. I doubt she sees a future with this fellow (nor he with her). Both of you must face the facts, even if she's disinclined to do the right thing. I expect the next year or so are going to be the toughest in your life.

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