Immature, Selfish Man

Q: I have come to the realization that I am a cheater. At age 38, I've cheated on my wife of 15 years on three different occasions. Once in the very beginning, again 10 years later during an emotional downturn in our marriage, when I met a woman who also was emotionally torn, and now more recently twice in 10 days -- sexually -- and have made out with two other women (the Internet helped arrange these trysts).

Here is the issue: I don't want to leave my wife, nor do I not love her, my home, the kids. They're everything I have always wanted. But here is what I have figured out and wanted to know if it makes any sense. My affairs have come 1) right after the birth of our first child [I guess I was feeling lonely, neglected, not needed], then 2) during a difficult emotional time in our marriage, and now 3) my wife is in school full-time and many of the day-to-day falls to me which I happily don't mind doing but would like a little release/fun with my wife every once in a while. But she isn't obliging. I'm not talking about sex, I'm talking about going out and having some fun--the sex will take care of itself. [Wife and I have great sex - not as regular as it was but its good to great sex.] But not only will she not go out [school stress, "nothing to wear," feeling fat, etcetera], she will cancel evenings that are pre-planned; sometimes as we are walking out the door. I told the first woman I slept with recently that it was a platonic date and I just wanted someone to go out with who actually wanted to go out, dance and have fun without any "hang-ups" or difficulties. I'm not so sure about the second woman, except that she is gorgeous/exotic but so is my wife. I almost want to say she has that vivaciousness that my wife can definitely exhibit but does so rarely and only after a struggle of some sort nowadays.

I guess I want some version of my wife back from our first years together. I know that can't happen but what is going on now obviously isn't working. I would do whatever it takes. I look back on these past two weeks and feel I easily could've wrecked everything we've worked so hard for over the past 15 years. I won't know if I caught any STD for a few more weeks [I was safe with one but not with the other]. Does the analysis make any sense? Not looking to rationalize except to prevent me from being an adulterer a fourth time. -- Curtis

Dr. Susan: Well, Curtis, I must say your powers of analysis are quite good, as far as they go, especially for an immature, selfish man who cannot delay gratification. I hate watching you wreck your marriage this way, not to mention the possibility that you could seriously harm your wife's health by your carelessness. The fact is, many men do step out when the going gets rough, such as right after the birth of the first baby, or when the marriage is in trouble after 5 or 7 or 10 or so years, or when the wife goes back to school. You're a classic, Curtis, having betrayed your wife on each of these occasions.

What I don't get is why you haven't done the ethical thing: sit your wife down and tell her you're finding yourself increasingly tempted by other women, not so much for the possible sex (which you can reassure her is great with her) but to provide you with the carefree fun you're missing and longing for and really truly need to be happy. Hearing that would hurt her plenty, and she might get very angry at you and scream out justifications for why she's too busy and overwhelmed right now to "play" with you. But at least you'd be honest, rather than what you are now: a cad.

You say you'd do anything to be supportive. Tell your wife this, and keep batting ideas around (takes more than one or two conversations so be patient and persistent and kind) until you find out some ways you can relieve her burdens even more than you do, so that she can let go of her seriousness every now and then. I can tell you from my own experience that when one partner goes back to school it's HARD on both parties. There can be the greatest satisfaction at the end of this journey, however, if you stay honest and ethical. Your actions recently may have blown your marriage for you, but you can still decide to stop acting like a jerk from here on out. Talk to your wife, for Pete's sake, and give her credit for wanting the same good marriage you do. If you really just want to have fun, go out with guy friends. Otherwise I don't believe your impulse is all that platonic. Don't kid yourself. You want it all, and you don't want to wait for any of it. Grow up and stop shooting yourself (and your wife and your kids) in the foot. Or in the heart.

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