Old Flame Boils
Q: Exactly 20 years ago, a one-year-long high school relationship ended because she was moving on. After two decades of no communication, three kids on my side, one on hers, and both of us having terrible and impossible conjugal lives, we have gotten in contact again through mail and phone. It has only been three days since we reconnected and all the rekindled flames are blazing. I never knew that I was able to feel like this again! The thing is, she is 5 hours away and we both don't know what to do and appreciate that everything that we can do about this would be wrong and unfair to the kids and the other people in our lives that we've both decided to spend the rest of our lives with. Please try and lead me into what would be the best way of going about this. -- Jeff, 38
Dr. Susan: "Terrible and impossible conjugal lives." Strong words, Jeff. Had you and your wife talked about counseling or divorce before your old flame showed up on the scene? Affairs and potential affairs have a funny way of focusing attention on all that's wrong in a marriage. When you're secretly communicating with and wanting someone else, someone new (and after 20 years, anyone can seem new again), your everyday reality pales by comparison. Daily life can be dull if you let it. The prospect of fresh hot sex is not dull, without even trying. I'm not saying that either you or your old/new love interest have great marriages. You may not. But hold on! Three days and you're half-ready to screw up your entire lives and families? I believe you sense that to follow up on this reconnection would be the greatest mistake you've ever made. I recognize how strong the temptation is. Too many people make the mistake and pay the heavy price (and their children and partners pay an even higher price for the betrayal). The fact that you're asking how to handle this is a small good sign. My advice is to follow your sense of what's right, not your baser instincts. Tell your old friend you want to give your marriage and family your best and most honest efforts before kissing your old life (and wife and three kids) good-bye. And then tell her you won't be communicating with her anymore. Don't set a deadline, don't give in to any of her entreaties (or the urgings of your hormones). Go cold turkey. Now sit your wife down (take a weekend away with her if at all possible), and discuss your future as a couple. It's been found that when most couples who are unhappy hang in there (and face their problems) for five years, they are much much happier than they imagined they could be. Good luck.
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Susan K. Perry, Ph.D.
Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist, relationship expert, and bestselling and award-winning author. Her books include Loving in Flow: How the Happiest Couples Get and Stay That Way, and Kylie's Heel, a novel for adults.
Pamela G. Chollet, Ph.D.
Dr. Pamela Chollet has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and Master degrees in educational psychology and fine arts. Her passion has been helping people face and get through those times when they feel trapped and unable to move forward.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, stress management expert, and author. If you're feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, or struggling to make changes in your life, Anna can help.