Girlfriend and Wife Both Drive Him Nuts
Q: Dr. Susan, I am 42 years old, married for 21 years, have two children and a 19-year-old girlfriend. My wife drives me absolutely crazy. I swear she has multiple personalities. My girlfriend has had a rough life for being only 19. We enjoy time spent together but she has moved away from this relationship. We still talk almost daily, but her life is extremely screwed up. We have had sex several times, but our relationship has not or is not based on sex. I can tell her anything and she can do the same. I have thought about leaving my marriage but my children are my greatest concern. Both of these women have started to drive me crazy, but I know my girlfriend in the end would make me happy. I know what you're going to say -- Jack
Dr. Susan: I love it when the person writing the question thinks they know what I'm going to say but is hoping against hope that I'll agree that they should do the thing they would prefer to do. In your case, Jack, you'd love it if I said, "Sure, run away from your family and find everlasting joy with your young chickie who's obviously more fun than the nutso mother of your children."
Not going to happen, Jack. Has it ever occurred to you that perhaps your wife is driving you crazy precisely because you're having a secret affair? When I studied affairs for my book Loving in Flow: How the Happiest Couples Get & Stay That Way, I found that this scenario is more common than you would believe. You think she has no idea that you've basically abandoned her already, but I bet she senses you're no longer there for her. That tends to make women act in predictably unpredictable ways. In other words, her so-called "multiple personality" might be a reaction to your own treachery and deceit. And of course, she's also driving you crazy because her very presence seems to be getting in the way of your fun with the other woman.
As for your young girlfriend, I believe she's had a rough life. Indeed, she's screwing up royally right now by sleeping with a married man. You.
I don't think you're going to find happiness with a new woman until you resolve whatever's messing up your marriage right now. First, stop seeing the teenager. If it's not based on sex, should be easy to do. After all, you say she's already moved away from the relationship. So just stop pursuing her. Then get yourself and your wife into marital counseling. And don't necessarily stop at the first counselor -- find a good one that you can both feel safe with. You've gotten yourself into a bind here. Classic affair pattern: you can only tell your affair partner "everything." Well, duh. You can't tell your wife everything because she'd hit the roof if you mentioned this other woman. But the only way out of the box is to open up fully and develop an open, intimate, honest relationship. After all, that's what you just said you wanted. And I'm saying you can have it, but not with your affair partner, and it will take time. Give wifey another chance.
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Advice for Her
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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.