by Neil Rosenthal
Note: This is the first of a two-part series.
Dear Neil: I need help. I am in a 22-year affectionless, sexless and loveless marriage with my high school sweetheart. I am also in a three year extremely passionate relationship with another woman who I am deeply in love with. I know that, on the surface, what I should do may seem easy. Divorce my wife, and marry the woman I love. But nothing in this case is either easy or simple.
There are three children involved, ranging in age from 17 to 7. My wife has an extremely hot temper, and if I leave her I would expect her to prove that old Shakespearean quote “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” I am concerned that she will poison the kids against me-or attempt to keep the kids from me all together. I fully expect she will attempt to spoil as many of my friendships as she can-including with my own family. And I greatly fear that she will ask the court for large sums of maintenance and child support that will cut my lifestyle down to zilch.
There are some good things with my wife, also. We work very well together as a team. We’re good friends. We have a long history together (I’ve known her since the 5th grade), we’re bonded with each other’s extended families, we are great parents together and we enjoy similar activities and interests.
So what do I do? How do I make a decision? I am so torn up over this dilemma that I haven’t been able to sleep for months. I know this is likely to explode on me in the long run. I am leaning toward divorcing my wife and marrying my lover, but how do I know if that’s the right choice? Please help.
-Tortured in Wyoming
The best way I know of to figure out which woman to choose is to ask yourself-and to honestly answer-a very sober set of questions that come from Myra Kirshenbaum’s book When Good People Have Affairs (St. Martin’s Press). Here are the questions:
• If my lover just disappeared, and if I put time and energy into my marriage, including our maybe working with a good couple’s therapist, can I imagine a realistic scenario in which things would be better for us and I would be content to stay in my marriage?
• Suppose you divorce your wife and marry your lover. Do you have a compelling reason to believe that two years after you married your lover that your lifestyle would be dramatically better (or worse) than it is now? Is there a good chance that you’ll lose touch with your children? Will you lose a lot of money? Will constant hassles with your ex and endless legal expenses drain your nerves and your bank account? Will you become an outcast to your family and friends?
• Can you honestly say that two years after your divorce you will be happier and the divorce won’t have dragged you down too far?
• Come up with as many items as you can that you enjoy doing or would like to try. Which of these interests, passions or shared activities do you enjoy with your wife? With the other woman?
• Thinking about your lover, what do believe her exes would say about why their relationship ended and what it was like to be with her?
I will continue these questions in next issue’s column.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Denver and Boulder, CO, specializing in how people strengthen their intimate relationships. He can be reached at 303.758.8777, or e-mail him from his website, www.heartrelationships.com.