Help! I Am Having an Affair and Don’t Want to Stop

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

I have been having a torrid affair with a coworker for seven months. It has been undoubtedly the most exhilarating, liberating, but also emotionally wrenching time of my life. I am cheating on a husband I love very much, but with whom intimacy can best be described as muted. He has never had a sex drive to match mine, and at this point—seven years into our marriage—we are almost never intimate. When we are, he generally doesn’t orgasm, nor do I. I think we do it more out of a sense of love than desire.

Stress is not an issue here. My husband and I do not have children, and we both have careers that allow for plenty of time together. We spend that time doing things we both enjoy, from biking to wine tasting to road trips. Again, I really love my husband! I just don’t feel any sort of carnal craving for him. For that matter, I’m not sure I ever did, even though he is quite handsome.

We have talked about our sex life (or lack of it). He knows he’s not as motivated by sex as I am. We have accepted that we’re different in that way, I think, because we have so much going for us otherwise. We’re not trying to be something we’re not with each other. I actually love that aspect.

Sexually, the man I’ve been having the affair with is the yin to my yang. He rocks my world like no one ever has. Orgasms aren’t everything, certainly, but just to put things in perspective, last night he had three (!) and I had 12. He has ignited something in me that was dormant for a long time. However, we don’t have a future together. We’re in different life stages, and I don’t intend to ever leave my husband. The arrangement with the other man is purely sexual. And I don’t want it to stop.

Do I feel guilty? Of course I do. I’m not sure anyone goes into marriage thinking they will one day cheat on their partner. But I also feel like I do not get everything I need from my marriage, and I don’t feel it is realistic to expect my husband to fulfill every need I have. I am still reconciling what all this means for us, but I would welcome any thoughts you have. —Wanting It All

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Dear Wanting,

Well, talk about the seven-year itch! It is hard to argue with 12 orgasms when you’re accustomed to having zero. On the other hand, something is concerning you here or you would not be writing to me about it.

Your letter raises a profound, and complicated, question about romantic relationships. Is it possible sexual desire and love are separate (or can somehow be lived separately)? Your letter appears to answer that in the affirmative—and you are not alone in feeling that way. But there is probably more going on here than meets the eye. There is, for instance, a hint of what could be a rebellion (understandable) to the sexual dissatisfaction you have experienced.

I take it you believe your husband would be hurt if he knew about your affair. You obviously love him, though it also sounds as though your relationship is akin to a very warm, close friendship: affectionate, respectful, even tender (nothing at all wrong or inferior about any of that) … but also missing a certain “spice.” In fact, given your level of sexual appetite is higher than his, I wonder how you have navigated that difference over the years. Was it a matter of no longer being able to hold out? Is it possible the intensity of the affair is due to your withholding or repressing your desires over time, to the point where you no longer could?

Questions arise for me around this. Did you realize early on that the two of you were sexually incompatible? How was that reconciled? Was there a sense this might be more deeply addressed as time went on, or that it would change? Are you the type who more naturally sets aside their own needs for the other? Is the affair a kind of “rebalancing”?

There are psychologists and other social observers who believe a marriage contract for life is impractical. Search the internet and you’ll find intelligent arguments for a rethinking of monogamy, due to perhaps unrealistic expectations imposed by such an arrangement. I must be frank in saying I am not of this view and thus have a bias. Perhaps I’m old-fashioned in this way (which isn’t to say you aren’t).

Monogamy is challenging, of course. At the same time, it forces us to do something difficult: look our partner in the eye and find a difficult but necessary level of honesty to work through differences. Based on the information you provided, I am not sure whether this was ever an option in your case. It’s possible you underestimated the risk to yourself in having to hold back or curb your desires in order to not offend or overwhelm your husband.

You say quite openly—and I appreciate the candor—you don’t want the affair to stop but plan to never leave your husband. As you acknowledge, the affair at some point will end. Then what? The problem remains what to do about your striking difference. Coupledom is so often the negotiation of differences, often revolving most thornily around money, sex, and parenting.

You are not in an easy position and have not been for a while; I can even imagine being disappointed with your husband. Your behavior communicates this dissatisfaction. You sound like a genuinely nice person, and nice people can have trouble airing disagreements or disappointments.

I would be curious to know how this affair came to fruition—what led up to it, whether it was sudden or a slow build. Did you or your husband have an inkling of how vulnerable you were to sexual temptation? Did or does he possibly “look the other way”? (Some marriages have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding affairs.) What does the man you’re having the affair with represent for you—besides the obvious—that your husband does not? I try to advise partners to not take the other’s (or their own) dissatisfactions for granted; they can fester and leap out of the unconscious via surprising actions or behaviors.

I am going to take a small leap here and guess you are writing not only because you feel guilty or worried about what your husband might think if he found out, but perhaps you’ve felt caught in a bind for some time now and want a little validation for maybe needing this affair—for needing to feel attractive and sexually desired. You may also feel angry at having to feel guilty, since you have self-sacrificed for a while.

I was struck when you said, near the end of your letter, you don’t expect your husband to fulfill every need you have, as if it would be an imposition to ask more of him. Maybe it’s time to be a tad more selfish.

You say quite openly—and I appreciate the candor—you don’t want the affair to stop but plan to never leave your husband. As you acknowledge, the affair at some point will end. Then what? The problem remains what to do about your striking difference. Coupledom is so often the negotiation of differences, often revolving most thornily around money, sex, and parenting.

Which also leads me to wonder: what, exactly, is the deal with your husband? Is he repressed or withholding in bed, and has this been discussed? Is there fear of intimacy or vulnerability on his part? Does he have a hint of how unsatisfied you have been? Are there health factors? Were I seeing you as a couple, I would ask you both to lean in. Your challenge would be to speak up and let him know how unsatisfied you feel and withstand the risk of his feeling hurt. The reason we stretch like this is because of the reward of a deep and unique empathy and trust.

As I’m writing this, I’m feeling the tug between hoping you’ll enjoy your overdue pleasure and the hope that a happier arrangement can occur with your husband, along with a diminishing of the guilt you’re feeling. Again, an affair is a short-term outlet, not a long-term adjustment or way of growing closer. Unless, of course, there’s a reason you do not wish to be closer. I just cannot shake the feeling that something is being avoided here: first on your husband’s part, and then perhaps on yours in wanting more but feeling it’s “obvious” it can’t happen. In the meantime, your psyche is in conflict.

You could, I suppose, continue to lead a double life of sorts, but in the long run that strikes me as potentially risky both for your husband’s feelings and trust and for your own peace of mind. I don’t sense your desires are going anywhere soon (and there’s nothing wrong with them). Sex can be a wild card; it’s hard to predict where passionate feelings will lead.

You’ll note I haven’t addressed the question of whether to tell your husband about the affair. In the first place, you did not ask, and secondly it is a tangled question in which there is an argument to be made on either side. It is easy to say “honesty is the best policy,” but this simply isn’t true all of the time, in every situation—and there are many truths in a complex relationship. I think it comes down to the kind of relationship you have and want to have. There are many helpful books and therapists out there to help you sort this out.

Thanks again for writing!

Darren Haber, PsyD, MFT

Darren Haber
Darren Haber, PsyD, MFT is a psychotherapist specializing in treating alcoholism and drug addiction as well as co-occurring issues such as anxiety, depression, relationship concerns, secondary addictions (especially sex addiction), and trauma (both single-incident and repetitive). He works in a variety of modalities, primarily cognitive behavioral, spiritual/recovery-based, and psychodynamic. He is certified in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, and continues to receive psychodynamic training in treating relational trauma, including emotional abuse/neglect and physical and sexual abuse.
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  • AlyssaB

    AlyssaB

    February 27th, 2018 at 8:59 AM

    Why don’t you try ethical non-monogamy? If your husband is open to it, it could allow you to have the best of both worlds. It takes work, but so does every other type of relationship.

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