J. Peirano: The Secret Code of Love: My husband is having an affair. Does couples therapy make sense as long as he has the other woman?

Dear Ms.

J. Peirano: The Secret Code of Love: My husband is having an affair. Does couples therapy make sense as long as he has the other woman?

Dear Ms. Peirano,

I'm totally stressed and desperate. My husband has been having an affair with another woman for two months and is out of his mind. He's on a complete ego trip. He constantly only talks about himself and his feelings and his doubts about us, his infatuation. He doesn't even think about the children or us.

At the beginning he told me about the affair relatively quickly because he wanted to be honest. But then he didn't want to end the affair, he wanted to first see what it meant and why he fell so deeply in love. I think he also wants to find out if the two of them have a chance together.

Since then, I've been sitting at home with our two young children, trying to maintain some semblance of normality, even though I'm feeling really, excuse me, like crap.

I have always had great fear of loss and now I imagine what our life will be like if he leaves me. Because of the children (5 and 3), I took a step back from my career and was on parental leave for a longer period of time. We just bought a house and renovated it. It will be terrible in every way if he chooses the other woman.

I'm afraid of the future, I'm totally overwhelmed with everyday life and I can't sleep. My parents step in as best they can. Fortunately!

My husband comes and goes as he pleases and is now seeing the other woman secretly. He says he does this because I freak out every time he tells me that. The other woman is pretty unscrupulous and goes all out. She has just separated from her partner and now wants to start a family at 33. That's where she plays all her cards. A friend of mine knows her and told me that she is looking for men.

I got my husband to get involved in couples therapy. There have been some things wrong in our relationship over the last few years. Especially because of the children and the renovation, we hardly had any time for ourselves and we both suffered from that.

We had the first session with the couples therapist and she treated the affair very strangely. She said that my husband could let things continue like this for now and that our relationship and their relationship should be viewed separately. Afterwards I was completely exhausted and thought to myself, how am I supposed to endure this? He comes and goes as he pleases, and under these circumstances should our relationship be saved? Is this a normal procedure?

I have to honestly say that I'm on the verge of total exhaustion and can't stand this state much longer. Do I really have to accept that he can meet the other woman at the same time?

Does couples therapy even make sense?

Many desperate greetings, Your Marina I.

I work as a behavioral therapist and love coach in private practice in Hamburg-Blankenese and St. Pauli. During my doctorate, I researched the connection between relationship personality and happiness in love and then wrote two books about love.

Information about my therapeutic work can be found at www.julia-peirano.info.

Do you have questions, problems or heartache? Please write to me (maximum one A4 page). I would like to point out that inquiries and answers can be published anonymously on stern.de.

Dear Marina I.,

I have provided therapeutic support to a number of women (and also some men) whose partners had an affair and who became headless as a result. This is an extreme psychological burden and I would even call it a traumatic experience. Your life is turned upside down. The ground is being ripped out from under you and you have (justifiable) fears about what will happen to you if your husband leaves you. Your family would fall apart and you would wonder how you and the children would cope.

Financial and existential concerns also play a major role. All of this is much worse because you did not wish for the situation or bring it about yourself, but are a victim of the circumstances. Traumatic experiences are also more stressful when they occur in a close relationship and not, for example, in a relationship. B. from a natural disaster or an impersonal event such as an accident.

In addition, people who have recently fallen in love are often so hormonally confused that they cannot make sensible and prudent decisions. Your husband seems to be in some kind of state of emergency (or is the word "frenzy" more accurate?) and you may have reasonable doubts that he is keeping track of everything that is important now to deal well with the situation.

They promised themselves help from couples therapy. This is basically the right place to work on your relationship. Were you hoping that the couples therapist would intervene and set a framework within which you both could work on your relationship? I could understand that, especially now that you feel powerless and at the mercy of the events and your husband's "ego trip". An ego trip means: I no longer play according to our rules and agreements, but I only do what I want. This is scary in a relationship and will destroy it sooner or later.

The couples therapist has now strengthened your husband and given him the right to continue like this. He is allowed to continue his affair and you have to endure it. I find this attitude of the therapist very difficult for many reasons.

You are in a weaker position right now because you are still playing by the rules and trying to maintain normality for the children and yourself. It's very stressful, and you also describe that you feel like you're on the verge of a breakdown. I think it is important that you and the children are protected and strengthened, and that is exactly what is not achieved by giving your husband a free pass to continue seeing the other woman. On the contrary! Every time your husband meets the other woman and tells you or lies to you, you will be retraumatized. You cannot calm down and leave the events behind you, which is particularly crucial in trauma work. Processing trauma can only begin when the traumatic event has ended!

You and your husband have completely different interests right now. You want your husband to end the affair and come back to you to work on your relationship.

Your husband is on a so-called ambivalence swing. He can't make up his mind and vacillates between options every day (or even hourly). When he is with you he thinks about the other woman, when he is with her he is afraid of destroying his family. It's optimal for him if he doesn't have to make a decision!

Your husband would prefer to have two women in his life. You should be the trusted partner who runs the house and lovingly looks after the children. The home-sweet-home part. And at the same time he would like to have a lover with whom he can feel free and express himself sexually.

Your husband probably thinks he needs time to decide. However, the reality is that he cannot and will not decide as long as he can have both women in his life. In many cases, such stories last for many years.

Another problem: By continuing the affair, your husband is destroying any remaining trust that is still there, because he knows how bad you are and still chooses to continue to cause you pain. And by the way, he will also destroy the other woman's trust if he doesn't break up with you.

I would therefore advise you to find a clear position that says: I will not tolerate an affair. And I won't let you cause me serious injuries because you're on an ego trip. We never agreed on that and I don't want that. So: If you don't end the affair immediately, it's over for us.

Experience has shown that the partner who is having the affair only comes around when he or she cannot have both and this is clearly communicated. You can also say that the ambivalence swing then comes to a standstill.

Ending the affair would also involve both of you working on how your husband can regain your trust, e.g. B. communicates transparently where he is or who he is writing to. These steps could be worked out in couples therapy.

But from my point of view, the basis for couples therapy that is not a farce is created only after the affair has clearly ended. You can't seriously work on relationship problems if one partner is in love with someone else and, in addition to therapy, is trying to explore a possible future in a parallel relationship.

I have often attended such trials, both when the affair was known to everyone and when it was initially kept secret and only later came to light. Events in the external relationship always disrupted and poisoned the primary relationship because there were constant ups and downs, lies and cover-ups, and a lot of energy drained from the first relationship.

I would recommend that you also seek therapeutic support on your own to deal with this crisis. Mental support will definitely do you good! You can also do couples therapy later in parallel to individual therapy; this is a common approach in similar situations.

I very much hope that you can find your balance again and, based on this security, set your limits. It will certainly do you good to be very clear and say: this far and not a step further. Either we sort it out or we leave it.

Herzlich GrüßeJulia Peirano