Can One Spouse Save a Marriage? (Part 2)
Dear Dr. Harley,
Like T.C.'s situation, my wife has already given up and left. As I understand from the web page, you have decided not to post your response to T.C. and that is understandable. However, I am lost as well here. I love my wife more than anything and do not want to lose her. I have come to realize by reading your book, His Needs, Her Needs, and through personal reflection that I had not met her emotional needs. So she had an affair with someone she works with and wants a divorce. Since this has all happened over the last few weeks, I have tried to show her how much I love and miss her through cards, flowers and notes left in her car. I know that these things will not change the past, or me, or even remove all the resentment she feels towards me but its all I can do to show her how much I love her. I am seeking counseling for myself to deal with childhood abuse issues that quite frankly prevented me from loving myself, let alone meeting my wife's needs.
If only she was here!! I would be very interested in your advice and/or what you recommended to T.C.
Hoping for a Second Chance
Dear Hoping for a Second Chance,
At this time, your wife believes that her friend can offer her more than you can. It's a very self-centered time in her life, and there's nothing you can do to change that. The most constructive thing you can do is to prove to her that you can run circles around her friend. You can't prove it in an hour, or a day, or a week, or even a month. But you will have your chance sometime within the next six months to two years, because most affairs fall apart in that period of time. You want to be there to catch her when it happens. You want to be the man who cares enough about her to be there for her even after she left that man for someone else.
While affairs usually "die a natural death" (only 5% survive past two years), the quickest way for them to end is to shine the light of day on it. Affairs survive much longer in secret than they do when they're exposed. So I recommend that you tell your children (if you have any), your parents and siblings, her parents, and the other man's wife (if he has one) that your wife is having an affair. Granted, she will be upset by being exposed, but the alternative, to let the affair drag on in secret ignores the pain you've been experiencing. Exposure will not only help show how irrational the affair is, but it will help you get the support you need at time of great personal suffering. It's the most painful ordeal you will ever experience, and the quicker it's over, and the more support you receive, the better.
But aside from exposure of her affair, don't do anything to upset her. Let her know that you want her to be happy, and you are upset with yourself for having failed to make her comfortable when you were together. All you want is a chance to prove that you can learn to meet her emotional needs. If it turns out that you can't do it at this time, wish her the very best in life and tell her you will always care for her. You may have another chance in the future.
Granted, this approach to your problem is difficult. After all, you may think, don't your feelings count for anything? But remember, her friend has done a pretty good job proving that he cares about her. She is in the state of intimacy with him and in the state of withdrawal with you. The question is, can he keep it up. Most people can't. There's no logic or commitment to their relationship -- only passion. It's very fragile.
If you are kind and considerate to her during that period of time, and she feels she can return to you without fear of judgments or anger, she will turn to you when her friend slips, and I'm sure he will slip many times. You must remember that anyone who pursues someone else's wife has quite a few character flaws that eventually show up. And I'm sure that she is not the first wife he's pursued -- nor will she be the last. Your wife will see his flaws sooner than you think.
Incidentally, I don't think that childhood abuse issues have much to do with your problem or its solution. I've helped thousands of couples save their marriages without ever "resolving" any of those issues. We always get right to the heart of the matter: Stop hurting each other and start helping each other. It's simple but it works. You need to change whatever it was that drove your wife away and learn to meet her emotional needs. Each of us can choose how we want to treat other people without spending much time agonizing over our past.
You may want to speak to your physician about the possibility of taking an anti-depressant such as Prozac to help get you through this period of unprecedented grief, anxiety and anger. It will help calm you down at a time that your whole life seems to be falling apart.
Remember, every self-centered act on your part at this time will make it more difficult for your wife to return to you. Be sure to lay out the welcome mat.