What to Do When Your Recreational Companionship
Becomes Boring and Unpleasant (Part 2)
Dear Dr. Harley,
My wife had an affair with a man who she "in-line" skated with for many weeks. Obviously he became her favorite recreational companion. I did not skate with her regularly because I had my own recreational activity (bicycles), since we started having kids 4 years ago. We didn't even think about the risks of having separate recreational activities. In fact, we both thought having a break from one another would be healthy! Stupid in retrospect, I know!
By the time I recognized we were growing apart, it was too late. Her affair had already started. So I tried to become her recreational companion by joining her in in-line skating. But some of the most horrible fights we've ever had were over her conviction that my wanting to skate was simply a "control move" on my part. She did not want me to be a part of her recreational activities.
Since then, thanks to your web site, we have stopped fighting and have started to negotiate. My wife has agreed to race together in the same races, but she still has not agreed to train together or even skate together. At least it's something, and I think it is starting to work out.
She feels that my participating in group skates with her or my wanting to skate alone with her is still an imposition, and that she doesn't know if she'll ever be able to be entirely comfortable having me with her in that recreational activity. However, I do think that she is trying; next week we are going on vacation with the kids and we have scheduled two out-of-town skates with another club. We have tried to develop other recreational activities together, but with a limited amount of free time, most of her free time is spent skating. Baby sitting budget is not an issue.
I understand her feeling that I am trying to control her. That's why I have stopped pressuring her at all, on any count. I know that you will suggest to me that she shouldn't see the lover anymore and that she should give up her group skate because the lover is still present. But whenever I have suggested that, all I get is "you are trying to control me."
My question: As a second best arrangement to try to save the marriage, at least for the foreseeable future, does it make sense for me to participate in those training sessions and in the races when and if she allows it, given that she will not give up the skating any time soon? In other words, I don't want to blow it by making a suggestion that I know she will resent because she feels it's control, so how do I know she's out of withdrawal? What are the signs?
You are asking a very tough question: Should you try to join your wife in her favorite recreational activity while her lover is still around?
Granted, you and she should be together when you are enjoying yourselves the most. But in-line skating has too many associations with her affair to be good for either one of you. As you already acknowledge, I don't think she should ever see her former lover again, and I certainly don't think you should have to put up with him, either.
You may have turned a corner in your relationship when you stopped fighting with your wife, and started negotiating with her. In fact, it may have given her hope that you would be able to take her feelings into account in your future decisions. Perhaps she had felt, like so many other wives, that she had very little influence over what you did. And so in frustration, she went her own way and developed an independent lifestyle. But now, she may be starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. She may be thinking that you can be reached, after all.
It's possible that, until recently, your wife has been more comfortable in a separate recreational activity because of the way she felt you were trying to control her when you were together. It may only have been when she was away from you that she felt free to make choices that were in her best interest. But you have introduced a new way to resolve conflicts that takes her feelings into account (the Policy of Joint Agreement), and that's why she is gradually letting you in on her favorite recreational activity.
The most important part of your new relationship has been your willingness not to force your will on her. Unless she agrees with enthusiasm, you are willing to postpone a decision. No one wants to feel controlled, and your new-found sensitivity to your wife's feelings will eventually make you a great recreational companion for her.
However, right now you are walking a tightrope. You are trying to prove that you can be your wife's recreational companion by joining her in skating. But you have feelings, too, and your love for her may be at risk. Her affair has undoubtedly withdrawn a substantial number of love units from your Love Bank, and if you allow yourself to continue to be hurt, sooner or later you will wake up wondering what it was you ever saw in her. Whenever you join her for in-line skating, the memory of her lover, if not his very presence, will keep chipping away at your feelings of love.
So the approach you take toward reconciliation must take your feelings, as well as hers, into account. To help you map out your strategy, let me describe the three stages to marital recovery after an affair.
The first stage is leaving the lover, and your wife may still be in that stage of recovery since she may still be involved with him. Since she is still skating with him, she certainly hasn't left him. That being the case, your participation with her in skating is probably a good idea because it will help reestablish your relationship with her. It already seems to be working. But you can't afford to remain in that state too long, because, as I already mentioned, the pain you are experiencing will eventually destroy the feelings of love you have for her.
The first stage comes to an end when your wife agrees never to see her lover again the rest of her life. That may seem like a long way off, but the more you learn to negotiate with her, the more concerned she will be about your feelings, too. It will be the inevitable outcome of negotiating with the Policy of Joint Agreement. That will probably mean choosing a new recreational activity where she does not risk meeting her lover.
The second stage of marital recovery is withdrawal from the addiction to the lover. Your wife will experience a very deep depression once she ends all contact with him and knows she will never see or talk to him again the rest of her life. For some it takes six months or longer to come out of this state of depression, but for most people it lasts about three weeks. I sometimes recommend anti-depressant medication, obtained through your doctor, to help get through this stage of recovery.
During this second stage, I would encourage you to try to spend time together recreationally, but because your wife will be suffering from so much depression, there will not be much you can do to cheer her up, or deposit love units into her Love Bank.
The third stage is rebuilding your marriage with the Policy of Joint Agreement. It is at this time that you will learn to become each other's favorite recreational companions. The decisions you make will be with mutual enthusiasm, and neither of you feel controlled or manipulated by the other.
When you finally get back to enjoying your leisure time together, you will not only be depositing love units into each other's Love Banks, but you will also be protecting your marriage from another affair. After getting through the nightmare you have experienced, I don't think you will ever risk separate recreational activities again. It's just too dangerous.