What to Do When You (or Your Spouse) Becomes
Pregnant with a Lover's Child
Dear Dr. Harley,
This afternoon my wife, Robin, gave me the most shocking revelation of my life. And she said she did it on your advice. So I am writing you for help. How should I handle this?
She told me that she had been unfaithful to me for about 3 years, and my 2 year old daughter is not mine. It is the daughter of her lover. I am devastated.
Robin has been the love of my life throughout our 12 year marriage, but has been very withdrawn from me these past five years. I did not understand what was happening to our marriage, but now I know. She says she broke off the relationship with him shortly after she became pregnant, and she wants us to work things out with me. But I don't sense any real remorse on her part. After she told me these horrifying details, she just walked out of the room. I need some reassurance that she really loves me and wants to be married to me.
I also need some advice regarding what we should eventually tell our daughter, and whether I should ever let her father see her. What are the chances that we can work this out? Please help!
It will take a few weeks for all of this to settle in, and during that time, your emotions will take you on a roller-coaster. I recommend that you see your doctor as soon as possible and tell him about your crisis. He may be willing to prescribe an anti-depressant medication for you to help you cope with the shock of these revelations. You need to be as intelligent as possible, and this is no time to let your emotions make decisions for you.
There are two rules that guide marriages to safety and enjoyment. They are the Policy of Radical Honesty and the Policy of Joint Agreement. The Policy of Radical Honesty is radical. It requires couples to be completely honest with each other, and your wife has taken the first step in applying that rule to her marriage with you -- she has chosen to be honest with you about the affair and the paternity of her daughter. It may be the first time since you have been married that she has made herself so vulnerable. Use this information wisely, and don't hurt her, even though she has hurt you deeply. You have a very good chance of making the best of what could be a tragic situation. You can create a marriage that will not only survive this, but thrive.
But honesty takes you only so far in marriage. While it helps get the facts out on the table, you must make wise decisions once the facts are known. That's why the Policy of Joint Agreement is as important as honesty. I feel that a decision agreed upon enthusiastically by you and your wife is more likely to be wise than any decision that one of you finds troublesome. So as you and Robin wrestle with these difficult problems, don't make any decision until you have considered enough alternatives to find one that meets with your enthusiastic agreement.
The first decision you will face is whether or not to continue being married at all. Your wife's affair is bad enough, but now you are faced with the prospect of raising someone else's child. It may sound strange for you to apply the Policy of Joint Agreement to the issue of whether or not to be married. You may think that it is for you and you alone to decide. But you are not divorced yet, and your wife has valuable wisdom to inject into your thinking. Her perspective may contain some of the most important information you will need to help you make an enthusiastic decision, so don't ignore it.
You are wondering if Robin really loves you and wants to be married to you? And you wonder why she doesn't seem to feel any remorse? Those questions would be answered as you discuss your future together in an effort to find enthusiastic agreement. Once you reach a joint agreement, you will understand her in a way that you never have in the past. That's the way enthusiastic agreement works. It's only possible when you understand each other.
There are many important issues to consider in deciding your future together. If your daughter were your only child, and if your wife were still in love with her ex-lover, who happened to be single and wanted to marry her, I would lean toward encouraging you to divorce. But since she is the mother of your two children, no longer loves her ex-lover, and wants to save her marriage, I would encourage you to remain married and raise all three children together.
There are many considerations that tug at a decision to marry or divorce, and as you discuss them with your wife you will probably find a clear answer that gains your mutual and enthusiastic agreement.
If you decide to remain married and create a mutually enjoyable future together, then the next decision you will need to make is how to treat Robin's former lover. Should he become a part of your family, with visitation rights as well as financial responsibility for raising his daughter? Or should he be out of your lives entirely?
The path to surviving an affair begins by never seeing or talking to the other person in the affair again. Without that condition, survival is essentially impossible. So it's extremely important for Robin to avoid seeing or talking to him ever again. Granted, the affair may be over, but I am always concerned about the possibility of it becoming rekindled.
You are under no legal obligation to prove through DNA testing that the child is the other person's. If he tries to make any contact with your wife or the child, hire an attorney to try to prevent any contact. But if, for some reason, it is impossible to keep him away from his daughter, I suggest that you find an intermediary, so that whenever he has visitation, he does not see or talk to Robin or you.
Another very difficult issue is whether or not to tell your daughter who her natural father is. I would encourage you to wait until she is 21, because she may want to encourage him to become part of your family. That would create problems for all of you that would put your marriage at risk.
On the other hand, I would not lie to your daughter. If she were to ask you directly if you are her natural father, I would tell her the truth. But I wouldn't tell her who her father really is until she is 21. I think it's more important for your daughter to know she can trust what you say, than that she thinks you are her natural father. Regardless of who her natural father may be, you will be the father that cares for her most for the rest of her life, and she will know that about you as you raise her into adulthood.
Once you make these decisions, you have many more decisions to make, but they can all strengthen your relationship with Robin if they follow the Policy of Joint Agreement. While your situation is tragic, if you make wise decisions regarding your future, you will minimize the damage. And your new way to make decisions will greatly improve your lifestyle and marriage, improvement you have needed very badly.
I strongly recommend that you and Robin read my book, Surviving an Affair. It will guide you through a very successful plan for recovery that has saved thousands of marriages that have faced the tragedy that you are experiencing.