Psych Central

Husband had emotional affair.

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

We are married 20 years and have a marriage that is the envy of our friends. My husband and I love each other very much, and are in fact, besotted about each other. We have always had open and frank communication with each other. Yet, about 2 years ago, my husband had what I call an “emotional affair” with a friend of mine. We were very close friends, until I had a disagreement with her, and although we continued to be friends, we were no longer as close to each other as before.

After that, my husband started lying to me about anything to do with her, and started seeing her on the sly whenever I had to travel on work. This went on for 2 years, and since I travel frequently, they met each other very often. There was no physical affair between them, but he became very emotionally attached to her to the point that he even defended her against me in public in front of friends about the disagreement I had had with her. He told her everything about what was happening in our lives, our children’s lives, our holiday plans, his work problems, everything. And it wasn’t as though he was not discussing these same issues with me — he was, but he had to tell her everything too. He would invite her everywhere we went, including family gatherings and dinners, without telling me that he had invited her, so that I’d always be surprised when she turned up. He’d then pretend as though he’d forgotten to tell me, or forgotten he had invited her. It was as though he had to have me, but he had to have her too. Whenever I accused him of lying to me, he kept denying it. It got to a point where we were on the brink of divorce.

I had a huge showdown with him and showed him all the “evidence” I had of his betrayal — the phone calls, the dinners, and the hundreds of lies told to me over 2 years. He admitted everything and apologized, and since then has not kept contact with her in any way. He is now even more loving with me than before and obviously genuinely regrets what he did. But I want to know why he felt the need to lie to me and deceive me for 2 years in the first place, especially considering that he never stopped loving me. He simply refuses to tell me why he did what he did. I understand that he may not have a precise answer to this question, but he even refuses to discuss it or try to understand his own motivations. I am even willing to accept that he may have found something lacking in me that made him do this.

I realize he wants to forget about this because he is ashamed of his behaviour, but for me, the WHY question plagues me night and day. I just cannot understand how someone could betray a person they love so much, not once or twice, as an aberration (which I could accept), but deliberately and regularly over a period of 2 years, and not feel any pang of guilt or conscience during that time. When I tell him that he was infatuated with her, he denies it (or rather, won’t admit it).

I have told him that my intention is not to humiliate him but I simply want to understand why and how he could do so much to hurt me yet love me at the same time. Although things are better between us now, this lack of explanation from him is a stumbling block for me in getting our marriage back to complete normalcy. Perhaps our marriage never will go back to what it was, but I am convinced that understanding why he did it is crucial for me to find peace of mind. He wants me to forget about it and start afresh, and I have tried to do this, but the anger and hurt keep resurfacing every few days. Perhaps it is just hurt pride and a blow to my ego, but for me, just because there was no “affair” in the regular sense of the word, does not make my husband’s behaviour any less of a betrayal. Am I right in asking him for an explanation, or should I, as he wants, just let it go and be thankful that our marriage was saved?

A: Given what you’ve told me about your husband’s love for you, my guess is that if he knew what to tell you, he would. It sounds like he is as mystified as you are. To him, going over and over the issue feels like only reopening a wound he is trying to let heal. Instead, he is doing his best to love you and be a husband to you in every way now. Meanwhile, you hang on to your question.

I do understand why you continue to obsess about the whys. You think that if you knew the answer, you could prevent a similar situation from happening again. You are afraid to make yourself vulnerable to him. Ironically, it is your unwillingness to let go that puts your marriage at risk at this point.

There is nothing more your husband can do to earn your trust. Renewing your trust is a gift you need to give freely to him and to yourself. He can’t go through the rest of his life apologizing, explaining, and worrying that you are reading negative motives into ordinary behaviors. You can’t go through life always worried whether he will betray you again. It’s not a happy future for either of you. Only you can decide if what you have with your husband is worth the risk of making the gift of your trust. If so, accept his apology, close this chapter in your life, and move on.

I wish you both well,
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 9 Jan 2008

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2008). Husband had emotional affair.. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 19, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2008/01/09/husband-had-emotional-affair/