Your old girlfriend is the “what if” fantasy. Instead of dealing with whatever is going on with you that you can’t be happy with what sounds like a working and in many ways satisfying marriage, you are avoiding the issue by choosing to get caught up in the fantasy instead. Romantic emails are wonderful. Stolen moments can seem sweet, partly because they are stolen. The daily life of kids, bills, household tasks, and job can seem like a grind in comparison. Both you and your “other woman” have young kids. Let’s face it: However much we love them, managing it all is exhausting. There are probably many days when it feels like it’s all you can do to get everything done and then collapse into bed. It’s hardly the stuff of romance but it is the stuff of family life – which has a sweetness of its own if you choose to see it.
My opinion is that you and the high school flame have gone back to high school and the self-involvement of adolescents. You are both playing with the fantasy, thinking it will be different if you ditch your present life and go off into the sunset with each other. It won’t. You’ll be dealing with angry and hurt spouses. You’ll be managing “visitations” with confused and resentful children who don’t want to share you with someone else’s kids and a step-parent. You’ll be managing the complicated finances of child support and daily maintenance.
If the dilemma is “settle” or “soulmate,” there’s no contest. But that’s not the whole story by a long shot. There are two loyal partners who have done nothing to deserve the infidelity of you and your old flame and six (count them – 6!) kids whose lives would be forever changed if you go through with your plans. You and your soulmate will most likely quickly find that daily life doesn’t measure up to a distant fantasy.
Trust yourself. What you’re calling “guilt” may be the voice of some measure of common sense. Stop all contact (and I do mean ALL contact) with your fantasy girl and get yourself into some counseling, first for yourself, and then with your wife. At 40, you’re right on time for something like a midlife re-evaluation of the choices you’ve made and how to move forward with the second half of life. This is a time when you could be gaining the depth, maturity, and wisdom that comes from meeting the challenge of a full family life. The pain of the regret you’ll eventually feel if you turn away from that challenge is nowhere near as painful as doing your therapeutic work.
I wish you well.