What I find to be remarkably consistent is that most people don't appreciate the relationship they do have until they're about to lose it. This is what happened with Sharon. When Robert found her e-mails to Todd ("I miss you so much…I can't wait to see you," along with complaints about her home life), he was shattered and wanted a divorce. As soon as Sharon realized her husband might leave her, Todd didn't seem quite as thrilling. But saying goodbye to him, which she ultimately decided to do, was wrenching, and Robert isn't sure whether he can forgive her. The three of us are still working on understanding why the affair happened and whether they can agree to rebuild their relationship.
It's much more difficult to make your way back from a betrayal of intimate feelings than to try to refresh a marriage that may have become flat and distant. When you ignore anxiety-inducing thoughts like "I feel stuck—I wish I could run off and have fun or I feel old and dumpy—if only someone would make me feel young and sexy again," you cannot examine or deal with them in a productive manner. Instead, you unwittingly act them out, with potentially devastating results. Any good relationship takes an investment of time, effort, and emotional energy. What few people want to accept is that we can all become Sharon and Robert, and that marriage, while potentially tremendously gratifying, is always a work in progress.
If you had been unfaithful to your mate, who could you count on to keep your secrets?
Gail Saltz is a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at New York–Presbyterian Hospital, and the author of Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie (Morgan Road).
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