Source: Michele Weiner-Davis, LCSW
Years ago, I had an affair. My wife found out, and I stopped the affair. But I can’t get the other woman out of my mind. Did I make a mistake ending the affair? Should I have left my wife?
When people decide to end affairs, they often expect the feelings about their affair partners to fade away in short order. After all, they have made conscious decisions to reinvest in their marriages, so shouldn’t the longing for their paramours simply go away?
Although the saying Out of sight, out of mind often has merit, when it comes to infidelity, it often doesn’t work that way. This is particularly true if the affair was long-lasting, deeply meaningful and/or sexually passionate. People frequently say that their affairs made them feel greatly appreciated, sexier than they’d felt in years and even “alive again”—and it’s hard for whatever comes afterward to compete with that.
That’s why when an affair ends, even if it’s for all the right reasons, there’s a sense of loss. With loss comes grief. Sometimes when people grieve over an affair that has ended, they feel guilty about the grief. They tell themselves they “should” be over the relationship. To compound matters, betrayed spouses seem to have radar for their partners’ lingering feelings of love or lust for their affair partners and often (understandably) become upset and accusatory, only adding to the complexity of the situation.
The truth is, overcoming loss takes time. Feelings do not come and go on a schedule. Judging oneself for reflecting on the importance of an affair and mentally reliving meaningful moments only serves to prolong the challenges in letting go—but it’s all understandable.
That doesn’t mean you have to just live with it. Rather than allow your continued thoughts about the affair to make you question the wisdom of staying in your marriage, why not ask yourself the reasons you decided to end the affair and recommit to your wife in the first place? Did you value your history together? Were you unwilling to break up your family? Did you realize that despite your decision to have an affair, you really love your wife? Is there a part of you that recognized that in many ways, the excitement of the affair was just that it was a responsibility-free relationship? Did you recognize that your marriage would improve if you funneled your energy toward your spouse rather than your affair partner?
Chances are you had good reasons for deciding to stay in your marriage. Don’t lose sight of that. At the same time, don’t judge yourself for having lingering thoughts about the past. And after considering all the above, if you still feel torn about your decision to remain with your wife, you can seek professional help to sort things out. Be sure to reach out to a therapist who specializes in marriage therapy. Although the best way to find a referral is word-of-mouth, you also can search through a directory on the website for the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT.org).