Affair healing Blog
Don't Tell Me It's Not Real Love!
I've written openly about my affair story. My past provides me with a particular insight into the experience of an unfaithful partner and how a person can make life-changing choices that spin the heads of confused observers.
Because they prefer certainty over confusion, the onlookers (including the betrayed partner) often seek black-and-white explanations. They do this to understand WHY this happened, or to present a convincing argument that will compel the wayward spouse toward sensibility.
One common explanation of an affair is that it is a fantasy—the experience of something that seems real, but isn't. This condition is also referred to as wandering in an "affair fog." While I agree that understanding the fantasy and fog nature of an affair may be helpful to the unsettled witnesses and victims of infidelity, it will not persuade the cheater to think differently about their experience.
It didn't persuade me. The flood of advice poured over me during my affair usually included a heavy dose of "you're living a fantasy" and "this isn't real love, you know." On some level, I understood those assertions. In the past, I'd said the same things to others. But these arguments have more power on the outside of an affair than inside of one.
You should avoid the "this isn't real love" debate with anyone claiming to have an emotional connection to their affair partner. Here's why:
1. You seldom change an emotional conclusion with a reasonable argument.
Betrayed spouses are frustrated when their partner fails to be convinced by all the anti-affair evidence presented to them. The strong case against their behavior, backed up with stacks of books and lists of websites, is easily rejected.
Unfortunately, the injured spouse often concludes that they must "try harder" to be convincing. But these attempts will only lead to more conflict, not resolution.
2. The feelings of an affair are real (and powerful).
During my affair, whenever a conversation turned to "this isn't really love," I stopped listening. It may not have seemed like real love to them, but it felt like real love to me. Attempting to convince me that my experience wasn't authentic was as effective as telling a crack addict their high isn't real. It was so real to me, in fact, that I had an addict's desperation to keep feeling it.
Even those who might occasionally worry about the permanence of their new relationship will continue to hold on to it for as long as the pleasure outweighs the pain.
3. There is evidence to the contrary.
The unfaithful person may acknowledge that affair relationships seldom last and even recognize the disastrous consequences caused by the infidelity of others, but evaluate their own condition by focusing on the exceptions.
Although fewer than 5% of affairs continue into long relationships, the 95% usually believe they are among the minority. They will point to whatever success story they can find as the example of their experience.
"You know Mike & Laura. Their relationship started as an affair and they've been together for over 20 years."
"Cindy left her marriage and she's still got a good relationship with her kids. Our kids are resilient, too; they'll be okay after they adjust to the change. And wouldn't it be better for them to have a mother who's happy?"
Without effort, they twist logic so that it fits into the belief that their affair will be a success story.
Then how should you respond to a spouse who claims to be in love with someone else?
1. Refuse to debate the issue.
You, standing on the side of reason, may have clarity that your partner is lacking, but you are the last person to convince them of it. They likely consider you as part of their problem, not their solution. Your carefully crafted arguments will pop like water balloons against their formidable defenses.
You won't win the debate, so don't even try.
2. Acknowledge their feelings.
I'm not suggesting that you accept or approve of your wayward spouse's "love," but recognize they may be experiencing something that feels so much like love there is practically no difference. In psychological terms, we call this limerence. Limerence is a state of mind resulting from romantic attraction that typically includes obsessive thoughts and fantasies, characterized by a longing to have one's feelings reciprocated by the person whom they desire.
What they feel is probably shallow and temporary, but if they claim their love is deep and eternal, why argue? Since you stand outside their experience, your denials of it will either be ignored or attacked.
Choose to take a perspective like this: I know what you're experiencing is real to you, so I won't waste time trying to talk you out of it. I'll be honest, it's hard for me to make sense of it because of our history, because of the person I thought you were, because it's hard for me to understand how healthy love can be so willing to hurt others. But this is something you're going to have to figure out on your own. I need to take care of myself.
3. Make smarter choices then your spouse is making.
If you start letting emotions dictate what is "right" for you to do (attack, beg, control, manipulate, etc.), then you will get sucked into a dysfunction similar to your spouse's. My Recovery Manual for Betrayed Spouses (especially chapters 3 & 4) gives specific steps for making healthy choices in this situation, but the bottom line is this: you have the choice to either focus on changing your spouse or changing yourself. Don't waste energy by attempting to change what is out of your control.
My affair ended many years ago. So did my first marriage. I know about consequences and regret. That is why I am passionate about helping others to minimize their regrets and move more quickly toward hope and healing.
Now I have a very different perspective of my affair than I did when I was in the middle of it. When people ask me, "Do you think you really loved your affair partner?" I think they want me to say, "No, I did not. It was nothing but a fantasy." But that wouldn't be the truth.
The truth is, I eventually started to love her. The initial "high" of that relationship seemed just as intense as any new romance I experienced, perhaps even a bit more-so because of the secrecy involved, but it eventually became more than that. That is a danger of infidelity—our compromises can lead us to places we never intended to go.
Here's what I can see now that I couldn't see then: our love was born out brokenness in each of us. The cracks in our foundation eventually started to cause problems. If we had stayed together, I have no doubt that we would have been another addition to the 95% statistic.
What I can honestly say is this: Instead of taking the perilous steps that led me into an affair, I should have risked the kind of vulnerability that could have changed my marriage. But once I gave my heart to someone else, I had little interest in taking it back again.
But what once seemed so intensely fulfilling became my deepest regret. Our longings can take us down many promising paths, but they don't always lead to a satisfying destination.
8/3/2017 08:21:34 am
My husband of 32 years has recently filed for divorce so he can marry a Thai Bar girl 36 years younger than him. He said he's never felt this way before and they are both deeply in love with each other. I am devastated beyond words but he is so sure that he is making the right decision. I hope he regrets leaving me and his kids.
8/3/2017 08:34:01 am
Unfortunately, that's a much-too-common scenario. Like the article states, I'm sure he believes he's really deeply in love. That will, eventually, feel much different to him but I don't think you necessarily need to wait around until that happens. He would need to experience some profound changes before you should ever trust him again.
8/3/2017 09:28:06 am
I definitely felt I loved my affair partner when I was in the affair. He presented himself as my soulmate and eventually broke up his family and wanted me to leave with him, consequences be damned. My husband telling me, "That's not love!" didn't resonate at the time because I felt he had an agenda, which was to get me to end the affair. I used to read stories of the 5% who turned their affairs into long-term relationships and think it could be me.
8/3/2017 11:12:47 am
Thank you for your insight, K. It sounds like you learned some good lessons, too. We never stop learning this stuff! :)
8/3/2017 09:31:06 am
Ted's feelings are unfortunately typical of men who find it easier to move on then to fix what they broke. These avoidant types do not make for good spouses. They help little in conflict resolution and as you see from Ted's comments they are ego centric (acknowledge their feelings- let the therapist do this... don't buy into this). I say just move on to another person who is an adult.
8/3/2017 11:05:12 am
(It's Tim, not Ted.) Moving on to another person is always a choice, often the healthiest one. But the standard of "those avoidant types don't make for good spouses" would probably disqualify most marriages. There is usually at least one partner who tends to avoid.
8/3/2017 10:16:30 am
My husband of 10 years left me and 2 children when I was 12 weeks pregnant with our third child. He is with someone over 10 years younger than him. I had to go through pregnancy and birth on my own and he doesn't see his new baby very often. The children used to be his world but now the new woman is. He is talking about divorce and marriage with her and starting again. We have been together 17 years but it's like I have never meant anything to him. He is moving at such a fast pace to break up everything we once had and start over.
8/3/2017 11:11:16 am
An all-too-familiar story. I'm sure he justifies these shifts, but it will probably get harder to do so as time goes on. Parents who were once connected to their children but then disconnect in order to pursue an affair will often face significant regret down the road, not to mention the damage that can be done to the family.
8/7/2017 02:27:38 pm
Does anyone know how my situation is likely to pan out based on others similar. He has just announced that he is moving in with his AP and has introduced my children to her behind my back. She is decorating my WS house with photos of the two of them my children tell me. I don't know how much more I can take, I just long for our family to be put back together again. My WS parents have also accepted the situation and seem to be welcoming her despite our baby only just being 3 months old...again is this normal? I feel so betrayed. It has been a year already and still seems to be getting stronger. Is this now classed as a long term relationship? Will it last?
8/3/2017 01:15:20 pm
My husband of 22 years left me and our 5 kids for a woman who works with him and has 3 kids of her own that he spends more time with than his own. She was with her ex husband for 17 years and they divorced I'm not sure why and the affair with my husband started. He told me one day he loved her and wanted a divorce. Within months we were divorced and now he's just horrible with me. Treats me horribly, talking down to me, humiliating me and just angry with me but yet I did nothing wrong. I gave him everything he asked for, didn't put up a fight at all. I don't understand the aggression. I love him very much but have decided to walk away completely and not even be friends for the kids sake. Why is he so angry with me?
5 years a cuckold
8/3/2017 02:35:27 pm
What about the scenario where there is real love. My wife was in an affair for 5 years. It was with her first love from College. Over time, she fell out of love with me. I could tell, and asked her why, she said she didn't know but would try hard. I have seen their instant-messenger chat sessions and e-mails, I have seen the gifts he gave her. For 5 years, when I would go out of town, they would meet 1-2 times per month.
8/4/2017 07:22:35 am
Yes, you have the right to answer that question, especially if your marriage was established on a promise that it would remain true. But if you ask it, be ready for an honest answer. And if she doesn't only love you, then how long would you wait until she does... if she does. Some might even argue that you should step out of relationship when one person decides to change the rules.
Trying to Heal
8/3/2017 02:46:44 pm
My husband of 20 years had a long term EA with a coworker. We are 18 months from discovery day, working hard to reconcile, but it was such a long term affair I have a hard time moving forward. I knew they were close for a long time and begged him to stop his "friendship" but it never worked. The years of knowing that my husband KNEW what he was doing and did it anyway are what hurt the most. And now - they still work together. (That's a long story.) He assures me it is strictly work related if they have to talk. Nothing personal and I admit I've watched his e-mail without him really knowing and I don't see anything that indicates I can't trust him. He has changed a lot. Our marriage has changed. He is remorseful. We have done counseling and finally this summer he had some real emotional breakthroughs about the whys. I haven't yet felt that it is a deal breaker that they work together, but I admit it does slow my healing down a bit. Thanks for some of your writings - it helps me keep things in perspective. What I didn't anticipate was how hard it is to really let go of the past that can't be changed, work on changing what I can control - ME - and really living in the here and now. I think sometimes I keep us from moving forward by continually bringing up the past...my hurts, my fears, my pain.
8/3/2017 04:53:36 pm
I found out on July 10 through a text on my husband's of 14 years' cell phone that he has been cheating on me. We have two younger kids and I'm devastated; I don't understand WHY?????
5 years a cuckold
8/3/2017 05:19:43 pm
You should look at the positives. At least your husband is being remorseful. My wife (7 months after discovery) still seems more annoyed that she had to give up her lover. She says she loves me, but more like a cousin, but that she wants to fall back in love with me, but isn't there yet. In my case, it was her first love, from college, 22 years later. I don't if I will ever understand the "WHY".
8/4/2017 07:27:36 am
It's never a good sign when the betrayed partner is doing more of the recovery work than the unfaithful one. Your frustration will likely continue.
8/5/2017 07:23:37 pm
I don't believe in not telling your ws that it is a fantasy --it is. They need to hear honesty. Of course you can't control them but if I hadn't of woken my ws out of the fog he would most likely be married to her and divorced again. True love is not dishonest- it doesn't creep around in the dark. I told him I was the only one truly in his corner because it was the truth. If they take you away from your family and home they will leave you alone in the end. She did not really care for his eternal welfare because she was breaking up a family and the whole thing is a sin. Tim- You shouldn't tell people you loved your ap- if it was love you wouldn't have to hide. You would have been honest. Say what the hell you want to your spouse because their heads are not on straight and if you can get them just to go to counseling with you --to either figure out a divorce or salvage a marriage- they should learn quickly and from another source than you of the poor decisions, dishonesty, and their brokenness that led to an affair. (Their fault. And stop blaming you) obviously I am a ws.
8/5/2017 10:35:12 pm
To be clearer, I don't think there is anything wrong with being honest with the WS and telling them they're walking down a familiar path that many before have realized was more fantasy than reality. What I am encouraging betrayed spouses not to do is get caught up into debate or argument.
8/6/2017 09:20:16 am
Of course I meant betrayed spouse. I just get confused because it is the ws who is full of bs. :)
8/8/2017 09:37:24 am
You have every right to tell your WS that the affair is a fantasy and not love, but speaking from experience, they are not likely to be in the headspace to receive your advice. Nothing about an affair is logical. Until and unless the AP is really out of the picture, the WS will likely be powerfully drawn to the affair and disregard someone else's interpretation of their feelings. It's unfair, but it is reality.
8/7/2017 11:26:30 am
I think your comparison of your feelings of love for your affair partner to a crack high is very important. I believe affairs have much more in common with drug addiction than any real relationship. What people love is the high, not really the person. People having affairs behave exactly as drug addicts do - they don't care how their actions affect everyone around them (like spouses or children that they claim to "love") all they care about is getting the drug. Anything that threatens to get in the way of their high triggers rage, manipulation - whatever it takes to maintain that high. I think betrayed spouses should be given the same advice that families of addicts are given at organizations like Al Anon - You didn't cause it; You can't control it; You can't cure it. I believe betrayed spouses should take all focus off of their cheater & place it directly on themselves - what do YOU want in your future/marriage? What's acceptable to YOU? Draw your boundaries & stick to them. Easier said than done, of course - but you can't make an addict stop using. Only they can do that.
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Unless otherwise noted, articles are written by Tim Tedder, a licensed counselor and creator of this site and its resources.