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Everyone Loses in an Extramarital Affair

QUESTION: I am having an affair with a married man. We have been seeing each other for two years. He has three children. His youngest daughter is 11-years-old and he has told me that she is the reason he is staying in his marriage. I am finding it increasingly difficult to trust my lover. I get extremely jealous and frustrated and feel like I'm in limbo. Maybe he will never leave his marriage. The thought of him choosing his wife over me makes a part of me despise him and feel so hurt when I realise that I may not be important to him. Please help me to sort out my feelings.

ANSWER: Your beloved wants to "have his cake and eat it too." Yet, the two of you are playing a game in which everyone loses. Do not mistake "having a secret" with him for "intimacy." Your relationship is based on deception. It is not surprising that you lack trust!

You entered into this relationship with your eyes open. You had an opportunity to know that something major was wrong in your lover's marriage and that he was willing to "break the rules" of trust and partnership with his wife. This is more opportunity than his wife had in the situation. It is also likely that your relationship with him supported him to remain in the marriage, rather than get out of it.

You are right to believe that he and not his wife is responsible for keeping you apart. But you must also take responsibility for your suffering.Though it is natural to feel anger towards your lover, it is critical that you reflect on your own reasons for being willing to engage in this illicit love relationship.

Why do you feel the need to be in competition with another woman? Do you feel a special charge at being "chosen" over another? It is possible that you suffer from unresolved feelings about your relationship with your father, and unclear boundaries around your relationship to your mother. It is likely that you were caught between your parents in a manner that left you the "loser." Afterall, Mom is Dad's wife, so if there was unresolved sexual tension between you and your Dad, you would end up "losing" since you cannot compete with your mother!

Don't get me wrong. This "Electra" complex (feeling attractive to Dad as a daughter) is a natural one to work through in childhood. Some child psychologists refer to this natural development as the family "affair." The healthy resolution is for a daughter to feel that her father does see her as an attractive female, but acts in no way that implies she is in competing with his wife. Likewise, Mom acts in no way threatened by her relationship with her father. Psychological and physical boundaries remain intact between generations, and it is abundantly clear to the daughter that she will have a man of her own someday! This implies no need to compete to attain the "special" love you deserve. There is enough love to go around for everyone.

It is also possible that an undeveloped or abandoning relationship with your father could have set you up for feeling a need to be special. Numbness based on neglect could leave you vulnerable to a desire to "win" love through a dramatic competition.

Still, what would happen if you did "win" this man as your own? What would spark your passion when there was no more competition? How will you feel "special" to him? What would being together feel like when you are no longer love bandits together? How will your love affair change in the "open light of day"? in the humdrum of "ordinary" living? Also, consider that you have you may have your own brand of difficulty with intimacy and commitment that have been kept at bay because he was not really available to you from the start.

Take care of yourself. Get into your own individual therapy to get to the roots of your vulnerable attraction to the "false" intimacy of a love triangle. Consider your reasons for being attracted to a man who is unavailable to you and who you have to "win" to have in your life. Accept your responsibility in creating this conundrum. Take action to correct your own involvement in hurting others as well as yourself.

Your lover needs to concentrate on the marriage he is in, before he could possibly be available to create another. Seek to understand your needs and consider letting go of this doomed situation. Give yourself a chance to try a more direct approach to get the love you want. It is hard to ever truly enjoy a relationship that requires that your gain result in someone else's loss. The children, the wife, your lover and you all deserve better!


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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