Dear Nina: I truly feel I'm addicted to my wife. We have been separated for 3 years and we have 3 children together that I have full custody of (yes I'm a male). She lives with another man, and still sees me and a third guy (who is the reason we split up in the first place). I keep telling myself that I'm through, I'm done, yet find myself right back in the same situation a few days later.
It's a vicious cycle. I'm literally on the verge of complete insanity. I love her and I want our family back together. She claims she wants the same, yet she continues to hang out with this younger guy and still lives with the other guy who I honestly don't think has a clue about what she is doing. We've been together for 15 years, separated for 3 of them. I really just don't know how or what to do anymore. Please help me. – Dave, age 39
Dear Dave: You are definitely in the throes of love addiction, defined as the inability to get basic relationship needs met, yet feeling powerless to let go and move on. As I read the story of your wife's lack of character and her infidelity, I feel strangely angry. It sounds like you are the doormat in this relationship and she is wiping her feet on you. Now the truth is, I don't know her or her side of the story, and she might have a very different point of view than yours.
But the odd part of this is that you don't seem angry, and if what you have shared is true, you should at least feel indignant. That tells me that you don't have good emotional boundaries. It seems that you are leaning far too much on the side of being tolerant, and that is sending the wrong message. But before you act, take some time and consider these questions:
- What are your standards regarding fidelity in a marriage? Do you believe in monogamy and want a partner who believes and practices that with you?
- What is the agreement for your separation? Is it "anything goes"? You are both free to explore other relationships? Why, if that's the case? What do you hope to accomplish in your relationship while there are others in the picture?
- What kind of marriage do you want? What values do you hold sacred in life and in marriage?
- Does your wife share your values?
Here is some piece of advice you can use:
- If you believe in monogamy and if you want a marriage that honors that, then you must start there. You and your wife can't work on your relationship while she lives with someone else and "dates" yet another guy. Your first step is to get into a leadership position (not control). Tell her that you want to work on your relationship, and to do that she must move out and either live on her own or move back in with you.
- While you work on things, she has to stop seeing other people. I would ask for a specific time period, minimum six months, and ideally one year. During that time you work exclusively on your relationship and evaluate at the end of the time period. That is a non-negotiable. If she agrees, you might have something to work with. If she refuses to do that, you have nothing, and it's time to face up to the truth. Your marriage is over.
- Now the biggest issue: What is it you want to teach your children about love and marriage? Your decisions and your behavior regarding this dysfunctional relationship are teaching them how to be when they grow up. Do you want them to witness you getting less and less emotionally stable as you hold on to this unhealthy relationship? Who will take care of them and model how to be in life if you don't? As adults, do you want them to suffer the way you are, loving someone who doesn't love them back? Because that is how you are currently teaching them to be. We learn by watching what our parents do, regardless of what they say.
- Now is the time to take charge in your life and model for your children the courage that it takes to move on from something that is bad for you. She will always be their mother and you will have a co-parenting relationship. But you don't have to continue this unhealthy attachment and be her doormat. By letting go of this, you have the opportunity to establish a healthy future relationship (way down the road). By doing so, you will teach your children the fundamentals of self-respect and what real love is all about.
About the author: Nina Atwood, M.Ed., LPC, is a nationally known psychotherapist, author of five self-help books, and frequent expert media guest. Read Nina’s transformational books; for women: Temptations of the Single Girl: The Ten Dating Traps You Must Avoid, and for men: Date Like a CEO: Leadership in Life and Love for Men. To successfully date online, get Nina’s $0.99 cent eBook Internet Dating for the Savvy Single. Get Nina’s free eBook as well as loads of free advice and Love Strategies at www.singlescoach.com.
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