Dear Chump Lady,
I have evidence that my husband of 12 years is having an emotional affair. I’ve been “laying low,” following your advice for about 6 weeks and collecting evidence. I saw an attorney this week. So far I can find no evidence of a physical affair. There are lots of texts and emails with this tennis partner of his, but no I love yous, can’t wait to see yous, etc. I’m really confused. She seems to use him as a free handyman (fix my wiring, clean my gutters) also. It’s been going on for almost a year as far as I can tell.
I can’t find this answer on your blog: I need to confront him about this person and why he has a relationship with her. There is TONS wrong with it, even if they are not screwing. Do I confront him and just listen to what he says in order to decide how to proceed next? Or do I just tell him to move out so that we can have time to discuss it and see what he will do? His moving out will be very confusing to our 11 and 8 year old daughters. If he moves out, I will lose access to his texts and emails (which I currently have and that he doesn’t hide in any way).
This is the most difficult conversation I will have to have and I am petrified and it is killing my health and my career. It has to happen soon or I will need medical attention from the stress. So I can’t lay low and collect evidence much longer. I need to take action and I want to do things right and he needs to know how serious this is to me.
Also, I want to keep my investigation methods to myself.
I think you’re putting the cart before the horse here, Jill. I’m all for throwing the bums out, lawyering up, protecting yourself after infidelity. BUT — I advise those things a) after you KNOW about a physical affair or an “emotional affair” that has a clear sexual component (sexting, pictures, etc.) and b) if the cheater is completely uncooperative, and c) without remorse.
Unless you’re leaving out some pertinent details, you’ve got a man who spends way too much time with his tennis partner. I think you absolutely owe it to yourself and to your daughters to try and work this out before you go with the nuclear option — divorce lawyers and asking him to move out.
So this is what you do — you confront him. You tell him how devastating his emotional affair is to you, to the point you’ve considered separation and divorce. You demand marriage counseling. You demand transparency — the phone stays open, he shares his passwords, etc. You ask that he make you and your daughters a priority in his life. If he has time to clean another woman’s gutters, he has time to take his daughters skating, or to the birthday party, or shopping. You all deserve to be the number one priority in his life, not Ms. Helpless Tennis Idiot there.
Then, Jill — this is the important part — you watch what he DOES. You’ve made yourself vulnerable. You’ve expressed your hurt and upset. Watch what he does with that. Does he get defensive? Does he minimize his involvement with her? Is he reluctant to be transparent with you? Does he agree to counseling? Will he dump his tennis partner? Will he quit tennis? Will he shift his priorities and his free time away from her and back to his family?
Give him that chance, Jill, before you talk divorce. You know I’m not a big unicorn believer, but assuming this is truly an emotional affair and not a physical one — I absolutely believe you’ve got a shot here at fixing this before it goes further. And you owe it to yourself and your kids to at least give him a chance to straighten up and fly right. An emotional affair is absolutely a betrayal, but IMO it’s a criminal misdemeanor compared to the felony offense of a physical affair.
I think it is absolutely terrific that you are so strong and so ready to impose consequences. You’re way ahead of most chumps there. But I also can’t help but read your letter as a “fuck it, I’m dumping you” response to being hurt. You don’t WANT that conversation. You don’t WANT to give him that chance to reconcile, because you’re so deeply afraid of being rejected further. You fear he won’t do the work. He won’t make you and your girls a priority. He won’t step up. And you’ll get your hopes crushed.
Never giving him that chance is a powerful way of hitting him first. “I’m outta here!” goads him into the pick me dance. But I don’t think chumps should use the manipulation tactics of cheaters. Don’t be that person. Be honest. Tell him what you NEED from him. Be specific. And see what he does with that information.
If he fucks it up, if he takes his EA underground, if he’s not sorry, if he acts like it’s a big burden to be married to you, if he refuses to give her up — then yes, pull out the big guns. You’re nobody’s consolation prize.
For me, physical affairs and cake eating are much more clear cut situations to advise on. Emotional affairs, not so much. I know in my first marriage, before I experienced infidelity, I had poor boundaries. I had lunch with male coworkers, I had a writing instructor who used to tell me his marital woes, I hung out a lot with friends more than my husband (that was mutual, he didn’t much ever want to hang out with me either). In short, I did a lot of things that I can look back on now and see would be upsetting to anyone married to me. I didn’t cross those boundaries, but I absolutely lacked awareness. I was seeking kibbles from people who were not my husband. That did not help my marriage.
He could be that clueless person. Or not. He could also be the sort of person who does want to step outside his marriage physically and is being aided and abetted by his tennis partner. He may not lack awareness. I don’t know a lot of men that will invest a year’s time in a woman unless he hopes to get laid, or is, in fact, getting laid. The problem with emotional affairs is that they sometimes turn out to be the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Cheaters cop to an emotional affair because that’s all you have evidence of, but in fact, it’s already physical. You see this kind of nonsense all the time. Oh, they spent time together in a hotel — but it was only emotional!
Look, Jill, you know enough to know that what is going on is completely unacceptable to you. So speak up. You’ll never what kind of person he is, sorry or not sorry, unless you confront him. So have that difficult conversation right away. Know what your boundaries are and how you will enforce them. That’s all you can do. Let us know how it goes. ((Hugs))