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I've been with my husband for 10 years, and we are still pretty young. He has become infatuated with a woman at work. It started as a ride-share and friendship, and recently developed (to their surprise) to an intense infatuation. He started staying out late nights drinking with the work crew so he could spend more time with her. They have not kissed or had sex, but the touchy-feeliness is there. After I discovered the relationship, he vowed to end it and to try to build stronger bonds with me. But ending it was a lot harder than he thought. It took me finding several communications between them for him to agree to go to therapy and finally tell her they could have no more contact outside of work. Now I'm having trouble trusting him. I break down a lot and he feels so guilty he thinks I'd be better off without him. We are starting couple's therapy soon and he's not in a position to leave his job. I can't compete with this infatuation. We had a short infatuation, but things moved so fast that it dwindled more quickly than I think it should have. He told me that she makes him feel dizzy and that he's never felt like that for anyone before. Am I going to lose him?
Dear Tears for Fears:
I'm a little worried, due to the finding of a few last (we hope) e-mails before he agreed to therapy, and frankly, due to your snooping (I assume you were snooping). Both are bad for both of you.
Given that he has apparently given up the stolen moments with Object of Affection (No more late nights drinking, right? And let's assume his schedule doesn't allow for Don Draper-style unexplained absences from the office, starting at lunch and ending when he damn well feels like ending them?), I can be cautiously optimistic, if a bit concerned about the you-not-trusting-him (understandable!) and him-feeling-like-skulking-off-because-it's-all-ruined-now-anyway parts. Not only will he have to get over her for this to work, you will both have to get over yourselves. The latter may be harder.
Infatuations of the sort your husband had usually require some kind of fuel to keep burning, and if they have stopped seeing each other in any but the most unavoidable and quotidian "Hey, did you get that TPS report?" fashion, it has a good chance of dying down.
The truth is, 10 years in, something like this is to be expected. You could even consider patting yourselves on the back that it took 10 years, rather than the more expected seven (some researchers postulate that humans are programmed to move on after seven years, the time it takes to rear a man-cub to independence) or the alarming four, a figure that shows up in recent research on divorce in Western industrialized countries. Small consolation, I know, but 10 good years is worth a lot!
So what does he say now about the dizziness? Is he still dizzy when he thinks of her, or is it now mostly retroactive dizziness, dizzy with some distance? We've talked about those dizzy spells before in the column. They are a sure sign of "limerence," the crazy part of love, which I described here: "I make a distinction between loving a whole lot and limerence (which differs from infatuation in both duration and intensity), which is not so much a feeling as it is a form of madness, and like other forms of madness is turning out to have a biochemical basis. 'When I think of you my serotonin plummets, my darling! O, how my dopamine soars! My heart pounds with norepinephrine ...'"
Limerence produces sensations not only of lightheadedness but of physical pain or "heartache." It is tremendously exciting, and we tend to assume that anything so compelling must be both real and important. But if you remember that a really great book or a roller-coaster ride can create similar sensations, you realize that it needn't be anything of the kind. The rush can be addictive, though, so let's hope that your husband can give the rush its due and then steer clear. He will need some help, from both you and the therapist. Any sign that he is just nodding and saying whatever will get him out of there the fastest, and I'd start worrying again.
Interestingly, there are 12-step groups not just for the more obvious "sex addicts" but also for "love addicts." They are meant for those who use "love" as a drug to lend meaning to an empty life or excitement to a dull one, not to the ordinary person who, glimpsing something shiny, follows it through the faerie wood and then, realizing he's been briefly enchanted, returns, chastened. Still, understanding that "love" (these are not quite scare quotes, but certainly sneer quotes; I don't think what these seekers are finding deserves the name) can be so powerful a drug may help both of you to forgive him.
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