The Rational Basis® of Happiness Podcast

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Lost Love

Should I stay with my unfaithful wife only for the sake of my kids?

(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)


Dr. Kenner:      Jim, you’re wondering whether to stay married?


Jim:                 Yes. I just wanted to get your professional opinion on this.


Dr. Kenner:      Tell me what happened?


Jim:                 My wife had an affair about three years ago, with a co-worker, and then she disclosed it to me and we’ve been working through that and we’ve sought couples counseling and I went to an individual counselor and she went to counseling. It’s important to say we have three children together, three boys.


Dr. Kenner:      How old?


Jim:                 Oldest is 18, then 15, and 10.


Dr. Kenner:      And they all know about the affair?


Jim:                 No, they do not. Some extended family members know, but my children do not know. I’m conflicted here because even though I’ve forgiven her and we’re trying to work through this, something inside of me has died in terms of the feelings toward her, where I feel like I can put up with her and I can make nice for the sake of the kids and most days, we can get along just fine. But I’ll never have, I feel like I’ll never have those same feelings of love which I used to have for her. I’m just torn. Is this a charade that I’m going through that I just need to end, or is this something that gets better and those feelings may return? You might not be able to answer that for me, but I was just curious what your professional opinion on that might be?


Dr. Kenner:      I think you’re the best judge of that. It’s been three years and how long, was it a one-night stand or?


Jim:                 No, it was about a two-year affair.


Dr. Kenner:      Oh my gosh. So it’s significant.


Jim:                 The part that hurts the most is that when she disclosed it to me, she disclosed it because she told me she was in love with this other person and she wanted to leave me for him, but the reason she didn’t is because this person is also married and he rejected her and told her at that point, no, he was done. That’s what hurt the most. She not only did that, but was planning on leaving me and the kids for this other person. That’s what I’m dealing with.


Dr. Kenner:      I’m going to argue that your happiness matters. And you need to weigh some very difficult values, some of the top values in your life. That’s the stability of your kids, how would they handle it? They’re always at delicate ages, but the age of 18, that’s when you start having your first love affairs and relationships and 15 and 10, so they’re at an age where they’re looking at relationships. Maybe not the 10-year-old, but I probably was at age 10. But that’s a significant, significant betrayal. This is not just, “Oh, I got drunk one night and kissed him at the bar and I feel so guilty, so remorseful and I’ll never do that again. Making amends and I really love you and I miss you so much.” What’s happened is you’ve basically, well, let me back up.


One of the most delicious aspects of a romantic relationship is having that at home feeling, feeling really visible, loved, cherished, loved for what you love in yourself, and feeling that you can trust one another and communicate openly. Now, do most couples have that? Very few. But that’s what you strive for. People wouldn’t get married if they didn’t imagine they’d get some of that. In your case, I would say you could stay together for the kids only if you really know your reasons for staying together. For example, if you are not happy in the marriage, you certainly can part ways. And then you have a huge task in front of you, Jim, and that’s figuring out how to part ways while minimizing the damage to the kids.


Jim:                 Yes.


Dr. Kenner:      And I know there’s a book that I’ve recommended many, many times. Helping Your Child Through Divorce, by Florence Bienenfeld. It’s on my website, But that really walks you through what it’s like for kids and how to help them navigate that. You’re saying, do you feel close to her at all? Or are the scars too deep?


Jim:                 Obviously the scars run pretty deep. But we’re still close and she knows, she says that she’s making amends and I take her at her word. But to me, I’m a very involved father and to me, the happiness of my kids and the stability of my kids takes precedence over my own stability and happiness.


Dr. Kenner:      But be careful there. Because I feel that way toward my kids and they just light up my life. I love them to pieces. And I don’t ever want to look at that, when I do something, when I go out of my way for them, I don’t want to package that in my mind as a sacrifice. It isn’t. Because they are my top value, along with my husband and myself. So if you’re doing things for your kids because you don’t like them but you feel duty-bound to do it and it’s a huge sacrifice and you never wanted kids in the first place and it’s a burden but man, you carry that cross – that would be a real sacrifice. But if you love them and they’re one of your top values, and their mental health is really important to you, then you don’t want to lie to them. You don’t want to betray them. That doesn’t mean you have to come out and say, “Your mother had an affair two years ago.” You’d have to figure out how to manage that information if and when it ever came out. But you have a trade-off. Do you want your romantic happiness and to be with the kids? I don’t know how that would affect living arrangements. It’s a big change in your life. So it’s you weighing those. Plus you’ve got financial issues, extended family.


I’m going to recommend two books. One is the one I mentioned earlier, the book I wrote with Dr. Ed Locke. At the very end of that book, there’s a very short appendix. It’s “How to part ways and start over if you cease to be soul mates.” It will walk you through, in a very short, concise way, easy-to-read way, how to turn things around. How to at least evaluate what you want to do. And I did mention the book for the kids. I think you just have to be really good for yourself, to yourself, and figure out do you want a romantic relationship in your life too? And thinking, there are so many aspects. The other book is, and you may have read this one, After the Affair, healing the pain.


Jim:                 I have read that one.


Dr. Kenner:      She’s very good, Janice Abrams Spring. So if you’ve already read that, you’ve got a lot of knowledge that you have and my advice would be cherish yourself. If your kids are your highest value, that will inform you. If your kids are not your highest value, and I hear that’s not the case, then you can shift gears. And you have a right to leave if you don’t enjoy living with your wife. The kids will survive. And sometimes they survive even better.


Movie clip       

Male:               I brought them up here to illustrate the point of conformity. The difficulty in maintaining your own beliefs in the face of others. We all have a great need for acceptance, but you must trust that your beliefs are unique, your own, even though others may think them odd or unpopular. Even though the herd may go, “That’s bad.”


Dr. Kenner:      That’s from Dead Poets Society. We’ve all been in those situations, where you just feel like it’s so much easier to go with the crowd. The crowd may be your family. They say, “Isn’t this woman awful?” and you really like this woman. Maybe she speaks her own mind and your family doesn’t and you agree with what she says, but your family doesn’t, and you just sit there quietly and don’t say anything. You don’t say, “No, I disagree or I see it differently.” You just go along. Or, someone says, “I loved that movie,” or, “I hate that movie,” and you just go along and agree with what they’re saying even though you have different opinions. That is a major mistake in your life, unless you’re in a serious situation and a burglar puts a gun to your head and says, “Do you want to give me your money,” and then you might say yes. But apart from those extreme situations, you want that ability. You want to give yourself the liberty to speak your own mind. And to learn how to do it tactfully, so it doesn’t come across as abrasive and boastful or mean and cutting or cynical, where you can just say what’s on your mind in a way that others can hear it. That takes a lot of skill.