This week Dr. Gail Saltz answers two readers with related questions:
Dear Dr. Gail: You say that the way to revive a boring marriage is to invest energy and interest in each other, not in a different partner. What if there is no desire to invest in your husband?
I haven't been in a terrible marriage by any means. I'm 36 and have a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old, but met someone who provides me most things lacking in my marriage: Desire, passion, communication, happiness, fun, respectfulness, maturity, responsibility, etc.
Don't get me wrong — my husband is a nice guy and a good dad. I just find that my communication with him is nil. It's pleasant enough, for the most part, but not challenging or interesting. Perhaps I've married the wrong man? Is it ever right to leave a spouse for another person?Dear Dr. Gail: You have answered questions about women attracted to unavailable men. What if you are attracted to an unavailable man, but were not looking to be attracted to anyone in the first place?
The relationship just happened while on a group trip. There was all the initial compatibility, the sense of knowing each other forever, a sense of "fatedness," respect, admiration, and sexual attraction. Both of us are married with kids, with neither looking to get out of the marriage, even though mine has been difficult for many years.
I fell head over heels for this guy. His feelings are similar, though less intense. We want a relationship, but how do I figure out if this is really love or just infatuation? It has been 25 years since I felt "in love." It's a new concept at this point. And how do we figure out where to go with this relationship? In short, how do you know when a relationship is worth the pain, the risks, the stress?
Dear readers: Feelings wax and wane. Marriages do not stay eternally fresh and new, lusty and ideal. Every marriage goes through tough, boring, stressful times. This is true for your current marriage, it would be true if you had married a different man, and it will remain true if you shuck your husband for someone else.
The first reader muses about marrying the right or wrong man. Certainly, you need to marry a man suitable for you. Once you do, the future of your marriage is up to you — meaning both of you — and not to some kind of cosmic fate.
You both say you were not on the hunt for another man. Yet the fact that you were receptive to the attention of another man is a clue that something is not working so well at home. I strongly suggest you direct your attention toward your husband rather than letting yourself grow ever closer to a new guy.
If you are emotionally involved with some other man, you cannot concentrate on your own marriage. You are distracted, which necessarily means you are focusing your attention in the wrong place.
Certainly, there is an undeniable thrill to a new relationship. This rush simply cannot be replicated by an existing relationship. That’s not how the human brain works. But newness wears off. The brain chemicals involved in the addictive quality of new love eventually calm down.
If you did remain involved with these new men, at some point the mundane would take over. You would get sick of the new guy, too. If you have a personality type that needs to continually succumb to this kind of excitement, you will have trouble sustaining a marriage.
Marriage is not about newness. It is about having an intact family and a stable relationship with someone compatible who shares your life history. That means, yes, forgoing some of the thrill of the new.
When you marry, you give up one thing for another. There’s an opportunity cost to marriage, as for many things in life. The choice of one man as your husband closes the door on the choice of another man. Being married takes maturity, awareness and, sometimes, self-discipline.
It’s a copout to blame your husband for being boring or difficult. There once was a time when he was interesting and sweet, or you wouldn’t have chosen to marry him. Renewed attention to your marriage can recapture this. These husbands don’t sound like bad guys. They sound fine. You didn’t write to me lamenting your blah marriage. You wrote to me only when a new man came along.
The first reader asks whether it is ever right to leave a spouse for another person. I think you should leave a spouse because you have a horrible spouse. If your husband is truly awful, if you harbor contempt for him, if he beats you or abuses the kids, then it’s a good decision to leave him. But leaving a good guy to take a chance on someone else rarely has the blissful outcome you expect.The second reader asks: “How do you know when a relationship is worth the pain, the risks, the stress?” In your case, you are not giving up a life of singlehood to embark on a relationship with an available man. There’s a lot you are giving up and little you are gaining.
Are you giving up a stable family, a house, a home? Are you gaining a murky promise from a man who also must give up the same? Who might or might not change his mind? Who might resent you for breaking up his marriage? Who decides the cost of being a homewrecker is too high? Who will likely become boring himself in a few years?
You write that this man’s feelings are “less intense” than yours. It sounds to me that you are indulging a fantasy. You also say neither of you wants out of your marriage. And yet, with an edge of contradiction, you say your marriage has been difficult for some time. I wonder: Would you say this if you didn’t have this titillating new man as a catalyst?
As to “where to go” with this relationship? It’s hard to see that any kind of healthy “relationship” could exist given the circumstances you present, since your choices are either a divorce, an affair or a more-than-friendship that is threatening to both marriages. I think you have answered your own question. You go nowhere.
I also note that both of these readers are in vulnerable stages of life. The first is a mother of young children. A longing to escape the demands of this life stage can easily spur fantasies about someone else. The second has been married 25 years, which is long enough to require that a couple actively reinvigorate their marriage.
Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: The feelings in a marriage ebb and flow. The thrill of a tempting new guy who unexpectedly sweeps you off your feet is only temporary and not worth destroying a good marriage for.