Watch out for Mister Enlightenment! He's a backdoor man!

My wife has an intense relationship with an "enlightened" man -- should I let him come over and give our kids music lessons?

Published July 13, 2006 11:30AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

My wife of 15 years has developed a deep, not quite sexually intimate relationship with an enlightened man, with whom she says she can talk like a girlfriend, share soulful conversation and feel a very deep spiritual connection like we never did. They came to the point of talking about proceeding to sex, but backed off; they resolved to be deep, loving, spiritually connected, irreplaceable friends who are noble and disciplined in their meditation and other times together to ensure harmony. So they said, after I discovered a shockingly romantic note in my wife's handwriting. Turns out that it was written months ago, and she claims they have passed through that phase without breaking their vows. (He is married too.) They agreed together not to go there.

But now, I imagine them as romantic lovers -- because they still want to be, and would be if she was not bound by my morality of monogamy. My wife wants an open marriage -- I don't -- but she says she is committed to our marriage. (Two children make a big difference.) She says she basically wants to experience more connections, more intimacy with other men and women. "It is only natural!"

She says she will respect our marriage, has not "cheated" ever and will essentially put up with the constraints of this happy prison.

1) How do I deal with the other man friend, whom she wants to come to our house, teach her and our kids music lessons, etc.? This is the man who loves my wife and whom she loves perhaps more deeply, or in a more soul-mate style, than me? This is the man who romanced my wife.

2) How do I deal with the fact that she wishes for and encourages an open marriage, trying hard to make me (help me) feel good about that, encouraging me to have sex with one of her friends and being open to my pursuing intimate love with others if I wish? She is entirely nonpossessive in this regard. Will this always be hard for one of us?

I am freaking out. Sometimes I deal with this OK, once I become trusting that she and the other man have not and will not become sexually intimate. But then I see she wishes she could. In fact, she wishes she could with more people! Perhaps hardest of all is learning from her that she is somewhat bored with me and our sex life -- not our positions, but my "energy."

Please help with some counsel.

OK with my own energy

Dear OK,

Your wife has met a man and fallen for him. They are having an affair. It is what you might call an "unconsummated" affair, but it is an affair.

As a result, you feel bereft, abandoned. Not only that, but you are also confused, because your wife is treating this as something other than an affair -- as a spiritual quest, a chaste apprenticeship, a healthful seminar in better living good for the whole family.

Terminology is important. So let's call this an affair, and let's refer to her lover not as "an enlightened man" but as "the cheater."

So your wife is having an affair that threatens your marriage, and she's pretending to be honest about it but is not really being honest about it. In being halfway honest, she is wounding you in deep, targeted but plausibly deniable ways -- by saying that it's your sexual "energy" that she objects to, for instance: It's so vague as to be both deniable and shattering.

How do you respond to this threat?

You defend yourself. You defend your children and your marriage. So do not let this man come to the house to give your children music lessons! Do not welcome him into the house at all. This man is a threat, pure and simple.

If you try to accept what is happening and live with it, I think you will become increasingly more unhappy and will end up divorced anyway. The difference is that you will have spent much time in fruitless, agonized accommodation.

Nor can you help your wife through this difficult time. This a threat; this is not something your wife is going through that you can help her with.

And do not grant your wife the power to define the situation by using her terminology. Stop calling this man "enlightened."

Call him the cheater. And stick to the facts: Under the current rules, this is wrong. This is not what you signed up for.

He wants what you have. You don't want to give it to him. So back him off your property.

Seriously. Show some threat. Make him afraid. Back him off. If he thinks that your stance indicates that you are less enlightened than he is, so be it. You signed up for a certain kind of life, and he has stepped in and is trying to change that.

So back him off long enough, at least, to give you time to deal with your wife directly. Ask her not to see him until you and she can come to terms. Tell him directly that he's not allowed to play with your wife until you and she come to an understanding.

In dealing with her, you have to decide which way to go. You can stay and fight for your wife. Or you can file for divorce. It's not for her to decide. It's for you to decide. You have to search your heart and try to know if she is lost to you. It may be that when you contemplate the idea of divorce, you feel a great burden lifting. It may be that divorce is what you really want.

But assuming that you want her back, you have to make a reasonable effort to bring back the relationship -- just the way guys in an ambulance have to try to resuscitate someone who appears to be dead.

I have a feeling that this "energy" your wife is talking about is eros, or passion, love of life, the healthy capacity to recognize a threat and respond to it. Perhaps your wife will respond to an honest show of power and clarity.

Come on like Tarzan and see if Jane wakes up.

It might turn out that Jane can't hear your call, that she's already left with the great white hunter who speaks in quasi-mystical Latinate cant.

Fine. The thing is over. She has ruined it. She has gone away.

At that point, I think you have to divorce.

Meanwhile, you have discovered yourself. You have recognized that it is not your job to accommodate your wife, but to be a husband to her.

Divorce has certain unalterable effects on kids, and I'm not a big fan. But I don't trust your wife. I fear she is the kind of person who broadcasts her deep unhappiness in complicated, deniable ways, so that people around her don't really know what to believe or how to feel. I think kids are sometimes better off with a situation they can at least understand: Mom and Dad split up.

If you were to decide to stay together "for the sake of the kids" in a marriage of mutual contempt, you might not be doing them any favors. You would merely school your kids in living a lie, conducting a marriage with simmering contempt, regret and unhappiness till death do you part. That isn't really what you want to show them. You want to show them that sometimes the unexpected happens between people, and they separate, but they can still live good honest lives and seek happiness.

Watch out for Mister Enlightenment, and lock the kitchen door.

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