My wife is seeing someone and it hurts more than I expected

We are amicably separated. I thought I had a handle on it. I can't believe the power of my feelings!

Published August 7, 2008 9:57AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I'm not expecting advice to fix anything, but sometimes I think things out a little better when I write to someone.

My wife and I separated about eight months ago. It was as amicable as these things can be (in other words, it was still awful, and it hurt like hell), and we'd left open the possibility of getting back together at some point in the future. We talk frequently, and we have dinner or go out for drinks once or twice a week. We both have some serious issues to work out with ourselves, and it just wasn't working together. We needed some time apart to work things out.

To that end, we've both been dating other people. We don't talk about it directly, but from random clues, I've discovered that she has been getting slightly more serious with another man -- she has even become deceptive with me about it. This is a drastic change in how we interact, and I'm shocked by it. The idea of her seriously dating another man hurts, and I don't know why.

Why? I'm seeing someone at the moment, and while we're not at all serious, I'm happy with how things are going. Why the double standard? It doesn't make any sense to me. I still love her, but I don't know what's going to happen with us, nor am I sure I even know what I want. I do want her to be happy, so why can't I let go and let her be with someone who comforts her instead of reminding her of the bad times we've had together instead of the good ones?

-- d

Dear d,

As I often do I began writing in the cafe but I thought differently on the walk back home. I wrote in the cafe about how men feel and expect to feel and how our expectations for ourselves have changed in response to changes in the status and expectations of women, but on the walk back home the awareness broke on me like a shattering wave: Your marriage is ending. That is what you face.

Your marriage is ending. Loss is coming to you and it is a heavy, crushing loss that you will rail against and curse and defy but it will have the better of you.

It has dawned on you now and you are surprised at the power of it. You are surprised that your thoughts have so little power to change your feelings. You want her back is what you want. You want her to be happy but you want her back even more. It doesn't make sense how much it hurts.

You can't get ahead of it by trying to slow it down. The only way to get ahead of it is to leap. That is why although it may seem too early to take this step I suggest you file for divorce. Face what is happening in your life, as painful as it is. There is nothing shameful in it. You fell in love and hoped it would last and that is not a cliché. It is the bare truth if any truth can be said to be bare.

Admit the truth of it, feel the pain, and take the necessary steps.

You may wish all you want but this is how it ends: a gradual withdrawal laced with sensitive evasions. A couple breaking up tries to remain amicable, to "stay friends," hoping to avoid the crushing jealousy and rage that are known to accompany such things. But there is no shame in being who you are. It doesn't matter why you are the way you are. We do not have to justify ourselves for how we feel. We do not have to conform to an ideal in our hearts. What is in our hearts belongs to us. We may seek to know its roots -- indeed the roots of your surprising jealousy and rage may be in the history of our fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers. Still it is ours, what we feel. And it comes to the surface in a breakup. It comes to the surface under threat, in fear, in loss, in erotic confusion, in love.

You are not being drawn back together. You are being drawn apart -- by the promise of happier beds and happier houses. Who can blame you? Her evasions mean she has drifted out of reach. The marriage is ending.

You hoped to love this woman and stay with her. It appears that your hopes are dashed. Her actions pain you. There is no shame in that. You feel deeply. You are not less of a person for that. I suggest you take some deep breaths and take this feeling in and let it be what it is and then call a lawyer.

Do not fight it by requiring it to make sense; do not try to hold it at bay because you do not approve of it. This is your life. This is the real thing. Admit it.

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