June 26, 1997
By Deborah Berger-Reiss, M.A.
I am a 35-year-old, reasonably happily married mother (of a small child) who is having an affair. I ran into "Ron," a college sweetheart, after not seeing him for 14 years. It turned out that he had moved to my neighborhood. Soon after that meeting, a year ago, we kept bumping into each other and talking. Once, he stopped by to see my house, and boom, without thinking, planning or anything, we fell into a passion unlike anything either of us has ever had.
He also has children and cares about his wife, but neither of us ever felt much passion for our spouses. We chose them because of their good qualities, their patience and their loyalty. In college, Ron and I broke up after a short, stormy relationship because we fought as passionately as we loved. Then it was summer, and I think we both decided that it wouldn't be worth the problems of different religions, et al.
Anyway, I know I have to end it. I feel horrible about myself, the lies, and the disloyalty to my husband; and, yet, the thought of giving up Ron, with whom I speak daily and see about once every two weeks, feels like I'd be giving up oxygen. I have no one to speak to about this, and I am wondering if you could offer any advice. Thank you.
Dear Guilty Mistress,
Ask yourself how you felt before the affair. Was it so awful? You describe a good enough marriage in which you made certain choices, one of which was not passion-based. Why were you so susceptible to an affair at this point? What is going on in your own life regarding your marriage, work, self-esteem, spiritual pursuits, friendships and other areas?
Since you feel "horrible" and "disloyal," it is fair to assume that you fell into something you consider morally repugnant. And in order to have done so, you had to have fallen out of touch with your true self.
So when you do give up the affair, and the air gets a little thin, ask yourself how else you might find the oxygen to sustain you? Perhaps it is the need to work harder at what's missing in your marriage. Or perhaps, as many new parents tend to do, you have simply put your marriage on the back burner and stopped listening to yourself. Or are there other areas of your life that are in need of attention?
Take this time of loss and pain to reflect upon your life and learn what you need to learn to make it better. Passion, in this case, is heroin. It provides the feelings that seem so lacking in your life. So see Ron as an addiction you must break, and then sit in your empty, oxygen-leeched psyche and experience the pain you must live through to arrive at some new solutions. Good luck.
Son and Lovers
I have a dating problem as it relates to my 10-year-old son. I've been in two relationships, a year or so each. As things became serious, I introduced and eventually involved my son with the boyfriends. Since his father is absent, he became very attached to both of them, mourning their losses greatly. I've reassured him that he is not the cause of the breakup, but once it ended for me, I was unable or unwilling to arrange any contact, because either they didn't want to or I didn't think it would be in my son's best interest.
My problem is twofold: Whenever my son is feeling sad or experiences an ending or loss of any kind, he brings up my ex-boyfriends and asks why he cannot see them. Second, I've been currently dating someone very special for close to a year. I'm worried that introducing them could cause more scar, especially since I think this could be the one. And, yet, that's what I thought the last two times.
How "absent" is the boy's father? Is he alive? Is he not involved with his son at all? Were you ever married to him? I fail to understand, from the information at hand, whether or not he is mourning the loss of his father and grabbing on to any available man for fathering. If his father is present and spends regular time with him, why is he so needy of other men? Does your son behave this way with other friends or relatives?
Discuss the concept of dating with your child, explaining that it is a way of getting to know people, but that it doesn't guarantee you'll end up married to them. Your son needs to understand that these men, until the wedding date is set, must be considered temporary boyfriends. Limit the interaction between son and boyfriend until boyfriend becomes fiancé; this way, the child won't become too attached.
Also, you may be confusing him by the amount or kind of affection you show your boyfriend; your son may interpret this as "mommy-daddy" behavior, so if warranted, curtail that.
Finally, your son is treating the boyfriend exactly as you are in your own mind when you decide "this is the one." Perhaps you both need to be more realistic about what these men actually mean to you.
We are elderly and haven't had a decent night's sleep since our neighbors moved in and began fighting. They scream obscenities, and, occasionally, we hear horrible crashing or slamming noises late at night, early in the morning, at any time...with their windows open. We do not approve of such language, and we also are disturbed by the "Shriers" (yellers). We don't want to talk to them, offend them and become target practice for these meshugenahs. Any suggestions?
Sleepless in Tarzana
If you fear a direct approach, write a note and let them know that their fights are audible and their language is offensive. Ask them to shut their windows and keep it down. Sign it "Concerned Neighbors."
And, of course, do call the police during their next round if you suspect violence.... You may be calling attention to spousal abuse. But even if there is no physical abuse, police at the front door might provide enough of a jolt to begin quelling the yelling.
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Deborah Berger-Reiss is a West Los Angeles psychotherapist.
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