"He's Sleeping with a Colleague"

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He Says

Rob: I'm not sure why I did it. Looking back, I suppose I can list plenty of reasons; it's hard to separate them all out. Maybe I just got restless. The affair with Claire started when I was in my mid-40s, my business was on the brink of disaster -- and I felt like I was married to a nun. Valerie was never around. In addition to the thousand and one things she was doing with the kids, the school and all her charity work, she'd gone back to college, gotten her degrees and was working as drug and alcohol counselor. She was on a crusade to save the world -- me especially. She started to criticize me a lot: She didn't like my friends, people I've known since I was a kid, who she thought partied too much; she said I wasn't spending enough time with my children -- you name it, she had a lecture about it.

Eaker Weil: Proud, aloof and pompous, Rob is unaware of his own real feelings, let alone those of his wife. Like many men, he continues to offer the same excuses that absolve him of guilt: That he did it only for the sex; that he'd succumbed during a moment of weakness' and that his wife was too critical and too busy for him. It's time to take some personal responsibility.

Rob: So maybe I just wanted to live a little bit. I've known Claire for many years. She's a lawyer and we worked on several deals together. I've always been attracted to her; heck, every man is. She's a headstrong lady, witty, sexy and a whole lot of fun, which is something there wasn't a lot of in my life with Valerie anymore. Her marriage was rocky when we first started up and she's been divorced now for several years. She never had kids -- she always told me she was married to her career -- but I got caught up in the thrill of the chase. I like to flirt and there was always a lot of sexual chemistry between us.

I remember working on this one deal; writing offering memorandums and fielding phone calls. We knew we'd be there late, so we decided to order dinner delivered to my office. While we were waiting for the delivery, Claire was relaxing on the couch. She'd kicked off her shoes and I noticed she was wearing a tight suit jacket, with no blouse underneath -- just some lacy lingerie peeking out. The way she was sitting, twirling her hair in her hand as she gazed out the window was irresistible. The next thing I knew, I was on top of her. Fortunately, dinner took a while to arrive.

But while the sex was great, it was on-again, off-again for several years. The few times Valerie ever asked if I was having an affair, I lied. I was amazed how easy it was to do that. I denied everything, then immediately blocked it right out of my mind. At one point, I did think I wanted to marry Claire. I felt stifled at home.

Eaker Weil: Rob has had a pattern of deception. Before he can stop, it's imperative that he understand why he acted the way he did. In many cases of infidelity, the wandering spouse is trying to stave off an empty feeling of abandonment, loss or frustration that may have roots in long-ago events. For example, divorce or death of a parent can leave a child feeling alone, unloved and unworthy of love. Similarly, a parent's adulterous affairs lends an air of tension and secrecy to a household, and loud quarreling or threats of leaving can make a child feel anxious and lack confidence.

Rob: My parents didn't have a very good marriage, either. I grew up in Connecticut, an only child. My father died of a heart attack when I was twelve but, even before that, he was never involved in my life. From what I hear, he was a playboy living the gentleman's life. Actually, Mother wasn't around all that much, either. She was a very demanding woman who set high standards that few people could meet, me especially. She was one of the top ranked women's tennis players in the Northeast and a terrific all-around athlete. Much to her dismay, I never showed any interest in sports despite all her pushing and prodding, or any interest in her social set. I had a few close friends but never felt comfortable with the whole high school scene. I wasn't in the in crowd.

It was always understood that I'd move into my family's banking firm. Until recently, I never even questioned it. I went to Wharton, majored in finance, and started working right after graduation. My mother dragged me to a party, and I spotted Valerie. She was adorable and spunky so I asked a mutual friend to play matchmaker. I'd dated enough women to know she was the one.

Eaker Weil: Here's where we see some clues to Rob's character. In many ways, his life had been scripted at birth. Professionally, his wealthy family assumed he would enter the family's business. Emotionally, his distant but domineering mother made him feel that he could never measure up since her yardstick was her own interests and abilities, rather than those of her son's. Since his mother was so controlling, he assumed all other women would be, too. He grew up with a real distrust of women, and an overwhelming need to prove himself. At the same time, however, Rob was looking for someone to take care of him. This is a process known as transference -- and we all do it. Patterns hammered into us at an early age cause us to try to fit every person we later meet into the holes left from these early impressions. Sometimes they fit, sometimes they don't. But always we are left with expectations that may or may not pan out. Rob found the loving, nurturing partner he was looking for in Valerie, yet deep down, he felt he didn't deserve her. That's why he pushed her away. In fact, he had never learned to truly connect with anyone except on the most superficial level. I suspect that beneath Rob's veneer of charm and confidence lies a deep sense of inadequacy.

Rob: Maybe we just got too settled, too fast, too locked in our own ways. Though I was certainly more involved with my kids than my father was with me, I probably wasn't around as much as I should have been when they were little. Valerie didn't seem to need me or to mind, for that matter. I guess you could say we were running on parallel tracks.

I trace the real problems back to the late 1980s, when the bottom fell out of the financial market. I was scared to death. I'd started my own company -- just me, a secretary and a part-time intern working out of a small office -- and we'd done very well for a few years. Suddenly, I could see everything I'd been working so hard for go right down the tube. I kept thinking that the recession would be over in six months, but things only got worse. At one point, I thought I'd have to declare bankruptcy, but thank God, that never happened. It took me almost a year and a half before I could see the light at the end of the tunnel and realized that I'd be okay.

The stress was unbearable. And whenever I'd come home from the office, there would be Valerie, hounding me if I had a beer or two. That's when her temper would come out -- she'd snap and snarl at the drop of a hat; half the time, I didn't know what I did. My mother used to be like that and it made me nuts. I closed off automatically.

I wanted to run away -- from all the pressure, all the hassles. Val never knew the whole story: Two years ago, when I left for three months, it was because of Claire. I just didn't think I wanted to be with Val anymore. We got a small apartment downtown and I tried to see my daughters on weekends, though they often canceled plans with me at the last minute and refused to return my calls.

Eaker Weil: As he entered his mid-forties, Rob was pummeled by financial losses and what he believed might be the imminent demise of a business he'd worked hard to build. Meanwhile, he sensed that his wife, busy with myriad activities of her own, was no longer pleased with him. His background, coupled with life circumstances at the time, knocked Rob off balance and made him susceptible to the temptation of an affair. Being unfaithful made him feel invincible, attractive and attended to.

Rob: But I soon realized I didn't want to be married to Claire, either, though by this time her marriage had ended and she was hoping we'd be able to work things out. I moved back home, and for a while, things with Valerie really did seem better. She was around more; we had some fun times. The kids were very angry with me for several months, but they soon fell into their normal routines.

Then, just a few months ago, I ran into Claire at a business conference and the affair started up again. This time, it really was just for sex. I had no intention of breaking up my marriage. I did what I did and didn't think a whole lot about it.

I do feel terrible that I've hurt Val so badly and I don't want a divorce. But I don't want the same old marriage we've had for 22 years, either. Considering all the bad blood between us, is it even possible to be a couple again?"

Continued on page 4:  The Therapist Says


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