The following is an extract from Expat Women's New Book: Confessions - 50 Answers to Your Real-Life Questions.*
Q. My husband and I have been on an overseas assignment for three and a half years. Life has been good to us – and we have always supported each other when times have been tough. However, last year, things changed. My husband's company promoted which meant that our assignment was extended for another three years. I agreed to this, but was devastated because I had already made plans to restart my professional career back home when our assignment was originally due to finish. Since then my husband's new role has become very demanding and has required he travel a lot.
Sadly, my loneliness has led to an affair with my neighbor. My neighbor is a sweet, caring and educated man who makes me feel so good about myself. I feel guilty about what I am doing because I really do love my husband and want our relationship to get back on track. Ironically, I started the affair to ease my loneliness, but now I feel lonelier than ever. What should I do?
A. Unfortunately, you are not alone. Many relationships start to come undone abroad when one person is absent from the relationship due to long work hours and/or frequent travel, and one person is left at home waiting. When someone lends an ear or shoulder and makes time for you, especially when you might be struggling, we can understand how you might go against your character and become drawn to them.
The situation becomes complicated, however, when that ear does not belong to the person to whom you are married and your emotional dependence falls more and more on the "other person."
The relationship becomes a problem when you start trusting in this person more than your husband, if you find yourself turning to this person to get all of the support you need and/or if the relationship becomes romantic. The fact that you have acknowledged there is a problem, is a step in the right direction. You have identified what you are missing in your marital relationship and stated that you want your relationship to go back to how it was. This might just prove that you have the will and strength to pull your marriage back together.
The relationship and the reasons. There are two pivotal issues we suggest you address. The first is your affair and your affection for your neighbor. As wonderful as your neighbor makes you feel, if you really want to set things right with your husband, you need to stop having your affair. This means you need to stop turning to your neighbor for emotional and/or physical support. Given your neighbor's close proximity, you also need to seriously consider confessing to your husband, because although neighborly relations will likely turn extremely sour once your husband finds out, think through the consequences of your neighbor telling your husband before you do.
The second and most important issue is to address the reasons why you are relying on your neighbor for support, so that it does not happen again. Marital affairs are often the visible symptoms of an underlying psychological issue that the sufferer has not come to terms with. Before you can address the actual affair, you need to try to understand the why.
You mentioned that you were devastated when your husband was promoted and your time overseas was extended. Could it be that you hold your husband personally responsible for your delay in being able to move back home to your life and subconsciously you are lashing out at him through this affair? Your husband is now all-consumed with his new, high-travel role, which has meant that you are feeling neglected and lonely. Could it be that you resent your husband and his success now because you are left home alone feeling lost and angry? Are you missing your husband's love and companionship and subconsciously looking for things to fill that gap in your life now?
Voicing your frustrations. We suggest you work through your frustrations of an extended posting and what that means for you. Speak to your husband about his traveling and how this makes you feel. Whether you tell him about your affair or not, you need to talk to him about how serious the rift is in your relationship. Many a husband who has said that he cannot reduce his travel schedule has later, in a relationship crisis, found that there really are ways to cut back on the amount of travel they need to do personally– sending delegates sometimes instead or solving problems via phone calls, videoconferencing and the like. It is amazing what high-travel executives can do when they realize that their work behavior is being destructive to their family life. Remember, your husband, like most high-travel executives, probably cares deeply about his family and would not want to seriously jeopardize his family for the sake of his job.
Rebuilding your relationship. You may both also need to become more proactive about making time together. Perhaps you need to start to schedule special date nights in his diary or join him on one of his work trips (combined with a stay over a weekend). This might help to rekindle your intimacy, and you can start to transfer your emotional dependence back onto your husband and away from your neighbor.
Although be warned: if you confess your affair to your husband, he might not be so keen on date nights in the short term. Being told that your partner has had an affair can take months, if not years, to mentally reconcile, as a huge element of trust has been broken and trust is not repaired easily.
Rebuilding your inner strength. Start to look at ways to rebuild your inner strength, confidence and resilience, so that you are not unexpectedly turning to others for support when your husband is away. Reconnect with the organizations, friends and contacts you were connected to during the first three years. Alternatively, join some new clubs, take up a new hobby or start a business. Keeping busy with something that is meaningful and significant to you will offer much needed distraction and help build your confidence again.
Very few people become successful without a team of supporters behind them. Treat yourself as important and rally a team to support you in your mission to revive your marriage. This might involve seeing a psychologist, who is trained to work through issues like this with you in a professional way. A life coach might also help to re-inspire and motivate you personally, helping you to articulate your values and set goals for yourself, along with supporting you and keeping you accountable in your efforts to achieve the things you really want in life.
A better life. Accept responsibility for your actions, work through your pain, and if you tell your husband, be willing to support him through his pain. Then focus on creating a better life for you, your husband and your marriage.
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