Dear Prudence

Help! I’ve Mentally Cheated on My Wife for Years.

In We’re Prudence, Prudence asks readers for their thoughts on a question that has her stumped. The answer is available only for Slate Plus members.

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Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by fizkes/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Every Thursday on Twitter @jdesmondharris, Dear Prudence asks readers for their thoughts on a question that has her stumped. She’ll post her final thoughts on the matter on Fridays. Here’s this week’s dilemma and answer:

Dear Prudence,

I’ve been with my wife, Chelsea, for 15 years, married for 12. She is a wonderful person and a great wife. However, I’ve fallen in love with someone else. I met Beth two years ago when our companies worked together on a project for 6 months and we hit it off. Not only did we work great together but we formed a fast friendship. We have a similar sense of humor and a lot of the same interests and passions. We also have a similar background as children of military parents and bonded over moving all the time and base life. Over time, I found myself developing feelings for her. At first, I thought it was just friendly feelings, but they kept getting stronger until I realized I was falling in love with her. I can’t remember ever feeling this way with my wife, not even when we were first dating.

Beth and I haven’t crossed any lines, not in word or deed (and only in my mind to my knowledge). We don’t have inappropriate conversations or text messages. There are no conversations or text messages between us that I would hide from my wife. I don’t know if Beth has feelings for me like I do for her but I can’t stop thinking about her and wanting to be with her. I decreased the time we spent together or talked for a while but it did nothing to lessen my feelings. Whenever I am somewhere with Chelsea, I think about how I wish Beth was there, or how much Beth would like something. I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to hurt my Chelsea, but if I am able to develop strong feelings for someone else, doesn’t that mean that I am with the wrong person? Even if Beth doesn’t return my feelings, isn’t it wrong to stay with Chelsea, knowing I don’t love her like I am able to love someone else? What should I do?

—Conflicted in CT

Dear Conflicted,

This is tough to answer because I can feel how much you want to leave. I can feel how much your infatuation with Beth (and it’s just that, infatuation, not love) has made you think Chelsea isn’t enough. I can feel how much you truly believe you are in love like you’ve never been in love before. And if I were Chelsea, I wouldn’t really want to be married to someone who was having those feelings. So part of me thought, “Go for it, get a divorce!” But the responses I received when I shared your letter on Twitter gave me the words I needed to help bring you back to reality. First and foremost, Beth doesn’t love you. Let’s be clear about that:

If they’ve reduced contact with Beth and have no idea whether or not she likes them back… she doesn’t. This sounds like a crush and an obsession more than love. And it sounds like a crush borne of everyday boredom with the status quo. Seek a marriage counselor.

If, after two years, the letter writer has no idea if she likes him back? She definitely doesn’t. —@latkenessmonstr

I agree with a lot of what has been said here. I also want to add that his actions going forward should be driven by the assumption that Beth does not return his feelings, not the hope that she might. Therapy is a must. —@katieandmister

Even if she did want to be with you, you are not in a good state of mind to make a decision about your marriage. You have a crush and it has robbed you of the ability to think rationally. Any relationship you’re ever in will risk getting to a point at which something new and different feels exciting to you. Your feelings are just feelings and they are not telling you as much as you think they are about your connection to either of these women: 

Beth is shiny because she’s lovely but also because she has never asked him to pay a bill, wash a dish, cut the grass, or any of the other million things that goes into making a home with someone. Chelsea deserves someone who gets that. —@mboehm214

“YOU CANNOT PROPERLY EVALUATE IF YOU HAVE A CRUSH. Never. Ever. Break up when you have a crush. If you end your crush and include your wife and still want to split, part ways like a couple of adults. But you won’t want that.” —@peterpanover

Developing strong feelings for someone else doesn’t mean you’re with the wrong person. In fact, it doesn’t mean anything at all. —@K_persists

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem here. There is! But it’s not about your feelings for Beth or your absence of similar feelings for Chelsea. It’s about your whole approach toward marriage, your expectations about what you think you should feel, and your willingness (or lack thereof) to nurture what you have and to do the work to feel the way you want to in your marriage:

The LW should consider whether they are investing the same amount of emotional energy, fantasy building, and interest in their wife as they are in their crush. What would happen if they redirected that energy? What would happen if they had an honest conversation with their [wife] about feeling disconnected? Because this isn’t a choice between the crush and the wife even if the LW has it framed that way in their mind. Don’t blow up your life over an infatuation. Individual and couples therapy sounds appropriate. Individual to figure out the root of the infatuation. Couples therapy to figure out what’s at the root of the disconnection and whether it’s fixable. —@JWhitePubRadio

He should talk to an objective third party and figure out his feelings about his wife and his marriage. Meaning a therapist. —@HudsonHawk4480

I know all that work and introspection doesn’t sound exciting, especially compared to the feelings you get when you think about Beth. Maybe you aren’t willing to do it and if so, fine. But don’t be fooled into thinking it’s wrong to stay with Chelsea because you love her less than you love someone else, as you suggest. If it’s wrong to stay with her, it’s because you don’t love her enough—or simply aren’t mature or committed enough—to give your relationship the attention it deserves. She’s owed more than a partner who’s willing to throw away a marriage the minute someone else sounds like more fun. And honestly, you owe yourself more, too.

Classic Prudie

My fiancé (with whom I’m expecting a child in three months) has a photo of his deceased sister-in-law in his wallet. Right where people usually display pictures of their sweethearts or kids, there she is. I told him that was kind of weird and asked if he would remove it. He said yes, but it remained there a few days later. I put his driver’s license in front of the photo but later saw that he moved the license elsewhere. Later, I gave him a printed picture of the ultrasound scan of our baby. I saw it left in the car for several days. I later broached the subject of removing the SIL’s photo again because I found it creepy and disturbing. His response was weird…