“I Want to Want to”

In a conversation the other day, an unfaithful spouse said to me “I really do want to want to save my marriage…..but I’m so deep in, I feel lost.” 

He expected me to be angry or upset with him, but I simply affirmed him and said I’m thrilled you want to want to.  After all, at least you’re being honest with someone after 4 years of back and forth, in and out of your marriage, two different affair partners and a litany of excuses and lies. 

Coming clean and getting healthy is always messy.

“I want to want to” sounds like a cop out.  It is, to some extent, but we, the unfaithful do not know that yet.  It’s like we’re saying, I want to do what’s right, and I should know what’s right, but poor me, I don’t have the “want to”.  Realistically, we all have to navigate through life decisions that we don’t have the desire to do, but we do them anyway.  I don’t want to pay my mortgage, but I do anyway. 

Yet, a mortgage is one thing, marriage and emotions and the human heart is an entirely different matter, far more difficult and far more deceptive. 

Wanting to want to save your marriage or return to home is a paradox.  Usually, we (the unfaithful) really want to want our spouse, but we’re conflicted and in turmoil.  “Why are you conflicted? It’s the right thing to do!” I can hear the betrayed shout. And you’re right; but we’re not healthy enough to know that.  We also don’t know if we want you instead of our affair partner, and it takes time and hand holding to sober up.  We can’t see clearly.  We’ve lost our “want” to be with you, and here are a few reasons why (not exhaustive, but much of what I have felt coupled with what I’ve heard over the past 9 years):

  1. Often times we don’t want what we had with you. We felt rejected and the affair partner made us feel wanted and accepted and like a hero.  Sure, it probably wasn’t real, but right now, we don’t know that.  We are deceived and need someone besides you to help us see the light. 
  2. We have justified the affair for so long that we truly think we’re justified in having an affair.  We have needs and we feel you didn’t care about them and we found someone who we feel did, and we aren’t sure we will ever find that again in you.  We’ve lied to ourselves for so long that we can’t just stop lying.  We know somehow, instinctively, that we should want to be with you, but untangling the web of lies is hard.
  3. We have actively pursued another and given our best to our affair partner and to simply switch gears and start giving to you again, our best attention, our best effort and our best intimacy is hard.  We don’t realize that love is a choice and we’re still wanting the emotion to come first.  We don’t realize we have to make a decision to give you our best then the emotion will follow.  We wonder why the emotion isn’t there.  We don’t understand why we don’t just ‘feel love for you again’ and can’t fix ourselves.
  4. We usually try and fix this ourselves.  We’re control freaks.  We want to control recovery and we want to control our situation.  However, this is one of the first times we’ll have to acknowledge we can’t control you or our own heart.  We’re desperately afraid because we can’t control things.  To be out of control is to admit weakness and we hate doing that.

While this list isn’t exhaustive, it is filled with many things I struggled to comprehend.  I’d love to hear yours or what your spouse has communicated to you as well. 

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We Want to Want To - Don't You Take My Healing Away

Samual – I find the 4 reasons very helpful. A possible 5th reason, involves defiance over losing access to the AP. More specifically is ambivalence caused by blocking the healing power provided by the AP.

If the affair was/is important to heal (longstanding) pain, then such pain may increase to dangerous levels after discovery. My wife desperately wants and needs her powerful emotional healing. My demands for a timeout increased her ambivalence, probably because of the above reasons.
Nine weeks after discovery, my wife is ambivalent and undecided. In timeout mode with her AP, her longstanding pain remains and, in fact, has increased during our crisis while I am now cut from the team of emotional supports. The absence of “the healer”, the increase in pain, and the shut of the husband create a high risk situation. All this increases vulnerability of relapse and makes her defiant on a variety of other (sometimes nonrelated) issues.

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