Q: A new neighbour just moved in next door and called around to introduce himself. I couldn’t help but notice how attractive he was, and he was very friendly and smiley. Since then, we have bumped into each other in the local shops, and I feel like there is a spark between us. He came over for a drink when my husband was here, and it felt weird — almost like my husband was interrupting us. I bumped into him the other day and he suggested that he come over for a drink in a couple of weeks, when he knows my husband is away with his family then. Part of me feels excited at the thought of something happening between us. Sex with my husband stopped a long time ago, and neither of us make any moves to initiate it. To be honest, it feels like we are more like friends now, and our children have grown up and moved out. Would a little excitement with my neighbour put some sparkle back into my life? I’ve felt so bored and unloved, and I miss connecting with someone.
Dr West replies: In theory, this might be great. You could have a secret affair with this person that you have a spark with, have some sneaky sex that adds some excitement into your everyday life, and rediscover your sexual self. However, in reality, affairs are rarely as smooth going.
You’ve said that this man is your neighbour and you bump into each other around town. What happens if the affair sours and you still have to see this man when you leave your house or when you are shopping? I am assuming that if you see him around town, so does your husband. This person may be vengeful, and might tell your husband, or you might find yourself living in fear that he might tell your partner or make things uncomfortable for you. It’s literally very close to home, and the chances of discovery are high.
Affairs can lead us to focus on the positives and the enjoyment of a sense of risk and adventure, but let me bring you back down to earth for a moment. There is no guarantee that this man will meet your needs in reality. You might fantasise about steamy, hot sex, but what if it’s mediocre and unsatisfying? Either way, is it worth the potential fallout? What happens if your husband finds out? Or your children? Or if this man creates disruption in your local community? You don’t actually know him well enough yet to reflect on his character and are viewing him through rose-tinted glasses that promise fantasy rather than reality.
There seems to be some projection going on here too. It’s easier to look outside for a solution to an unhappy marriage, but the real work and way to a happier life is to look within. Is it time to accept your marriage is over, or do you want to work on it as a team with your husband to save it? What is keeping you together, and what would life look like if you were to separate? Has your husband given any indication of what he wants from your relationship? You will have to communicate with each other about what your future is, and if it is shared or separate.
How was your sex life with your husband, and are there any obvious reasons why it stopped happening? Did you talk about it? Life can happen, and so many factors can impact our sex lives, but with communication, medication and openness there is no reason not to enjoy some kind of sex life if you both desire.
I think going to couples therapy will bring you more satisfaction than the momentary frizzle of an affair. It will give you space to decide what you want from your current relationship, or what you don’t want. The sign of success isn’t a long marriage that you aren’t actually happy in, and it’s not a personal failure to divorce. Our grandparents may have stayed together, but that was also due to cultural pressure and the lack of divorce laws. Your children are old enough to understand divorce if that is the path you take, so their feelings shouldn’t be the factor that keeps you in a marriage that you are not happy in. You do not have to stay in a marriage that does not make you happy. It does have to be a commitment from both of you to work on it, as it will not work if the effort comes from one side only. If your husband does not want to work on it, refuses to talk, or engage in couples therapy, that is an answer in itself and a solid sign that he does not value your feelings or the relationship.
What do you see for your future? Is it growing old with your husband, starting afresh, or something else? Think about these questions before you make any decisions. It is perfectly normal to go through rough patches in long-term relationships, as monogamy can be difficult. You should reflect on the possibility that this could be a short-term rough patch, or the natural end of a relationship.
Perhaps this idea of an affair reawakened something in you that isn’t necessarily to do with this man himself. It may be a reminder that you are a sexual being and want to create a world where you have exciting sex again. Whether or not that is by yourself, with your husband, or with a new person will be up to you, but this is a road that you will need to think about traversing. You don’t want to cause hurt to people, and affairs rarely stay secret. Your happiness is important, and maybe it is time to put your needs first, whether that is in your marriage or as a singleton ready to mingle.
Dr West is a sex educator and host of the Glow West podcast, which focuses on sex. Send your questions to email@example.com. Dr West regrets she cannot answer questions privately