Betrayed Best Friend
Q: I had sex with the wife of my best friend. She is attractive, can be vibrant and caring, very bright, but she's just crazy. She has, in the last year, been diagnosed with BiPolar2 [bipolar without the truly manic episodes], and if she isn't a textbook case of borderline personality disorder [intense unstable relationships], I'd be surprised. She developed a fixation on me and pursued a sexual relationship with me. I held out for over two years. I talked to her husband about it minus some detail. I talked to my wife and kids and a couple other good friends, just saying she was getting all Fatal Attraction. They all thought I was making it up pretty much. She is 12 years younger and attractive. I'm 52 and have a comfortable extra 100 pounds. I told her to never come over if she was alone or I was alone. This just made her think it was a game. Anyhow after starting a significant drinking problem to celebrate the occasion and wrecking my regular sex life, I seduced her. She decides to tell her husband. This was inevitable and I knew that, and so did she, I think. Her husband, who used to be an Olympic boxer, to his great credit and my great relief, didn't kill me.
Her husband is very solicitous and is handling her with great kindness and attention. He forbade me to have contact with his family ever again. We had seen each other twice weekly to this point. His kids used to come by all the time. Our youngest child just began college, so it was nice for us. Anyhow, my primary relationship outside my family has vanished, and I have caused one of the best friends I ever had an agony of betrayal and hurt. The woman is busy adjusting her meds. My wife is pretty much oblivious, as she neither needs or really likes other people in her life.
The relatively innocent and really hurt in all this is her husband. I hate to contact him for fear he changes his mind about hurting me. I just want him to not be so much in pain. Oddly enough his wife told me he was very angry at me. He has taken a leave of absence from his job, so this is impacting their income in a significant way. I don't imagine he needs to forgive me other than what he needs for his own healing, and I don't delude myself that our relationship can ever be salvaged. I take full blame. Any suggestions, speculation, thoughts and even moral judgments would be appreciated. I would like someone to help me if my best friend betrayed me. -- Hank, 53
Dr. Susan: Though I appreciate the detail in your letter, I have to tell you that four-fifths of it is self-justification, rationalization, and excuses. And a bit of whining thrown in (your complaint that "it was nice" to have this family in your lives). The important point for you to get, deep down in your gut, is that you've done something seriously wrong and you can't fix it. You must respect your former friend's desire to have you and your family out of his and his wife's lives from now on. Probably forever. He doesn't want or need your help, as your very presence would continually stir up his distress. (And perhaps his desire to hurt you.)
I believe he loves his wife in spite of her illness and her mistakes, and that's his business. His pain is beyond your reach. Don't even mention forgiveness. That sort of thing takes a long time and, again, is beyond your ability to affect. I guess he's decided to work on his marriage and give it his best. If you have no feelings for your wife, and you figure she doesn't care at all about you, then whether you stay together is a choice you and she have to make.
Moral judgments? Alcohol is a handy excuse for doing very bad things. Messing around with your friend's wife is slimy behavior, no matter how hard you tried to avoid it for a couple of years, and no matter how delighted you were on some level that an attractive woman would want you in your very overweight middle age. But you're not the only one who has made a fool of himself in this way. Suggestions? Find new friends, find something you and your wife enjoy doing together, and stop obsessing over what is over and done. And if you don't deal with those 100 extra pounds, you probably won't be around so many years anyway. (You asked.)
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Susan K. Perry, Ph.D.
Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist, relationship expert, and bestselling and award-winning author. Her books include Loving in Flow: How the Happiest Couples Get and Stay That Way, and Kylie's Heel, a novel for adults.
Pamela G. Chollet, Ph.D.
Dr. Pamela Chollet has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and Master degrees in educational psychology and fine arts. Her passion has been helping people face and get through those times when they feel trapped and unable to move forward.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, stress management expert, and author. If you're feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, or struggling to make changes in your life, Anna can help.