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Carolyn Hax: If one spouse cheats, does the other get a freebie affair?

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My wife cheated on me recently, and it hurts. I can’t get the image out of my head. It feels like the worst conversation ever: “Hey, I really like you and want to be with you,” to which they respond, “Hey, I would rather be with someone else.”

I feel like I should have the chance to have an affair of my own. I know that sounds ugly, but I miss the time when I thought she loved me as much as I love her — and I don’t know that’s true anymore if I think there’s nobody else I want to be with and she thinks, well, obviously not that.

She says that would be the end of our relationship, so I feel stuck. And I can’t go to my family for advice because they aren’t on board with my sexuality (which is a whole different problem). Please help.

— Anonymous

Anonymous: I’m sorry. What an awful feeling.

Infidelity is all the things you say — a slap in the face to you, an existential threat to your marriage, a mental image you never wanted and fear you will never shake — but can also be more complicated, too. For example, she could theoretically love you as much as you love her — for all we know, right? — and the cheating could be an expression of her own mental state more than anything else. Not saying this with any certainty and not to defend it even a little bit, but there can be an element of self-destruction to infidelity that often gets overlooked in the first big mess of hurt feelings.

Adding more mess and hurt feelings by taking your “turn” hardly seems like the road to glory.

So please get some help sorting it all out — therapy, if it’s accessible to you. Find someone who will help you look out for you.

You are not stuck and you are never stuck — you can leave, you can stay as a choice, you can postpone any decisions until your emotions settle, but whatever you decide, it’s your call alone to make.

Carolyn: Thank you for acknowledging my feelings and yeah, therapy is on the to-do list. I want to stay because we do have a great time together, but it feels hard if I don’t have the chance to explore an affair, too? To make sure we feel the same? To reassure myself I will be okay and find someone else if things do end someday, which is something I never thought about before?

— Anonymous again

Anonymous again: Then separate, and date. Be brave. Don’t do the thing that is undoing all the things.

And file these away for when you’re ready to do some thinking. If things do end someday, is “find someone else” the only way you will be okay?

And is dating another person the only way you can see how you feel? And how would you know, even if you have an affair and notice how you feel, whether that’s the same as how your wife feels?

And is “a great time together” reason enough to stay married? Is she the only “great time” source? Even now, post-affair? Are “single” and “happy” mutually exclusive to you?

I understand a bunch of questions in battery form can come across as aggressive, so please know I’m typing all this out more as a when-you’re-ready set of prompts. Your thinking right now seems (understandably) churned up, so I urge you not to make any big moves or decisions until your emotions settle a bit.

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