The Washington Post

Take him as-is or leave him?


Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

My hubby fell in love and pursued a two-year, long-distance affair with a high school acquaintance he met at a reunion. He says it ended two years ago. Once she realized he’d never leave me and the kids for her, she abruptly went off and married someone else.

During the past year, we’ve been trying to reconnect as a couple. Meanwhile, he and she have kept up “friendly” contact through the high school forum. Recently, he sent her first a romantic poem, then a short “How are you?” e-mail in which he calls her “my love.” It’s clear he’s not over her.

I’ve confronted him, and he admits as much. He says that he loves me but that there’s a part of him that will always resonate with her. For her part, although once in a while she’ll contact him privately for some favors, she doesn’t seem to pine for him in the same way.

I’m distraught, wondering whether I’ll have to put up with this for the rest of my married life. What’s your take?

Hubby Still Pining for Mistress

You can’t know whether he’ll carry this torch for the rest of his life, of course. But you do know that he has shown no interest in snuffing it.

Unfortunately, that puts you in the awful position of deciding between splitting up your family or staying with someone whose heart and mind are at least partially somewhere else, and who seems oddly okay with hurting you, and who apparently is still hiding things from you unless and until you call him on them.

Although this will sound the opposite of encouraging, I actually think you have a useful course of action available to you: Surrender.

Time and again, I’ve both witnessed and experienced the liberating effects of giving up on the outcome you want so badly. You want, of course, for your husband to let go of this old love and dedicate himself to you. But in waiting for that, you’re essentially signing up for a perpetual hope-and-letdown loop. Out of kindness to yourself, I suggest you say to yourself — out loud, even, if it helps — that “This is how it is; he will not stop thinking about her.”

And then, based on that, decide where your most satisfying life awaits you. Is it with your current home and kids and your compromised-but-still-there husband, as-is? Or is it at the end of a more drastic path?

There’s nothing to say he won’t drop this pointless other love and re-embrace you — time has a way of making unexpected changes — but for your own peace of mind, treat that not as a goal in itself but as a possible bonus you receive as you travel the realistic path of taking or leaving your husband, as-is.

Re: “A possible bonus”:

Funny thing, life. An actual turnaround on his part later may well end up feeling more like a burden than a bonus.


True. Sometimes I think the mere act of waiting for what you think you want changes what you actually need. Thanks.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Subscribe at

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