First, there was Scott. I met him while volunteering at a summer camp. Scott was so outgoing and talkative. What initially attracted me to him was how he could have a conversation with anyone — not just a superficial one, but a deep, meaningful discussion. I could walk into a room and he would pour on the attention, asking all about how things were going and how I was feeling. In comparison, however, my husband was a man of few words: the strong, silent type.
Then there was my scuba coach, Mark. With his distinguished, salt-and-pepper hair, he looked just like Lloyd Bridges. Mark’s maturity and love for diving intrigued me. He encouraged me to overcome my fears and helped me discover my underwater adventuresome side. I felt safe with him, like a daughter feels safe with her dad. My husband, on the other hand, was only a few years older. He didn’t evoke within me a feeling of being nurtured and safe as Mark did.
Tom was my accounting teacher at the university I attended. What struck me about Tom was his wit and intelligence. I had expected accounting to be the most boring of all my classes, but Tom had a way of making it the most fun and interesting part of my day. My husband was an intelligent accountant also, but he couldn’t make me laugh like Tom did. His wit paled in comparison to Tom’s.
Then there was Ray. Ray was such a die-hard romantic, heaping compliments on me and sweeping me off my feet with whirlwind passion. My relationship with my husband never seemed to have that magic spark that I felt when I was with Ray. Ray had set the romantic standard that my husband couldn’t live up to.
Finally, there was Clark. He was ruggedly handsome, suave, and debonair. I looked forward to being with him every Friday night. As I approached the counter at the movie rental store, the owner automatically went to the classic section and pulled out any Clark Gable movie. It didn’t matter which one. I loved them all. Even standing tall at six foot and seven inches, my husband just couldn’t measure up to Clark.
Even though I wasn’t having sexual intercourse with any of these other men, I was still having an affair with each of them — a mental and/or emotional affair. My fantasies of being Clark Gable’s leading lady, memories of my romantic relationship with Ray, and fascination with Tom’s wit, Mark’s maturity, and Scott’s verbal talents affected my marriage in a way just as damaging as a sexual affair would have.
I was overlooking all of the many wonderful things about my husband because I was either focusing on the positive attributes of one of these other men or focusing on my husband’s negative attributes. Because I lived with my husband, I saw not just the good, but also the bad and the ugly. He left the toilet seat up in the middle of the night. He snored, and when he woke up he had morning breath. Then he’d brush his teeth and leave toothpaste in the sink. Sometimes I felt that he couldn’t do anything to suit me. With all of my criticizing, he probably felt like he couldn’t do anything to suit me, either.
The other men’s warts, however, were out my line of sight. I could look at them and see nothing but their shining qualities, the kind I initially saw in my husband but had lost sight of over the years because of all my comparisons.
I felt distanced and disillusioned. Could he ever excite me like the other men did? Was I still in love with him? Could he ever measure up? Could I ever learn to live with my less-than-perfect partner?
Fortunately, the positive answers to these questions surfaced when I ended these affairs and changed my measuring stick. Together, we discovered a new level of intimacy that we didn’t know existed, all because I stopped comparing and criticizing and began embracing the uniqueness of my spouse.