The Potential Pitfalls of an Affair with a Married Person

A recent email from a fan of this column goes like this: “Dear Dr. Hurd. I’m at a crossroads. I’ve fallen in love with my best friend. The catch? She’s married with kids and dedicated to her family. I’m not entirely sure of the depth of her feelings for me, and I don’t want to be a homewrecker. I can’t imagine not having her in my life, but these feelings have become overwhelming. I’d appreciate your thoughts.”

After taking a deep breath, I responded like this: Dear Reader, does she love you back? If so, then you shouldn’t rule anything out. But by all means she must emotionally finish her current marital relationship – on her own terms. It has to be her decision, including the decision to tell her husband, with no pressure from you. This will be the test to demonstrate her willingness to move on. If one really wants something, one must first have to pay for it.

If she can honestly tell you – and herself – that she would have left her husband anyway, with or without you in her life, then there’s no reason not to pursue a relationship with her.

Beware of the term “homewrecker.” It’s often used to intimidate and create unearned guilt. If the marriage was truly over anyway, then you didn’t wreck it. It was already wrecked. Don’t assign blame where none exists.

I also believe that it’s wrong and not in your self-interest to pursue an affair that involves deceiving her husband. That bond is hers to break, not yours. No matter what your relationship is with him, you shouldn’t take part in deception.

You didn’t tell me whether she still loves her husband. Most likely she’s confused. It’s up to her to work that out for herself. If she ultimately decides that the divorce is worth it, then that’s fine. But again, it has to be her decision, and I strongly advise that you gently back off until that day comes. Any attempt to deceive her husband will start your new relationship based on a lie. How could you trust her in the future, knowing she’s capable of that sort of dishonesty? Conversely, why should she trust you, knowing that you participated in it?

Starting a relationship with her before she has made up her mind about her husband risks your friendship with her. As painful as it might be to never have a romance with her, it would be more painful to pursue a relationship with her and have it end with her choosing her husband over you. Affairs with married people are nearly always disasters. The ones that end well are the ones in which the married person was already out of love with the current spouse. In those cases, the participants stand a chance of moving on and establishing permanent relationships. That being said, in my experience most affairs end up being transitional, not permanent.

Remember that divorce is as much a financial matter as it is an emotional one. All factors must be considered, and she must be at peace with them before you pursue anything with her. The same applies to the children. If she divorces her husband, her relationship with them will certainly be affected. Is she willing to make that decision on their behalf? Unless she carefully thinks this out, it will come back to haunt you both.

The most rational way to end any confusion is for her to first end the marriage with her husband, on her terms in in her own time, and then (and only then) take the risk of pursuing another relationship. If she’s unable to do this, then common sense suggests that a friendship with her is the most you’ll ever have. You’ll then need to get out there and find a woman who’s more available, and stop wasting your energy on someone who isn’t.

Life involves risks. Sometimes we’re presented with dilemmas where each choice involves a potential loss. But potential loss can also bring the potential for gain. So, is it worth it?