What if your wayward spouse is a fence-sitter?
By Sarah P.
A fence-sitter is defined as a wayward spouse who cannot decide whether they stay with their spouse, or stay with the affair partner.
When a betrayed spouse is met with a fence-sitting wayward spouse, the pain and the anxiety of this experience, is absolutely agonizing. A betrayed spouse spends every moment wondering when the other shoe will drop.
They spend every second wondering when and if they will hear the dreaded words: “I choose my affair partner.”
What’s even worse is when a fence-sitter declares that they are in love with both their betrayed spouse and the affair partner.
We received a very poignant letter from a betrayed spouse, who found herself in this very situation. Her situation was urgent and she had to make spur of the moment decisions. I will let you read part of her story in her words:
“On that horrible night, the minute I found out, after falling to the floor and rocking back and forth a few minutes, I “watched” myself resolutely get up, walk into the kitchen, grab the phone (yes, we still had a land line back then), and hand it to my shocked husband. “Your call, literally,” I told him. “And your choice. You call her right now and say one of two things – either ‘My wife found out. I’m leaving her. I’ll be right over.’ Or – ‘My wife found out. I need to save my marriage. Therefore, we can never have contact again.’” He was dumbfounded. “NOW?!!” He screeched. “Yes. Now. Or I’m gone.” I said it quietly, but oh, so unwaveringly. He took the phone, called her, and told her they couldn’t see each other anymore. She couldn’t speak for a minute. The call lasted less than a minute. When he hung up, he splayed his arms across the table and wept. Then he said “I’ve hurt both the women I love.” Oooo. Twist that knife. That was – as I said – almost 12 years ago. And you know, it was the best thing I ever did. I should add that this was the SECOND time I had been through this and the first time my husband was a fence sitter for a while so I knew from experience how agonizingly intolerable it is. I wasn’t even thinking that night about whether or not I could follow through but something in me told me I absolutely could not survive another round of fence sitting – no way, no how.”
Aside from losing a child, being the victim of infidelity is said to be the most painful emotional experience a human being can ever have during their lifetime.
Anyone who has experienced this gut-wrenching pain, the sleepless nights, the shaking in fear, knows. They also know the experience of being rolled up in a ball in the fetal position, crying on the floor, because there simply is nothing else to do. Anxiety and taunting thoughts are relentless and constant companions.
Betrayed spouses know the type of pain that a person would not wish on their worst enemy. For the pain of betrayal, first invades the mind of then betrayed spouse, then takes over the body of the betrayed spouse, until finally the pain of betrayal permeates every cell of the betrayed spouse’s being. Indeed, this is a pain that is bone-deep.
When You Are Married to a Fence-Sitter
Many people are given advice by friends and family members about what to do when they are married to a fence sitter. Friends and family members have good intentions and want to be as supportive as possible.
However, this is where a betrayed spouse really needs an expert. Fortunately, we have numerous books on the topic of infidelity and we have books about fence-sitting.
While the book, Love Must Be Tough, by Dr. James Dobson was written years ago, his advice holds up to the test of time. When I first read the book, my assumption was that it would be about placating the wayward spouse and doing what we call the “pick me dance.”
I was pleasantly surprised to see that the head of Focus on the Family had written a book that was about empowering the betrayed spouse. Just like our reader did, Dr. James Dobson discusses quick and swift action. However, it must be noted that quick and swift action only works if you are willing to back up your words and take the actions that you say you will take.
The reason our reader’s husband got off the fence was likely because our reader took swift action. Our reader was absolutely resolute in backing up her actions. She was resolute in willing to let the relationship go, if her husband did not break off his affair.
Can You Really Love Two People?
Let’s back up and go back to our reader’s account of that shocking night when she asked her husband to choose. Some of you may have noticed that her husband said, “I have hurt both of the women I love.”
This statement really drives the knife deeper.
Even if a wayward spouse doesn’t say these words, betrayed spouses are often kept up at night wondering if their spouse loved the other person more than they loved the betrayed spouse. These thoughts are especially common when a betrayed spouse and a wayward spouse decide to salvage their marriage.
To answer this question we really must examine the nature of love. There is a difference between love and lust. When relationships are new, our brains release a cocktail of neurotransmitters that make us feel like we are on top of the world. Now, that type of relationship can persist after someone gets married.
But, generally when people get married their brains release a different set of neurotransmitters transmitters which are meant to keep the relationship stable.
When a person has an affair, it is no different. Their brain releases all these neurotransmitters to make them feel as if they are on top of the world. This is generally what we call the affair fog. Many wayward spouses confuse the affair fog with love.
But, if you think about it, love is not based on a foundation of lies, of broken promises, of broken vows, and of broken promises.
Love is based on keeping the vows you took at the altar, even when your marriage has bad days.
Love is based on keeping promises, keeping your vows, working on the marriage if there is discontent, and truly accepting a spouse as they age, as life gets stressful, and when they have morning breath.
Love leaps fences to see the best in a spouse on bad days.
Love breaks barriers to uplift a spouse when they are grieving the loss of a parent or a job.
Love is a verb and it’s actions are expressed in choosing one’s spouse EVERYDAY.
When a wayward spouse says they love the affair partner, they are really deep into the affair fog, for how can they love someone they don’t even know.
Affairs are based on and sustained by fantasy. Affair partners create a world where everything is perfect. They see each other when they are at their best. They show their best qualities to each other.
They don’t have to make decisions about children, they don’t have to figure out who’s doing laundry and the dishes, and most of all they don’t have to pay bills together.
They also don’t have to deal with the stress of aging parents. They don’t have to deal with the stress of other situations, such as special needs children, job loss, or other events, which need to be tended. Instead, they can live in a fantasy bubble that both have created, and this fantasy bubble can be popped one day, because there is no foundation to hold it up.
Some people like to call this fantasy bubble “limerence.” while this sounds like a terribly disheartening word, it’s not. It’s just one more word to describe a fantasy bubble that affair partners create.
Being married to someone who doesn’t want to choose is so hard. it’s especially hard when a betrayed spouse was raised to avoid conflict. It’s even harder when the children are young. Worst of all, if the other person is a spouse poacher, they will move mountains to draw your spouse back to them.
Still, forcing a wayward spouse to choose to really meaning it, is a powerful action. It’s a powerful action because it bursts the affair bubble fairly quickly. It makes the consequences of the affair also very real.
Of course, it’s also risky to give an ultimatum to a fence-sitter if you cannot back up that ultimatum. I would advise to never give an ultimatum that you simply cannot carry out.
There is hope for all marriages including the marriage of our reader. Her husband’s affair ended about 12 years ago and their marriage is better than ever.