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Jim

Grief transference

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I’m in a difficult situation. My wife who I love very much lost her mother to cancer last June after a up and down battle. During this time we had decided to have a baby together (ivf). About three months after the pregnancy was confirmed we got word her mother’s cancer was back in an aggressive form. We knew her time was limited but we’re hopeful she would hang on until the birth. The pregnancy was a difficult one and the last six weeks my wife was on bed rest. As a result she was FB I’m able to visit her mom the way she had wanted. Three weeks after her mom died the baby was born (c-section). This also had an impact on her with the resulting scar. She spent the next month healing and trying to care for huge baby. She felt she never had time to grieve or talk to anyone about her loss. In October she began talk to a friend of her mom who also suffered a cancer loss of his wife. Both wife and mom knew each other and were friends. My wife and him would talk about their loss and it brought my wife some comfort. In January my wife broke down and told me that she had strong feelings for the person and felt terribly guilt about the feelings. She has told me that she loves him and the guilt about having the feelings has triggered her depression. She is so confused about what’s going on she is at a loss of what to do. I was able to convince her to seek counseling and gave an appointment set up for us both. How will the counseling handle this what seems to be transference and allow her to begin to think clearly again. She had never doubted her love for me but is terribly confused about her feelings. 

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Hello, Jim, welcome!

(And sorry for the late reply...)

I'm sorry you're both in such a difficult situation. It's clear you're committed to your relationship and want to work on overcoming the current issue. That's great, that's the most important thing for success. Yes, you'll need also a good counsellor, but if the one you see doesn't help much, you can always try another.

What your wife experiences is very natural and quite common, in various situations. I think the key is to understand it much better (although you both seem to have quite an insight already - that it's transference due to the similarity of their situations, that she feels as she does about him because he "gets her" (in this one regard!) so much better than others). Feelings of love / infatuation are very strong and even "blinding", but they pass. She (nor you) cannot try to force herself to stop loving that person - it wouldn't help, that's impossible. But she can (in couples therapy / counselling) learn more about her feelings and the two relationships (with you and with him) and then accept the very different roles the two men have in her life and stay with the one who she wants to be married to and raise her child with (i.e., you). She can decide when the times is right, to stop contact with the other one and let her heart heal from the amorous feelings for him. They won't stay; they never do (mainly if not 'sustained' by something). She can still hold him in her heart as a person who once was very important, who helped her and gave her also some nice memories.

As I said, it's important for her to make the decision when the time is right - to "break up" with him, to let it all go, to wait until the infatuation fades away. I think if she felt forced to do it, she would still keep a deep regret that would be painful and might perhaps even cause some resentment towards you. That doesn't mean you shouldn't let her know how important it is for you (that she'll be able to resolve this issue and "be back there (only) for you"). Just also let her know you understand she needs time and help and that you're also willing to work on it with her, in counselling. 

As one of the most famous couples therapists, specialized on cheating, Esther Perel, says, cheating often makes marriages stronger, if the couple works on the underlying issues. Do you know her? I know your wife isn't cheating, but some consider this kind of relationship (she has with him) "emotional cheating"... so it can be helpful to look into this topic. (I think it's a big advantage for both of you that she didn't "find someone else" because you weren't "good enough anymore", but just because of a very specific circumstance. But the emotions around it can be probably similarly difficult to 'bear' and to 'overcome' as if it was cheating. And even though "you weren't the cause", there can certainly be place for improvement of your marriage during this healing process.)

You can start, for instance, here:

https://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-october-10-2017-1.4346695/what-infidelity-can-teach-us-about-ourselves-and-relationships-therapist-esther-perel-1.4346733

https://www.cbc.ca/radio/outintheopen/they-have-become-the-new-religion-esther-perel-says-we-expect-too-much-from-relationships-1.5000270

https://www.abc.net.au/news/health/2017-11-05/infidelity-and-how-your-relationship-can-recover/9107694

Quote

“I have worked with thousands of people who have been shattered by the experience of infidelity,” says Esther.

“[But] I have seen more than once where the affair breaks the stalemate, and suddenly they experience desire for their partner that they haven’t had in years.”

Esther’s new book The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity has faced criticism for ‘condoning’ cheating, but she argues we could all do with rethinking our attitudes.

“[Infidelity] is systemic, and we need an approach that is more compassionate and caring for all those involved.

“Some affairs break relationships, sometimes a relationship was already dying on the vine, and some affairs remake a relationship and jolt people out of a state of complacency and laziness. It becomes a powerful alarm system when people realise, ‘I don’t want to lose this.’”

Another excerpt, potentially pertinent, from here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/1BdGTSWrgGHQ1DMhpVJhDcf/nine-secrets-to-improve-your-relationships

Quote

Don’t expect one person to be your “everything”

We can put too much pressure on a spouse or partner: we want them to be our emotional crutch as well as our lover, friend, companion, confidant and financial support. And when they fail in one area we question our whole relationship. Sometimes it’s about knowing when to go to a friend or family member for advice and guidance, and a shoulder to cry on, rather than expecting a partner to do the job. Your marriage or partnership should be your primary relationship, but not your only one. 

-> This shows that it was natural and normal for her to seek some support elsewhere. It just got complicated; that happens. 

So this is how I see it. I'm not a therapist / counsellor / psychologist, I just have some knowledge and some experiences.

What do you think?

Good luck!!

 

Edited by LaLa

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LaLa

Thank you got the reply. Since my original post we went to EAP thru my employer. We both have referrals to a counselor and are planning on following thru. She found that the other persons feelings are not the same as hers and feels heartbroken and embarrassed. Her depression has hit hard as a result. She has also told me that it had been sexual with this person. With this and her figuring out his feelings are not the same I’m not sure what she is thinking. I think counseling is still viable option if she still is willing to go. She also insists she doesn’t want y to o talk to strangers who are condescending and judging her. She really wants the only one she can’t find  as ok to, her mom. She know her mom would be very disappointed in her with what she’s doing. It’s sad to say but this is not the same person I fell in love with and still love. I know it’s the grief and loss that’s gone this and I only hope that I can convince her that counseling will help her sort out her emotions and feelings. 

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I understand that it's very difficult for you. :(  She seems to be a different person, while only the situation is different. You both have a chance to learn more about yourself and each other; that's a good thing, even though it will be hard. 

I think the fact that her feelings are not reciprocated is good, although possibly more painful in the short term. Like this, she doesn't even have the possibility to choose between him and you; he's just not "available" at all.

Good luck with the counselling! Take care!

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On 2/6/2020 at 9:27 PM, Jim said:

It’s sad to say but this is not the same person I fell in love with and still love. I know it’s the grief and loss that’s gone this and I only hope that I can convince her that counseling will help her sort out her emotions and feelings. 

I think it might be important for you to feel some anger that this other man took advantage of her sexually when she was at a very low point and made things worse. 

I'm not sure stoking anger would be good for her, but, instead of totally blaming herself she might need to assign at least appropriate blame on the man.  A lot of people would automatically blame others totally which also can get out of hand, but has some short term value.

Postpartum depression might be part of the problem, too.  I think there are medication to help get past postpartum depression.

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