In this week’s Sexploration column, sex therapist Al Cooper, Ph.D., the clinical director of the San Jose Marital and Sexuality Centre, offers advice to a traveling salesman with an unsaintly past and a skeptical wife.
Question: My wife of 15 years is upset because I flirt with other women. I am a 40-year-old salesman and while I have had an affair or two over the years during business travel, I consider myself a happily married man who is a good father to my 10-year-old twin sons and a loving husband to my wife. I am successful in my job but my wife thinks I should take a job where I do not have to travel. What should I do?
Answer: It sounds like your traveling days are getting old for your wife but you're reluctant to give up the perks.
The scenario is something like this: After a day of traveling, you land in a different time zone late at night, get a few hours sleep and work all day. When it's time to quit, it is already dark outside. You return to your empty hotel room feeling exhausted and a little lonely. Needing a friendly voice, wanting to touch base with your wife and family, you call home. It is morning at home and your wife is on the go with the kids. You want to talk. She is busy. You hang up and feel like an outsider in your own family.
That can be tough to take, particularly this time of year. Out on the street, you are surrounded by the mood and sights of the holiday season. Restaurants and bars are done up with decorations, and tables are filled with groups of people having seasonal parties. The pervasive celebratory mood surrounding you only heightens your feeling of loneliness. Dinner and drinks with a perfumed someone who will listen to your every word looks like a good stress-buster. On the erotic Richter scale, married sex will most likely pale when compared with anonymous sex in the city.
Now let's look at it from your wife's window on the world. She may be feeling alienated from you. After all, she is running things all by herself -- and probably doing it well. What does she need you for?
When you finally do get home, jet-lagged and burned-out, it probably takes a little while to re-enter family life. If, on top of all this, you are spending some of the limited time you have together by flirting with other women and not concentrating on her, she may feel even more distant from you and probably angry as well.
Ask yourself what the flirting means to you. Do you do it to get reassurance that you are still attractive to other women? Perhaps you are unsure how your wife feels about you. It sounds as if you both share the same insecurity about the other's love and commitment.
There is no doubt that being a traveling man seems to be weighing on your marriage. So it's time to ask yourself some hard questions. Is the traveling life worth the risks you are taking? Keep in mind there are some inherent dangers in those liaisons at dinner. What if one of these women stalks you, transmits a sexual disease or calls your wife? Will your wife leave? And what if your wife finds out about these affairs? Will she stay or go?
Also, who is to say your wife isn't also coping with her loneliness by doing some "traveling" of her own? Like yourself, she may find herself looking for some adult company who smells nice at the end of the day, too. Maybe a 9-5 man who likes to take in the kids' soccer games and shop for gifts for the in-laws looks pretty good to her right about now.
Distant beat of divorce drums
So, in spite of your contention that your marriage is happy, I am pretty sure that I can hear the distant beat of the divorce drums. If you do indeed love your wife, it's time to take the cotton out of your ears and realize there is trouble in paradise. So, let's save this marriage.
When you get home the next time, get a few personal days off and spend some time with your wife. Tell her you hear her request that you stay home as a need to be closer to you and to improve your relationship. Tell her you also want to be with her and the kids more. Validating her request will go a long way.
With the economy the way it is, you may be worried that you will be fired if you request a desk job. But including your wife in the discussion about what to do is as important as any decision you make. You will both have to consider the financial realities. Can she help you problem-solve or maybe get a part-time job herself? Even traveling less and taking her with you more may be a good first step.
Most of all let her know she is special to you and that you want a richer marriage and a closer relationship with your sons. Tell her you want to be more involved on a daily basis.
Use the opportunity these few days off to make love. See what relaxed, married sex can be like while the kids are in school. It has its perks as well.
Gale H. Golden, LCSW, BCD, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont Medical College who has a private practice in Burlington, Vt., contributed to this column.