Dear Patti, 

I’m a single man (35), a personal physical fitness trainer, and I’m deeply in love with one of my clients — a married woman with two children. She’s a very successful attorney accustomed to a pretty high standard of living. I could never give her and her children that life, but the chemistry between us was instantaneous. We became lovers right away and have been having an affair for over a year.

I know I sound like a silly cliché but my love for her is real. I’ve never felt more alive and at my best than when we’re together. She listens to me and treats me as if I’m brilliant. I’ve never thought of myself that way before. I believe she loves me but also know she has no intention of leaving her husband. She made it clear she’d never put her children in that situation and I respect her decision.

I was neglected as a child and no one has ever loved me like this before. I feel guilty because I know my lover belongs with her family and not me, but it’s very painful to let go. I tried to end the relationship last summer but we missed each other terribly and started seeing each other again. I’m not in denial. I know this relationship won’t work for the long-term, and I don’t want to miss out on having a wife and family of my own. I know I have to break it off so I can go on building my own life. I need advice on how to say goodbye for real.   

  — Josh

Dear Josh,

You’re not silly. The reason you feel like a cliché is because the predicament you’re in is a common one that many have faced. On the one hand, you’re experiencing love like you’ve never known, more family-like feelings than you’ve ever had before. On the other hand, you’re experiencing guilt for interfering with a family. It’s important to come to terms with your guilt and your actions or else risk having your self-esteem and self-respect damaged.

The decision you have made to leave is an excruciatingly painful one. It’s hard to let go of someone you love, especially when that kind of love has been rare in your life. As explained in attachment theory, when someone has bonded with another in a deep way, it feels familial and irreplaceable — even if that person is unavailable and has flaws. For example, no mother goes to a hospital nursery after giving birth and, upon seeing her bald, crying baby points to another cute sleeping baby with hair and says she wants to take that one home instead. Likewise, dating someone else when you’re still “attached” to your current lover will invite comparisons that put the newcomer at a disadvantage. It will take time to detach. The best way is to cut off all communication with no reinforcement whatsoever. Getting love sporadically can be very powerful and, thus, make it difficult to permanently exit.

You’ll need to grieve over this relationship as well as other relationships that have disappointed you. It would be beneficial to seek professional counseling. It’s up to you, Josh, to insist on being with someone who loves only you and wants to build a life together.

There’s always a risk of heartbreak when you lose someone you deeply love. Sometimes in life, a mentor can arrive in a form you least expect; it seems like this is the case here. She’s supporting you to value your intelligence. After the experience of being accepted and loved by someone who views you as brilliant, you might possibly be changed for the better. No matter what happens, she has given you a different way to view yourself; respect her for that. Much of what you feel when you’re with her are actually parts of your personality that can come out whenever you want.

It may hurt deeply when this relationship ends, but it will hurt less if you take a fuller, more complete self with you. For as long as you stay in the relationship, be respectful of her, her feelings and what she helped awaken in you. Appreciate that you’ve given each other the gift of feeling what it’s like to be cherished, however long it endures.


Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her website, patticarmalt-vener.com.