Reader question: I have met a woman that I work with and I’m pretty sure we are soul mates. We have gone through a lot at the office (a lot of stress with the business almost closing) and we formed a bond and began seeing each other. The problem is that we are both married to other people. Should we end our marriages and give this a try if we both believe we are meant to be together?
There are lots of red flags in your question and very little to recommend moving forward with this new relationship. The two of you have just gone through an intense time which has generated intense feelings. You bonded over a common cause and pulled together towards a mutually desired outcome. It felt like the two of you against the world. That is normal and natural in the situation you describe, but it’s dangerous to assume those feelings are love.
If you take a closer look, you’ll notice how the description of your feelings mimics the feelings we want from our marriages – close, intense, together, bonded. Chances are you and your wife felt them in the beginning of your own relationship, just as your colleague and her husband did.
We forget that those feelings, at least at the intensity you have recently experienced, are typically situational. Almost any heightened circumstance generates them. Adrenaline is pumping, all our senses are on high alert, and everything in general seems brighter, more vivid, and yes, more passionate. That can happen in the beginning of a relationship, in the focus of a project, or in a life-threatening situation.
You’ll notice the repetition of the words “intense” and “situation.” That is a major clue. In any elevated situation, we experience some variation of our primitive instinctual reactions, much like “fight or flight” kicks in when we feel threatened. It is virtually impossible to sustain those intense feelings day in and day out regardless of the catalyst. Nor would we want to. Our minds and bodies are not programmed to run constantly at that level. Plus, maintaining at that high emotional degree would negate the value of those feelings. We need to experience their opposites as well as the full spectrum in between in order to register them as distinct feelings at all. Duality is a powerful and valuable part of the human experience.
Situations are usually temporary. We respond in the moment with the appropriate emotion given the situation, then usually return to a more normal comfy range in between. We are programmed to feel those intense feelings so we can identify any new and different situations, whether they are threatening or pleasant.
The biggest warning sign, however, is in your last sentence: “Should we give this a try?” That is not an auspicious start to any relationship.
Marriage takes daily care. In any marriage, it’s normal to go from the exciting honeymoon phase of courtship and early marriage to a deeper day-to-day routine. The first trick is finding a routine that feels pleasant, nurturing, and connected for both of you. The second trick is realizing that you both will continue to grow and evolve, and your routine must grow and evolve with you. The third trick is actively and collaboratively finding ways to keep your love alive.
Changing relationships is rarely the answer to your own boredom or need for a shot of excitement. It may work for a little while, but then you will be faced with the same old problems that are making your current marriage vulnerable. You’ll be putting yourself and this woman who you clearly esteem at risk for future heartbreak on top of the current loss you will experience by leaving your marriages.
If you are feeling bored in your current life and enticed by the newness and excitement before you, start with filling the internal gaps yourself instead of involving someone new or hurting someone you have loved. If you expect this new person to keep filling the emptiness inside you, she will only disappoint you when you both discover that is always an inside job.
This bears repeating: The emptiness inside of you can NEVER be filled by another person.
Start by finding more fulfillment for yourself by cultivating existing or new interests. Put some spark back into your marriage, especially if you have let your daily routine get stale. It may not have kept up with the personal growth you and your wife have experienced collectively and individually. Involve our wife. You may discover that she shares your wish to evolve your relationship or you may find that you two have outgrown each other. Either way, everyone wins and you avoid needless messiness and hurt. You and your wife may enter a new honeymoon phase or you may lovingly set each other free.
Don’t even think of telling your colleague that you are going to give lip-service to re-igniting your marriage, though frankly if she accepts you on those terms you deserve each other.
Also think on this: Not all soulmates are romantic mates. Our soul tribes are comprised of many types of relationships, most of which by sheer numbers are not romantic. Everyone who shows up in your life, for a minute or forever, is a soulmate of one kind or another. This woman may be a business soulmate, a friend soulmate, or even a life lesson soulmate. And you may be the same for her. The current situation has been complicated because you are a man and she's a woman. If you were both men or both women, you would recognize this for what it probably is - war buddies.
That’s not to say it isn’t possible that the two of you are in love. Just that it is unlikely you can truly find out in the throes of the present circumstances and intense feelings. If you feel any respect for your workmate as a person and for your wife as, well, your wife, then give yourself some breathing room.
To circle back to your question, there are no "shoulds", no one can answer for you, and you cannot abdicate figuring it out for yourself. No matter who you ask, their answers won’t be your answers. They can only tell you what they think you “should” do. (There’s that word again!). Of course you can learn from others, listen to what they are saying, but then it is up to you to apply the new information in ways that are nurturing to you and the people you have committed to protect. That’s how we evolve. But only YOU can decide that part.