I am having an affair with a married man who is my coworker. I did not begin the affair, he pursued me. His wife does not know. I feel guilty about it but I am in love with him. He says that he loves me but that he also loves his wife because although she is abusive and he feels no attraction to her she was there for him when he was very ill two years ago. Are my actions unethical? If she doesn't know and I am truly in love with him is it okay? Are his actions more unethical than mine?

What is this question, the confession of a character in Desperate Housewives? Glad to serve as your priest, or shrink:

(1) "I am having an affair with a married man who ismy coworker. I did not begin the affair, he pursued me."

What does this matter, that "he pursued me," if you ended up in bed together? Why mention something irrelevant? I suspect because it might not be true; you are engaging in rationalizing exculpation ("it's not my doing!") to evade responsibility. Are you conveniently forgetting or suppressing your attempts (either conscious or unconscious) to get him interested? Men very often approach only a woman who has already sent them subtle inviting messages. You ask, at the end, "Are his actions more unethical than mine?" This, too, suggests, that you are concerned with apportioning responsibility. ("He's worse than I am!")

(2) "His wife doesnot know."

How do you know this? Because he told you that he didn't tell her? Maybe he's lying. (He's already proven himself lacking in integrity.) Or maybe she knows independently: men who have affairs leave a track of signs to which they are oblivious, but a sharp wife knows what they mean. Don't underestimate or look down your nose at your "competition." Also, what difference would it make if she did know? Are you suggesting that if her rights have been unknowingly violated, her rights haven't been violated at all? Or that ignorance is bliss? Or, again, are you being only self-centered?---"She doesn't know, so we won't get caught."

(3) "I feel guilty about it but I am in love with him."

Ah, guilt: the spice of sexual excitement. Ah, love, the justification for everything, no matter how rotten. All sorts of sins are committed in the name of love. Or is it merely lust that you feel, or appreciation for his interest and acceptance, or the relief of loneliness? None of which are good reasons for cheating. Why do you feel guilty, anyway? Doesn't that tell you that according to your own beliefs you have crossed the moral border?

(4) "He saysthat he loves me [of course the blighter would say that*] but that he also loves his wife because although sheis abusive [oh, so now you want to blame her, too? tsk, tsk] and he feels no attraction to her she was there for him whenhe was very ill two years ago [I've seen this television program, lots of times]. Are my actions unethical?

You know the answer to this. Were you hoping for forgiveness? I grant it freely. Although, I'd never want to have a sexual or romantic affair with you, even if I weren't your priest or shrink.

*Madonna ("Sorry")

Je suis désolé
Lo siento
Ik ben droevig
Sono spiacente
Perdóname

I've heard it all before
I've heard it all before
I've heard it all before
I've heard it all before

I don't wanna hear, I don't wanna know
Please don't say you're sorry
I've heard it all before
And I can take care of myself
I don't wanna hear, I don't wanna know
Please don't say 'forgive me'
I've seen it all before
And I can't take it anymore

You're not half the man you think you are
Save your words because you've gone too far
I've listened to your lies and all your stories
You're not half the man you'd like to be

Don't explain yourself cause talk is cheap
There's more important things than hearing you speak
Mistake me cause I made it so convenient
Don't explain yourself, you'll never see

Gomen nasai
Mujhe maaf kardo
Przepraszam
Slihah
Forgive me....

Even if the question suggests rationalization and some self-deception, there is still the more philosophical question of why this affair is wrong (if it is wrong).

Contrary to what you suggest, the fact that the wife does not know is probably sufficient to make the affair wrong. She stuck to this man throughout his serious illness and thereafter, because she believed and still believes that they have a certain relationship with each other which she values highly. She does not in fact have such a relationship -- her husband feels no attraction for her and is in love with you. If she knew that her life in fact lacks what she values highly, that her husband describes her to his lover as abusive, that he stays with her only because she looked after him when he was ill -- if she knew all this, then she would very seriously consider leaving her husband to try to build a new relationship of the kind she values. The deception deprives her of this opportunity and leads to her life failing miserably in a respect that for her is very important, perhaps most important. The notion that she is not harmed so long as she does not know of this failure is patronizing and unresponsive to what she cares about: What she deems important is that she should have a meaningful relationship with her husband, not that she should have pleasant beliefs about this relationship.

(Imagine for a moment that the husband has a second secret lover as well, one who knows about you though you don't know about him or her. And imagine that he tells his second lover that he is very bored with you but stays with you because you might otherwise cause a scandal in the office. Wouldn't this make your life much worse even if you didn't know? Wouldn't you want to find out, despite the pain this would cause you, so that you have a chance to find a better relationship? -- If yes, then why assume otherwise about the wife?)

Now, to be sure, I don't strictly know all this about the wife. I find it probable in view of what you wrote and in view of what I see around me in this culture. Perhaps I guess wrongly. Perhaps she loves him in a subservient, self-denying way that makes her care mainly about his happiness, not about their relationship nor about whether her own life is fulfilled. If this were so (and the husband knew this), then perhaps it could be alright for him to have the affair and not tell her. He knows that she would want him to have this affair, if it makes him happy; and he knows that she would want to be there to serve him even if he loves someone else. So telling her would just cause her pointless pain. Not a likely scenario at all, in my view, but worth mentioning just to show that there might possibly be cases where having an affair without telling one's partner is alright.

The husband knows vastly more about his wife than you do. Nonetheless, you cannot simply rely on his expressed judgment that what he and you are doing is alright. (For one thing, he has a strong interest in misleading you and possibly deceiving himself on this point.) You need to judge whether what he tells you about her would make the affair alright. And you also need to judge whether what he tells you is true. In this case, what he has told you, even if true, does not justify your secret affair for the reason stated in the second paragraph. So I cannot see how the husband's conduct, or yours, could be ethical.

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