How to save our marriage

Welcome back from the weekend. I’m on a train from Maryland to Boston today. My friend’s wedding was beautiful. I’d never been to a Quaker wedding. It was very cool. And the wedding cake was designed by this place. Tasty.
Hey Meredith..... I don't know if my question is unique -- I trust it isn't in general but it certainly is to me. I hope that I can glean some advice from you and the readers as to this situation. I am hopeful that it creates a discourse that can help save our marriage. Overall, I feel that we have built a solid foundation to our lives -- 5 great kids, wonderful extended family, great home, and general economic prosperity due to really hard work over the 21 years that we have been together. Unfortunately, as may be too often the case, we have let our physical and emotional closeness erode as we put that aside for the sake of others. 6 weeks ago, she indicated that she was not happy. She did not come out and say she wanted to separate but intimated that. We had a very emotional conversation -- the most so of all our time together. I expressed my love for her and committed to change my behavior to ensure that there was no doubt about how special and important she is to my existence. I committed to ensuring that we spent time together and communicated our feelings. It was like I was staring down the abyss ... it scared me to no end thinking about not being with her forever. She also indicated that she would work on the relationship as we both wanted to stay together -- or so it seemed. Here is where it gets complicated. There were obvious signs of a distraction from another relationship. She had started to work out like a fiend, lift weights, and diet -- ostensibly because she wanted to feel better about herself -- which I am proud of her for doing so. She looks fantastic. While this was going on, however, she was secretly having a long-distance relationship with my son's former hockey coach. There were two occasions where they had an opportunity to be physical but I don't know if that happened -- she indicates no but I am skeptical. This two-month relationship involved mostly texting - sometimes 70 per day and some of the material that he produced would make a sailor blush. I confirmed my suspicions by looking at her phone and confronted her with it. She was predictably upset about the fact that I had "spied" on her -- nothing I am proud of -- but I needed to confirm what I already knew in my heart. She is visibly sad and confused as she tries to sort out her feelings. I have asked her to stop the relationship with the other guy -- I feel it inappropriate but she refuses to do so. Irrespective of the pain it is inflicting on me and the harm that I believe it will inevitably cause to our relationship -- she indicated it would be too painful for her to stop the interactions. More importantly, she feels that relationship is in parallel to ours and is not the cause of our underlying problems. I believe that there is truth to that statement -- this relationship was not the cause of the distance we created yet I can't believe that with it alive and well - we can ultimate reconcile our feelings of love for each other. Particularly because of the lies, secrecy and deceit that I feel being inflicted on me. She won't share what is exchanged -- I won't go behind her back anymore to find out. I have been very understanding and forgiving over this period while she is sorting things out but I am running out of both. I am hurt and angry. Am I out of bounds here to establish some firm boundaries about her interactions with this guy? An ultimatum won't be received well but is that an approach to force her to make a decision? Do you or the readers agree that a relationship where intimate feelings were exchanged can be viewed as having no bearing on how it affects her "working" on our relationship? Any other approaches to suggest -- she is too stubborn and independent to accompany me to counseling. -- Cold as Ice, North Shore

CAI -- You're right -- your question isn't unique, which is sort of a bummer. It seems many couples find themselves in this position after being married for a long time. Life gets boring, love does erode, as you put it, and someone new starts to look like an escape. I'm happy this was a wake-up call for you. I'm happy you're willing to take some accountability for the aforementioned erosion. Now it's your wife’s turn to help mend this relationship. She's not Tony Soprano. She's not allowed to have a spouse and a significant other on the side. You're not willing to share. You're right to assume that her relationship with this man directly affects her ability to rediscover emotional intimacy with you. She can disagree all she wants, but she’s just trying to delay the inevitable -- which is letting him go. Tell your wife that if she wants to stay with you, she has to trust that you’re going to give her enough positive attention to make her happy. Tell her you understand that she’ll be miserable for a while if she has to let this man go. It will be a break-up -- and you’ll be there for her as she goes through it. Tell her what you've told us -- that you can't maintain a marriage with someone who's in a relationship with someone else. It’s not so much an ultimatum as it is a fact -- you can't deal with a text-messaging third wheel. If you fix this marriage, you'll be doing it as a twosome, not a trio. Tell her you're drawing the line -- not because you're a controlling partner who wants to threaten her happiness, but because you're the man who adores her and wants to stay married to her for the rest of her life. If you're asking for my permission to make what you already know is an appropriate demand to save your marriage, you've got it, buddy. Just don't expect an over-night decision on her part. It takes more than a night and a lot of repeat conversations to figure this stuff out. Readers? Should this woman be allowed to text a hockey coach while she's working on her marriage? Should CAI give an ultimatum? Can this North Shore marriage be saved? Share here. Letters to right, etc. -- Meredith