My delay in responding was occasioned by the recent shifts in BOL's server, which made it inaccessible for most of a week. That, and a few days of the flu.
We do disagree sharply about the issues presented by Harold, and about the nature of psychotherapy. Why on earth would anyone consult us therapists if their indecision could be managed by a cautionary statement from an authority? In point of fact, lots of people had told Harold to quit his affair and return to his wife, just as lots of other people had told him to leave the wife he never loved and take the risky path of life with someone with whom he experienced loving mutuality as never before. Your comment belies the experience of generations of therapists that there is such an entity as obsessional indecision. It is for cases such as Harold's that cognitive therapy developed decision-making strategies, psychoanalysis taught us to look beneath the symptom to find hidden causality, pharmacotherapy taught us to look for biochemical glitches that interfered with the normal plasticity of the affect system.
Harold's inability to deal with intense personal affect is so severe that he can go only so far in a sequence of therapy sessions before he must absent himself. I know dozens of "techniques" for binding him to the flames of intense therapy, each of which would have led to his withdrawal from the treatment process long before there was any possibility of internal change. I ask you to reconsider your sense of outrage at what is going on here, for you seem to be operating as an instrument of his wife, his children, his conscience, or some other part of the complex situation unfolding here. What I offered Harold was a form of therapy calculated to lead him toward resolution of his internal struggle. There were plenty of other forces arrayed around him to speak as you might have wished.
More to the point, perhaps, might be my own personal views about adultery. I really really don't approve of it in any form. In my personal world, one finishes the relationship to which one is committed before beginning another; I live with a central sense of fairness. Harold appeared in my practice approximately 15 years ago, when I was trying to deal with just the issues you raise in your comments. Prior to this period, whenever a patient brought up an extramarital liaison, I dealt with it as an aberration in the otherwise normal path of the core relationship. By training, I encouraged the affairist to recognize the illicit liaison as an attempt to solve a problem not capable of solution within the marriage, and to take from the affair what could be learned and return with this learning to the marriage. I believed that truth was the only solution for all problems. Pretty much, this worked for me; some of my patients divorced, some returned to a much improved marriage. It has been my impression, confirmed by careful study of sequential cases from a handful of trusted colleagues, that approximately one in eight people actually marry the individual for whom they purportedly leave their marriage. In the other seven/eighths, the paramour served more as an indication that life could be better; viewed without the overarching fear that accompanies an affair, the paramour had turned out to be far less interesting than s/he appeared earlier.
Yet at the time Harold appeared for treatment, I was avalanched with cases involving extramarital affairs. He was one of perhaps 6 cases I was seeing at the same time in which there was an affair; in each, the paramour was described as the quintessence of all that was wonderful in humankind. As a rule of thumb, it was my experience from this period that the people who went back to their spouses with a vastly improved marriage reported later that the paramour was "really a lot like" the spouse, or that friends who had gotten to know both spouse and paramour thought they were quite similar in looks, behavior, or attitude. I concluded that this sub-group of affairists was trying to recapture within an affair some sense of the marriage as it had been initially.
There was another group, one in which Harold seemed to fit. In these situations, the paramour represented so different an approach to life that it was nearly inconceivable that the same individual could have been attracted to both. I learned that in these cases, the paramour represented either a previously hidden part of the affairist's world, or was the partner best suited for the level of emotional maturity to which s/he had now evolved. Harold's case was quite unusual in that he was so bound by his sense of the contract implied when he inseminated a woman on a first date, that he was never able to declare his own emotional interests or values. No stricture from me could ever have held the power or weight of that guilt which impelled him to marry her in the first place; it was for his ambivalence he sought counsel, not his lack of awareness of the significance of the poles of his dilemma.
Stick around. There were times when I did give him advice so direct that it bordered on marching orders. I wouldn't present a case here that resolved as easily as you wish.