A Reader Writes…
It’s now 8 months since I discovered that my husband had a 5 month affair with a work colleague. I feel totally exhausted by the pain and constant ruminations that I am at a loss at what to do for relief. At times, I have a strong urge for a trial separation. I believe that some time to myself will provide some much needed pain relief. My husband does not want a separation. He says that he will do “whatever it takes” to keep me. He regularly tells me I am beautiful and gorgeous and that he loves me so much (always has and always will). He says “please don’t give up”, and that “each day is a day closer to happiness”. He says we have 40 years of happy life to look forward to. I struggle to share his optimism.
We had been together for 14 years (married for 10 years) when I discovered his affair. The “other woman” hand delivered a long letter to me at our house detailing her affair with my husband. Reading that letter was a complete shock to me and I still tremble at the memory of reading those words on the page and the thought of what may have happened if I had opened the door to this woman.
My husband had ended the affair by the time I found out. He said that he realised very quickly that this woman was not what he wanted, and that he had made a big mistake. He admitted that he was very flattered by the unexpected attention she showered on him, but all that he ever wanted was me. He loved me so much and he had been desperately unhappy for a long time as he knew that I didn’t love him or want him in any way. He says that he now feels like a complete idiot and is full of remorse and guilt that he has hurt me. When I discovered his affair he was clearly an emotional wreck and he admitted that he hadn’t slept properly for a long time. His mistress had hounded and abused him for many weeks, threatening to tell me because he “shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it”.
His affair followed a very dark and unhappy time for me (and us). For a couple of years I felt I had no “bright lights in my life” at all. I had experienced an ugly redundancy from the high flying job I hated, my mum had been diagnosed with cancer, and my husband and I were weary with a big family fall out with his toxic mother. I was out of work, lonely, very bored and tired with the hum drum and pressures of family life and looking after 3 small children. I now recognise that I didn’t feel in love with him during this time, nor did I show him much love.
I didn’t acknowledge these feelings at all. I dealt with them by withdrawing from everybody and avoiding intimacy with him (although we did continue to have sex maybe a couple of times a month – I did it largely to please him). I remember feeling that my complete loss of libido must be down to the onset of early menopause. I nearly went to the Doctor several times. Looking back I feel so foolish as I can now see that these feelings were probably caused by depression.
My husband also felt terribly sad during this time, as I had left him on his own, but unfortunately we didn’t discuss our problems and simply left them to fester. Not surprisingly, he became selfish, uncaring and unhelpful around the house as he also struggled to deal with (or rather not deal with) a spiteful mother who acted like she didn’t want him and a wife who didn’t want him to touch her. He has told me since that he would regularly “test” me and wait and wait to see if I would initiate affection with him in the hope I would prove that I cared for him and fancied him. Of course, I never did. I was at an all time low and was turned off my husband as I saw him as emotionally barren and uncaring. However, this was the pot calling the kettle black.
I gradually seemed to work myself out of my dark hole and about 10 months ago I asked my husband if he would attend couples counselling with me as I felt it would help us to nudge our marriage in the right direction. He laughed off my request and declared that our problems weren’t that bad and told me not to be so silly. I didn’t pursue the notion of counselling any further with him (as I also thought that I was probably overreacting), but I did resolve to make a huge personal effort to restore our marriage.
Even though I was still struggling to feel love for him (for anyone actually), I respected him enormously and couldn’t imagine any other man that I would rather be in love with. He was and still is the most exciting and funny person I have ever met. I loved him for who he was even though I was struggling to feel “in love”. I was confident that we could be romantic again, and was starting to realise that my lack of feeling “in love” was probably as much to do with me as it was with us.
Anyway, we had a good few months and things were really starting to pick up in all ways until I received that unexpected letter. Life is now upside down and back to front and I just don’t know if I want him any more after his betrayal. We are both so ashamed and we have told no-one about his affair apart from the counsellors we have seen. We have now finally attended couples counselling and have learnt a lot about communication and the acts of showing that we care for each other. He has had counselling to address his lifelong sense of being unwanted by his mother, and I have just started counselling.
Although 8 months has gone by since I found out about his affair, I still experience very, very bad days where all the trauma of discovery come flooding back. I struggle to trust him and am plagued with terror at some of the contents of that letter. The “other woman” told me that my husband had “confessed” that he had kissed many other women during our marriage and he had slept with at least one other woman, although this was his first affair (she claims). She told me that the only reason he couldn’t leave me was because of the children and that he was therefore going to live a lie for the next few years and leave me high and dry when the children are grown up and I am too old to find someone else.
Although I sense in my head she was being deliberately cruel, my heart still listens to these words and I am terrified of the incongruity of it all. I obsess that my husband is really a manipulative and conniving serial philanderer who has duped me for many years. I read everything I can lay my hands on about affairs to try and work out what he really is.
I am desperate to know the whole truth and have asked him many times to fess up about any other women. He always replies that he has never cheated before his affair, and has sworn on the life of our children that this is so. Why should I believe him? He has lied about so much during his affair, been so callous and deceitful in so many ways that there is little reason to think he is telling the truth now. My thoughts have always been if you lie about apples, you lie about oranges! He has never given me cause to doubt his faithfulness before.
However, after this revelation I feel that I don’t know this man who has done these things and told these lies. I cannot believe he has been so stupid, cannot believe that he gambled with our children’s futures and cannot believe that he would put my sexual health at risk. I struggle to comprehend how such a fabulous father could lie to his children and tell them that he needed to stay out overnight with work when he was really spending the night with his mistress. I can fully understand his need to feel loved and wanted after our difficult times (I felt like that too) but I am absolutely devastated that he could engage in sexual relations with someone else. How could he be so callous as to sleep with another woman one day and return to our marital bed and sleep with me the next day?
Some days I simply collapse in a heap of tears as I can’t bear to feel like this any longer. Other days I feel quite strong, understanding and mature. Simple things can set a bad day off, for example reading about a respected celebrity who has been caught having an affair. Rather than feeling reassured by learning that affairs happen to good marriages and good people as well as bad, I feel despair that the world is awash with hurt and unhappiness. I feel alienated from society in that I appear to be the exception rather than the rule in taking monogamy seriously.
I am simply broken hearted that my lovely man made that choice that has enabled my worst nightmare to come true. The roller-coaster of emotion is taking its toll and sometimes the pain is so physical and intense that I just want it to STOP. I feel that maybe if I have a break I can sort this out in my head, feel strong again and gain some much needed pain relief. I want him but I don’t want a cheater for a husband. Where do I go from here? How to get images of husband affair out of my head?
The first thing you should do is congratulate yourself. You’re doing incredibly well. Despite hearing about the affair in the worst possible way, you have managed to stop and look at your own contributing behaviour (rather than just blaming your husband) and been compassionate to the other woman (rather than getting stuck with endless anger towards her). Your counselling seems to be going well – and your husband is beginning to understand some of the reasons why he strayed.
If you haven’t read ‘How can I ever trust you again’ please do so – as you’ll find that eight months is actually quite a short way into the recovery process (so I’m not surprised that you’re still broken-hearted). It sounds like you need a weekend or a little more time away to lick your wounds, go for long walks and have some time-out for yourself. (This will not sound so frightening to your husband as a temporary separation).
There are two things that stick out in your letter. Firstly, how could he have been so stupid and gambled his health, yours and your children’s future? Let me try and explain…. when we’re hurting (and he was feeling rejected and unloved), there are three ways forward a) talk about it and try and solve it (always the best) b) switch off and retreat into yourself (your choice for your bleak times but ultimately not a long-term solution) or c) grabbing anything to feel better (even if it makes things worse in the long-term). Sadly your husband fell into the last category and desperate people do desperate things. However, it doesn’t make him a bad man. (In fact, he sounds rather nice). Hopefully, both of you will learn from this experience and take option a) rather than b) or c) next time there’s a problem. Secondly, you’re putting an awful lot of weight behind what this woman wrote. There’s a million reasons to doubt her version of your marriage but here’s a few. She is no friend of your marriage and has looked for every scrap of negative. She sees everything through her own distorting lens. In the bubble world of an affair, people say things they don’t mean (and your husband will be no exception). Men lie to their mistresses as well as their wives. I could go on but I really don’t think she’s worth the energy.
So this is how do you move forward. Instead of reading everything about affairs, start learning about yourself and relationships (my Seven Steps series would be a good start). Cut yourself some slack. I’d be more worried if you said you were over the affair already! Finally ask your husband for help, if you need a cuddle (ask for one) rather than getting angry with him. If there’s some way that he could atone for what he did, ask for it. You’ve had some really good conversations since this affair was discovered, well done, so keep talking and it will slowly get better.