The question I’ve been with my husband for 40 years. Four weeks ago, I discovered he has had a 30-year affair. I picked up his phone thinking it was mine and I noticed a text from an unknown woman. He’d been texting, making arrangements, all in affectionate and loving language. When I challenged him he told me they’d had an affair lasting five years about 30 years ago. He said the guilt made him break it off, even though she was distraught. He swears he never wanted to leave me. They resumed contact, although as a friendship rather than a sexual relationship.
He would visit her, but denies anything physical happened and insists neither of them wanted to jeopardise our marriage. I’m devastated. I’ve seen a side of him I’ve never known. He is adamant it was just friendship, but texts included him telling her he loved her, which he hasn’t said to me for years.
Our marriage has involved no physical touch for a long time. I’ve always believed he just isn’t a physically affectionate person, but even during the raw trauma of the last weeks, he hasn’t hugged me. I’ve told him I find touch comforting, but it seems impossible.
I feel that their relationship has taken so much away from ours. He agrees and has been apologetic. We’re in our early 70s with children and grandchildren. The thought of ending the marriage and stressing our family seems destructive. We’ve agreed to try to repair things, but part of me wonders if I’m mad to stay with someone who has been unfaithful, sexually and emotionally, for so long. I am in shock. Am I being stupid, weak, pathetic? Can couples recover from situations like this?
Philippa’s answer You are neither being stupid, nor weak, nor pathetic. Yes, some couples do recover from situations like this, although I can understand that, from where you are right now, it will feel like climbing Everest. Sometimes the betrayed partner, in situations like yours, suffers post-traumatic stress disorder as their emotional wellbeing has been threatened and sense of safety compromised. No more talk about being weak. You’ve had a huge shock, your whole world order has been shaken. It is as though he has been split for 30 years – half of him has been having an emotional affair with her and the other half upholding the image of a loyal family man but, nevertheless, holding back from being fully with you.
It would be hard to draw a line under such an affair without working through everything – and probably with a couples therapist. Think of the point up to that shock revelation as being your first marriage. With therapy, you and your husband can build what you can think of as your second marriage.
As the one betrayed you will need to work through the trauma of the affair and all the times you doubted your instincts and sense of reality over the past 30 years. You will need a lot of time for this part of the process, while, for your husband, it will be something that won’t be able to happen quick enough. But it will be important that you both stay with it. You could ringfence discussions, so that they only happen during counselling and perhaps…