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Ask Ammanda: My husband was having an affair for most of our relationship

I'm a married woman in my 50’s. My husband and I met nine years ago and got married two and a half years ago.

It was the third marriage for us both and this time it was for good. We'd learnt from our mistakes, found our soul mates - lovers and best friends. No time for games – just honest, warts and all conversation. Enjoying our time together in an early retirement, travelling etc.

On the day we got engaged, in 2017, I found him texting another woman about sex. He said it was someone he slept with before we met (in 2012) but had kept sexting her occasionally and I had just happened to catch him. After a lot of pain, we agreed to have counselling together and gradually rebuilt our relationship. We got married the following year and I thought we had the happiest relationship, the marriage everyone envied - lovely house, lots of fantastic holidays, long walks, great nights out etc.

But then, a few weeks ago I found he had another mobile. When I confronted him with it he had the same look he had four years earlier – sheer fear that he had been caught out again. He now says he actually had a two year affair with her two years into our relationship (from 2014 to 2016) and that he had tried to stop sexting her (as he had promised during our counselling) but he had only managed a few months and carried it on. He says its just like ‘personal porn’ for him and he seems to be hooked on that.

We have now separated but he is desperate to get back together again. He's promising never to do anything again – saying that he thinks he puts women in, as he says, a ‘dirty’ sex category rather than a loving sexual relationship. We have talked about what he means specifically and I would be happier with having more ‘spice’ in our relationship as he rarely (if ever) took the initiative with me.

Despite all of this, I love this man. At times, I am hopeful that what's happened will create a more honest relationship, with better sex. I am incredibly sad most of the time though – so hurt that he conned me into marriage when he had lied, carrying on the relationship with this other woman (who is also married) for seven years – almost as long as we have been together.

I am so fearful that no matter what we do, he will need a 'buzz' (as he puts it) and either do this with her or someone new. He has lied and deceived me so cleverly for so long. Also, he lied through counselling last time so what is to stop him doing that again? It is very lonely without him in my life and I am scared at the idea of starting over again at my age but am I just pushing things further down the line only for the same to happen again. I read something today which said 'if you are fooled once, shame on them, if you are fooled again by the same person, shame on you' – this really hit home to me.

If you are able to give me any advice that would be great – I have just started counselling too.

Ammanda says...

We don’t always have what we thought we had do we - but let’s start on a positive. You’ve started counselling and I hope this will really help you think through what has happened and decide where you now want to go with all this.

Your trust has been broken and it’s often an uphill struggle to regain it – some people do and others don’t. What counselling won’t do is change your husband’s behaviour – but more on that in a moment.

The bottom line here is that you’ve been deceived throughout the relationship. I also wonder – and this is a rather challenging point, to what extent you’ve always had your concerns but always pushed those niggling thoughts to the back of your mind and gave him the benefit of the doubt? When we love someone it’s sometimes easier to go down the ‘hope springs eternal’ route.

I understand from your letter that you dread the thought of losing the relationship, despite what you have experienced. What you have to acknowledge here is that this issue is one that only your husband can do something about. You tell me he’s desperate to get back together again and has promised not to deceive you again. I think though that he may need some professional help to more thoroughly understand why he does what he does and then to decide if this is something he can change or even wants to change.

From what you describe it sounds like he has completely compartmentalised his life. When he’s with you – he’s with you. Other times he’s involved with someone else. It’s not uncommon for people acting like this to really believe that neither knows about the other and so therefore no harm done. It’s almost like living in parallel worlds. That ‘splitting’ between ‘good sex and ‘dirty’ sex is also quite common and often the topic under discussion in counselling rooms all over the country. It often has its roots in infancy and childhood.

I think you have to really take on board that this is not your problem to solve. Only your husband can decide if he can or will limit his behaviours. I have no doubt that he feels great remorse at the pain he has caused you and probably very desperate at the thought of losing the relationship. But, as is so often the case, in situations like this it can be difficult for a partner to fully comprehend the enormity of the loss you now experience (and perhaps have had inklings of).

You’re caught between the hope that somehow the marriage can be repaired and the fear that you will be deceived again if you decide to continue. Lots of people will identify with the misery of being in that position with the constant looking for good stuff and afraid to ask searching questions in case they find more of the bad stuff.

My suggestion is that you continue with your own counselling. This will give you the time and the space to truly work out what feels right for you. Those choices – as they come into view – may feel sad and difficult in equal measure but only you can make them.

As far as your husband is concerned I don’t think it’s enough that he swears blind he will never do anything like this again and, on that basis, expect you to return and forgive. Whilst at some point it may be possible to forgive, he will need to take some positive action , probably in the form of counselling to help him to make sense of what and why he behave like this.

You can’t insist on it. To be honest, you insisting would devalue what must be his own decision to show he is really willing and wanting to take steps to show you he means business. Even then, I think it’s likely that you would need couple counselling to help you look at the marriage in the light of all that’s happened and see if there is any way forward with it.

You end your letter with that old adage about being fooled. Well, most of us have given someone the benefit of the doubt more than once, not because we’re stupid but because we yearn for the connection with someone we love and who tells us they love us back.

Don’t blame yourself for giving second chances but do find your strength through counselling to make the decisions that are right for you – with or without him. You’re not too old to start over but you have some way to go to process what has happened and going forward to have any faith in trusting a partner.

Focus on yourself now, enlist the help and support of trusted friends and family and let yourself off the hook. You’ve loved someone. Last time I looked that wasn’t a crime.

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