Friday 18 August 2017

Orla Barry: Should I end affair with my sick wife’s friend?

My wife has been ill for some time and although it's not an excuse, I have been unfaithful. The affair started over a year ago, about two years after her diagnosis. The woman is a close friend of both of ours.

I realise this sounds terrible but she was one of the only people who understood what I was going through. Her husband died of cancer a few years ago. She has always been extremely supportive and one night after we had too much to drink and my wife was back in hospital we ended up together. Nothing happened again for a few months and then another time after a few drinks we got together. We have been involved ever since.

I don't know what I think most of the time, but I do know I feel tremendous relief being able to share parts of my life with this woman. My wife has no idea and although she is terribly ill at the moment, something like this would still devastate her. My wife's mother has never liked this woman and began asking awkward questions after meeting us out together. She has since asked me outright if I am having an affair which I denied. She doesn't believe me and asked the woman in question not to visit my wife anymore unless I admit what's going on. I cannot stop her from seeing my wife nor can I tell my wife what has been going on.

I realise the sensible thing to do would be to end this relationship but it's about the only thing that has kept me sane this past year.

Orla replies

I have always been an advocate of honesty, usually believing that in spite of the initial bombshell, the truth is better than years of lies. In this case I'm not so sure.

You're right your wife would most likely be distraught and feel rightfully betrayed by those she trusts the most. This isn't a get out of jail card for you but the person who's most vulnerable right now and who needs the greatest support is your wife. What can all of you do to best provide that?

Saying that, having an affair with your wife's friend is hardly a good start.

Supporting someone through a long illness must be the most challenging factor of any relationship. Wedding vows mention it because it's the time we are at our most vulnerable. Love is not tested by the amount of happy times we spend together but the extent to which we stay by each other's side when things get ugly.

It's much harder to love someone when they are so drained by illness they can barely acknowledge your presence or are so overwhelmed by life they don't care about living. That's when unconditional love plays a part.

Just as the parent who stays by a sick child's bed through illness, as partners we are expected to do the same. But you're right, it is difficult. Relationships are all about give and take and suddenly when you're doing all the giving and getting little in return, it's exhausting.

What is being demanded of you now is way and above the responsibilities you expected when you first got together but right now these are the cards you've been dealt. Nobody can be prepared for this but this is your life and you have to learn to come to terms with it. It's not hard to see why the presence of this woman has been such a relief for you but I wonder to what extent you sought support elsewhere. Of course her own experience helps you through your anguish but that doesn't necessarily make it right.

It's quite common that counselling and support services are on hand for the patient but not available for partners and families. What you have gone through since your wife's diagnosis has been life altering and you do deserve support and guidance.

Have you considered seeking professional advice? Don't undermine just how difficult all of this has been for you. This woman may have all your best interests at heart but she is also taking advantage of two vulnerable people.

You say she is a friend of your wife and yet she thinks it's acceptable to sleep with her friend's husband. I'm surprised she can still be there for your wife given what's happening. Perhaps your mother-in-law is right to wonder at this woman's friendship.

There are lots of vulnerable people involved here. It makes sense that you may be drawn to this woman and she to you. Your life experiences have so much in common. However, they also blur the reality of what you are doing.

She was a great source of support, now she has become the woman you are cheating on your wife with. How can she be supportive to your wife when she is doing one of the cruellest things you can do to a good friend?

Difficult and all as it may be, I cannot see any way that makes it right for you to continue with this relationship. I suspect if your mother-in-law has already guessed what is going on, she's not alone.

Sooner or later, word will get out and what do you propose to do then? You say you have no idea what you think most of the time. Have you also blocked out the hurt you may be causing to others?

This woman is working her way through her own grief and is naturally vulnerable too. What does she want from this affair exactly? Have you told her what you think about it all? I wouldn't be surprised if she expects a lot more from this than you realise.

You are all going through some very difficult times but complicating it by having a sexual relationship is likely to cause more pain for everyone concerned.

Ending the relationship with this woman does not necessarily mean you lose her friendship and support but you may need to maintain a distance from each other for a while. Your life and your emotions are in turmoil -- don't make things harder for yourself.

Right now, your wife needs every bit of support that you can give her. Do seek professional support elsewhere if you find yourself overwhelmed. This is a relationship that can't go on. For everyone's sake put an end to it.

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