Dear Mary: 'I neglected my wife but she had an affair'
Relationship counsellor and psychosexual therapist Mary O'Conor offers relationship advice in her weekly column.
Question: My wife and I have been married for more than 20 years and have three teenage children. We have had an up-and-down relationship for the last few years. I was not that attentive in that time and I was often out with the lads and coming home late. But I noticed a change in my wife's attitude towards me - she blamed me for every little thing, started arguments in front of the children, and eventually asked me to leave.
I left for a month but had been trying hard to work at our relationship because I do love her. She turned the children against me and even refused to allow me attend a family event. She seemed to hate every effort I made to make amends and again I was asked to leave, this time for a week, which I did as I thought she needed space and the break might help.
When I returned she had left her phone unattended. She normally keeps it by her side, with a pin code on it. I picked up the phone, and by chance I got the code right. To my horror, I found texts and photos sent to another man. I was devastated and confronted her, a huge argument ensued and she actually fought with me to get her phone back. Unfortunately she did so in front of the children, even asking them to get it and destroy it.
I then found out this affair had been going on for three years and he was, in fact, a work colleague. She was then remorseful and changed her number. I forgave her and things were good but I was still hurting. However after about a month she was again sending lurid texts to the same person, and again I found out.
It's eating away at me and I feel so unhappy. Can I ever trust her again, especially as she turned the children against me the first time this happened?
Mary replies: Do you think that your wife's affair started because you were not attentive and often out late with the lads, or do you feel that she started the affair and then began to argue with you so that she didn't feel guilty about what she was doing? Other than staying out late, you haven't given me any other reasons why she should be mad at you, or why she could justify asking you to leave.
I also cannot understand why you would have agreed to leave without there being sufficient reasons. How was your leaving home twice explained to your children? Teenagers are very well aware of what goes on between parents, and would also have thoughts on whether it was appropriate for their father to leave the family home. So I feel that I am missing a part of the story, and therefore find it difficult to fit the jigsaw together.
Then we come to the affair, which has lasted for three years now and, as far as I can see, is ongoing. Changing a telephone number doesn't mean a thing, as a second phone is always a possibility. If this man is still a work colleague of your wife's then she sees him every day and there would be very little possibility of things ending. She didn't choose to end it - you found out about it, and that is quite different.
It will indeed be very difficult for you to trust her again, and before you do I think you need answers as to why she started the affair in the first place. What was so wrong with your marriage that she chose to go outside it, and can whatever was wrong be fixed? These are questions that only your wife can answer. You still love her and want to make things work, but I don't know her views on it all.
If she wants to stay together long-term (and not just until the children leave home) some very serious discussions will have to take place between you. If it is at all possible financially, then she will have to change jobs for obvious reasons. When a spouse is unfaithful it is often as difficult to forgive the emotional involvement as it is the sexual betrayal, and this is probably the case with you. So you will have to seek outside help in the way of relationship counselling, because not alone have you been hurt significantly, but so far you haven't been able to sort things out between you.
I feel that I am only tipping at the iceberg in relation to your problems, as I'm fairly sure that there are underlying issues between you that can only be properly dealt with in a counselling situation where you can both be frank and honest with each other.
There are three stages in counselling. The first is Exploration, where all that happened in your lives up until now is discussed. Then comes Understanding as to why things happened that caused your difficulties, and this is followed by the Action stage, where the couple start to do things differently in order to change things for the better.
You would have a lot of work to do in order to get things back on track, and both of you would have to be agreeable to couples therapy, but I think it is very definitely worth trying it if you both value your marriage.
Counselling is not always successful in keeping a marriage together, but at least you will know that you have tried everything if it does not ultimately work out. I hope for your sake that it does.
You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting www.dearmary.ie or email her at email@example.com or write c/o 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1. All correspondence will be treated in confidence. Mary O’Conor regrets that she is unable to answer any questions privately.