Dear David Coleman: My husband was unfaithful years ago and had a daughter who now wants contact. Please help
Clinical psychologist David Coleman offers parenting advice in his weekly column.
Q. I found out my then-boyfriend may have fathered a daughter with another woman. I was shook to the core, I didn't know whether I was coming or going, but I left him! I was suicidal at the time. Months later I did get back with him, as I was told the baby wasn't his, and we went on to get married and had four children. We have had a happy family life since. But just recently this girl got in touch to say she was his daughter and wants a relationship with him. I am devastated, reliving the betrayal and hurt all over again. Please help.
David replies: I could imagine that it has been a huge shock to you to be reminded of such a difficult time in your life and to have to accept that your now husband was, indeed, unfaithful to you back when you were going out with him.
I think you probably just need lots of time to process all that this entails. There are many potential areas of fallout that you are probably trying to get your head around. For a start, you have four children, all of whom are probably unaware that they have an older half-sister. You may be wondering how to - or even if to - tell them about her.
I don't know how much your extended family are aware of the initial break-up, all those years ago, and the reasons for it. Perhaps if they understood the full circumstances back then, it may be that they could help you process things this time around, too.
You may also, as a mother, have thought about this girl and what it meant to her to reach out to this man who she now knows to be her father. She has taken a big risk in contacting him.
Your husband, too, may have lots of complex feeling about the whole situation. I would imagine that he is worried about the impact all of this may have on you and your children.
Feeling a breach of trust, as significant as a partner cheating on you, takes a long time to recover from. You have already worked through this, with your husband, back when he was your boyfriend.
Part of what may have helped you to cope, then, was your belief that the baby wasn't his. It is no wonder, now, that you feel the betrayal all over again, discovering that the baby actually was his after all.
It may lead you to doubt everything in your marriage and whether you can rely on anything he ever said or did. That is not unusual. That is just what happens when our trust is broken. Something shifted, for you, back then and you decided to give your trust back to him. It seems that for many years now he has been faithful. Indeed, you describe your family life as being good and happy. The trust you have placed in him since that original betrayal seems to have been upheld.
The huge mistake he made was made all those years ago. The man you are married to now hasn't done anything recently to break your trust. This might be worth remembering as you struggle now with all of the natural feelings of hurt and betrayal you are currently experiencing.
I would strongly encourage you not to make too many decisions just now, while the whole situation is so new and so shocking. It is highly likely that the distress and upset you feel are completely disorienting for you. It will be hard to think rationally and wisely about the future.
Alongside any support from family or friends you might have, it could be worth getting some professional counselling or therapy. Being able to talk through the complexity of your feelings and the myriad of implications this might have for you, your husband, your children, or even this girl that has come forward, might help you to gain some clarity and some perspective.
It is only when we can begin to process our feelings that we can get back to enough sense of stability that we can make choices and take whatever next steps are required to move the situation on.
So, while this remains shocking for you, just be patient with yourself. As you process the situation, it may become clearer to you what you want and need in order to pick your family life up, in whatever form that will take.
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