Virginia's Dilemmas: Alcohol and infidelity

How can I forgive my ex-alcoholic husband for sleeping with three other women?

Virginia Ironside

Dear Virginia, Five years ago my husband and I were at the point of no return. He was drinking, had debts and behaved really badly to me.

With lots of love and support from me he gave up drinking and is now a changed man - and we were extremely happy and close until I discovered that, during those dreadful years, he had slept with three women.

He has cried and apologised, but I can’t forgive him and yet I know that, if I could, ours would be a great marriage. What can I do? Yours sincerely, Barbara

Virginia says

THERE is nothing you can do about your husband's past. So you can only try to change your own attitude. Stop thinking of “infidelities” but, rather, mad aberrations committed by a man in the thrall of some mania.

I'm not condoning your husband's drinking but, once under the influence, his mind was completely altered. It wasn't him, this changed man you love, who slept with these women. It was another man, someone hidden in the dark recesses of his soul, a man who could only be released by the powerful pull of alcohol.

I'm wondering if your anger about the lost years isn't rankling more than you think. Perhaps, festering in the back of your mind was resentment at your husband's drinking, resentment that has now been released with these women as targets, rather than your husband's drinking.

A few sessions with Relate may help. Just the fact that he'd agree to come with you might assuage the fury you feel, so you know he's prepared to do more than just say sorry, but actually help you over your pain and feeling of betrayal.

Remember that having sex with women while drunk means nothing compared to loving a partner for years and years.

The readers say

He sounds like me

Every depression is different, but the story you outlined could have been mine. The biggest problem I had then was rock-bottom self-worth, so I would do anything to prove that I was somebody: being the life and soul of the party in the pub, including being generous with the rounds, or being master in my own house, even if that meant shouting at my children - the only time my eldest daughter has spoken to me in the past 10 years was at my mother's funeral.

I suspect that your husband's bedding of three women was his way of trying to show the world — that is, himself — that he still had it, and could do as he liked.

That brings me to the crux of the matter. Your husband now is not the same person as he was during the bad times, nor is he the same person as before that.

Our marriage did not survive, but I am now married to a wonderful woman who did not know me in my first incarnation; she loved me as I was when bad, and now loves me as I am - (almost) recovered. If you love your husband, think of him in the bad period as a different person sharing your life while your husband was away. He is now back, so love him and cherish the rest of your lives together; if his depression had got really serious, you might not have him at all - I only just stopped myself leaping on to the motorway.


Put this behind you

During that really dark period in your marriage, did you not suspect that his intolerable behaviour might have included womanising?

He must have realised that he was in danger of losing the person he loved the most: you. Your love brought him back to you. Your bad patch was a big gaping, bottomless pit, and yet your marriage survived.

Don't let this latest revelation destroy what you worked so hard for. The women must have been unimportant to him. Throw them into the pit with the rest of the bad memories and fill it in.


Give yourself credit

I REALLY hand it to you, Barbara. You have come through all this and rebuilt your relationship and, from what you say,

you have done so without bitterness. Give yourself credit for this — and allow yourself some weakness. Infidelity is deeply wounding to you personally and you wouldn't be human if you didn't feel pain.

But recognise, too, that the affairs belong to a life that he has left behind. It will take time for you to grieve, rage and then hopefully move on. But if everything else hasn't destroyed you, you will survive this, too.