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Dear Patricia: I'm bereft now affair with my best friend's widow is over

I'VE made a right mess of my life and I need help on how to go forward. It all started four years ago, when my best friend died. This man was also my wife's cousin and a close family friend. He left a wife and a young family after him.

I coped by throwing myself into doing all I could for my friend's wife and children. There was much sorting out to do in relation to his business. Unfortunately, this led to an affair with his wife, and I fell deeply in love with her. It lasted three years and came to an abrupt end recently when I found out that she was seeing someone else. When I confronted her, she claimed that she had fallen out of love with me and was waiting for an opportunity to end "us".

This was a defining moment for both of us. She no longer depended on me, and quickly forgot about me by putting all her energy into developing this new relationship. This man promised everything that I couldn't. She introduced him to everyone in the family, including my wife, and they were all delighted that she had found love again.

My problem is that I am broken-hearted and angry at how well things have worked out for her, despite her lying and cheating on me. We meet on a constant basis as we have a business connection as well as the family connection. She refuses to discuss our affair and says it is in the past. She has confessed it to her new lover, while I have no closure and am forced to carry this dark secret alone. I now feel a tremendous amount of grief, and shame, for a lost love -- and am possibly suffering postponed grief for a dead friend -- all in silence.

I know I have done wrong and let my wife down badly. I contemplated telling her, but feel it would do nothing to relieve my burden while it would devastate her.

I have been diagnosed with depression, but none of the medication is working. My wife has been a tremendous support and loves me deeply. Ironically, this almost makes things worse.

Unfortunately, while I love her, I am not in love with her. I'm still in love with my ex-lover even though I accept that the affair is over. I wish I wasn't, and wish I could transfer the feelings I have for her back to my wife. How do I begin to rebuild my life?

Patricia replies:

YOU could begin by ditching the self-pity. Don't you know the most basic rule in life, namely that the wrong-doer doesn't get the luxury of saying he's having a hard time? And he most certainly can't feel sorry for himself. You chose to have an affair. It's gone south. Tough.

And that's letting you off lightly. We could tell this story differently. You made a move on a newly widowed woman, who not only saw you as a support because you were her husband's friend, but who also depended on you for business reasons. She was vulnerable. Even if she made the first move, a kind man would have sidestepped, allowing her time to get back on her feet. A married man with any decency would definitely have backed away. It could be argued, in short, that you've broken faith with two women. Not to mention the fact that all of this is effectively happening within the family, so very definitely in your own backyard. Not nice.

There's something else you apparently don't understand. As her married lover, you had no claim on this woman at all. She didn't cheat on you. She simply found someone else. Just as you hung on to someone else, namely your wife. I'm sure she did lie to you. But you were living a lie anyway, having a secret affair with a member of your wife's family and close friend. She's been lying for three years to your wife, just as you have. Lies were the basis of your relationship. How can you whinge that she then failed to come clean on finding a new lover? Don't you see? You have absolutely no right to be angry at her. Affairs carry no commitments.

The really troubling thing is that you are so self-absorbed. Not to mention the fact that even now you're failing to take responsibility for your own actions. You say you unfortunately had an affair, as if it were entirely beyond your control. And while you mention shame, it doesn't ring true, to be brutally honest. Failing to tell your wife just sounds like self-interest, rather than true regard for her feelings. And the depression sounds like angry disappointment that you can no longer have this woman on the side.

I mean you clearly never intended to make an honest woman of her, did you? So you could, therefore, logically say that you're feeling low because you can no longer cheat and lie and break your marriage vows. Can you see, now, how no one would feel sorry for you? And that it is entirely inappropriate that you feel sorry for yourself?

Sometimes happiness is simply a question of taking stock. And then being grateful for what life has given you. You have a loving wife, a close family circle, children, perhaps, although you didn't mention them, and a functioning business.

You are also now rid of a woman who was a partner in crime, someone who was prepared to cheat and lie, right in the heart of a supportive family network. You're getting a second chance, an opportunity to make good.

If you want to, you have the choice to become the kind of man who deserves such bounty. It's your call.

Sunday Indo Living