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Dear Patricia: I'm stuck in the house with my cheating husband

I am a 40-year-old married woman with four children. My husband is 10 years older, and we have been married over 18 years. Looking back, I rushed into the relationship, and marriage, without knowing much about him. I understand now that I viewed my marriage as an "escape" and a "safety net" from an unhappy home life and childhood.

From the very early days of our marriage, I suspected that my husband was unfaithful. I didn't actually get proof of this until recently, when all my previous suspicions were confirmed.

I suppose the major cracks started to show when the children arrived. He simply wasn't interested in family life and let me carry on doing it all, despite the fact that I worked outside the home too -- and still do. I do hold my hand up and take responsibility for my part in allowing this to happen. I guess I always wanted to avoid conflict, and carried on as best I could.

When his infidelity was finally revealed, my husband suggested that we go to marriage counselling. I agreed. However, over the years I had often asked him to go to counselling and he had always refused. And the counselling got us nowhere, to be honest. I felt so betrayed and disgusted that I could never really be part of the marriage again, however much I wanted to for the sake of the children. We decided to remain living in the same house, however, since we are heavily mortgaged.

He is now on anti-depressants, and spends his whole time with his elderly parents -- an excuse for not spending time with the children -- or else is asleep on the couch. He is cranky and irritable and roars abuse at all of us when he is put under the slightest bit of pressure -- like loading the dishwasher or making a phone call. His mistress has long since dumped him.

His brother recently said to me that he thinks I'm not doing enough to help my husband, and blames me for his depression. He knows nothing of the affair.

I've been to see a counsellor myself and felt I was doing well, but lately I think I have become "stuck" again. I worry about the damage being done to the children. But I also worry that they will be damaged if we separate.

Patricia replies:

THIS isn't, actually, about the children. Like all people who avoid conflict, you are full of resentment. You hate your husband for every battle you never fought. And this isn't about his unfaithfulness either. It's about the way he failed to be a proper participant in the marriage -- and the way you stood there and let it happen.

Yes, I know you say you take responsibility for allowing him to dodge, for facilitating his absence from any real form of parenting. Maybe you do, up to a point. You clearly haven't taken responsibility for your own unhappiness. That's why you are still stuck, as you put it. And you are stuck. You're stuck in rage.

That rage stopped you being constructive when your husband asked that you go for counselling as a couple. You went, but you didn't participate. You certainly didn't go there with an open heart and mind, or with any kind of willingness to find a solution. You tell me that yourself. You were too disgusted to participate in the marriage ever again.

Your husband opened a door, even if only in naked self-interest. You chose not to walk through. Put another way, you decided to stay angry instead. But you didn't take the apparently logical step of ending the marriage entirely. Instead of throwing him out, you've left your husband in the awful role of useless lodger. Sure, he's actively participating in this terrible scenario, but it's you and I who are talking here, so we'll stick with what you're doing.

Some things need to be clarified here. Your rage didn't begin when your husband's infidelity came to light. You've been angry with him all your married life. Everyone who puts up with stuff in order to avoid conflict is in a rage. The anger just stays underground, secretly tearing away at the heart of the relationship, defused but none the less deadly, sabotaging any real communication. The only difference now is that your husband's bad behaviour came out into the open, in a way he couldn't avoid admitting. So you felt free to hit him with everything you had. Open rebellion became possible.

What I'm saying is that the problems in your marriage were not all down to your husband.

How you're punishing him makes a lot of psychological sense. He's shut out of the marriage. He's shown up clearly as a washout, for all to see, which effectively sidelines him in terms of family life. He's where he always wanted to be, as you see it. Only it hasn't worked out for him. He sits there, angry, depressed, and almost entirely useless, abandoned by his woman. He's a mess. Deep down, you thought you'd find that rewarding. You were doing OK for a while. But angry revenge never works for us. That's what you're now finding out. Children are hurt whether a couple stay together in awful circumstances, or split up. So forget the kids. It can't be about them. Either you wish to pick up the pieces of your marriage, or you don't. It's your decision.

Sunday Indo Living