Sunday 15 December 2019

Dear Patricia: I've learned to deal with my husband's betrayal but our children still snub him

Patricia Redlich

FOUR years ago, when I was 50, I discovered that my husband was having an affair with a woman 15 years his junior. I felt so hurt, angry, betrayed, humiliated, let down. We had been married for 25 years, and I thought it was a happy marriage. We did everything together, got on well, we had fun. We had five great children, the youngest of whom was 18 when all this happened. While my husband had been saying for a few months that he didn't feel the same about our relationship, and other such vague things, I had no inkling that an affair was going on.

He eventually told me about the affair when I challenged him about being distant. The marriage was over then, as far as I was concerned. I knew I could never trust him again, so he moved out, and has been living with this other woman ever since. He didn't want to try and work it out, anyway. He was besotted with this woman. It cast a shadow over my whole life with him. I doubted everything. I doubted myself. What had our whole marriage been about?

I refused to talk to my husband. I just felt totally disgusted with him. We communicated only by text and email. Throughout our marriage, he was always kind, loving, gentle, easy to get on with. After we split up, he defended what he did in the most callous fashion, saying that he "just fell in love", that he felt he didn't belong in our marriage any more, that we should just move on. He also found fault with me on so many fronts. It was like it was all my doing. And because I wouldn't meet him or speak to him, he called me bitter. He allowed me no time for grief, no time to sort my head out, and showed no understanding of what he had done.

A year ago, I felt able to meet him and I expected him to take charge of the situation and apologise to me for what he had done. While he had apologised in writing, I needed him to say it to me. I needed to see that he meant it.

While he was very upset, the meeting didn't go as I had hoped. It didn't help me. He did say that all his earlier complaints about our marriage had been lies, and that he had had the affair because he was flattered that this woman was interested in him, it made him feel good, that he was weak and -- worst of all -- he said he thought it would fizzle out, and that I would never have to know about it and we could have just lived happily ever after. He also said that he wished he had never done it, that he didn't fully think it through.

One year on from that conversation, and I still find it impossible to forgive my husband. To be honest, I don't want to. I don't feel bitter anymore, but I want nothing to do with him. Is this wrong?

Secondly, and far harder, my children have refused to speak to my husband since the break-up. One of them works near him and simply passes him in the street. They were very upset by what happened, it seemed totally out of character and they were gutted. They were also embarrassed by the fact that his girlfriend is so close to their age -- only six years older than our eldest daughter. I have spoken to them, but they say they don't want him in their lives. Over the years, I tried to get him to call to the house and see them, but he refused, on the grounds that he didn't want a confrontation. He says he constantly gave them -- and still gives them -- the opportunity to meet him, and says there is no more he can do. And he claims he is heartbroken about it all.

I worry about the effect this is having on the children. They are great people, have successful careers, have coped well. But he is their father and they loved him so much, it must be hard for them. And I have to say that he was always a very good father, very involved in their lives -- which makes the situation even more difficult to understand.

I don't know what to do. I wonder even if I have a role to play. I could now cope with having to deal with my husband's presence. He used to blame me for the children's refusal to speak to him, even though I always encouraged them to do so. He has stopped blaming me. But he's still not getting to see them.

Patricia replies:

FIRST of all, your children are adults. They will ultimately do whatever they want to do. It is their responsibility. That said, you did, of course, influence their attitude, and undoubtedly still do. You didn't -- and still don't -- forgive your husband. That rubs off.

Children take sides. Yes of course they were upset, for their own sakes, when their father found a younger woman. But that upset merged with yours. Your suggestion over the years that they meet their dad in your home cut no ice. Your husband is right. It was hostile territory. Not really an option. Anyway, this move on your part faded into nothingness compared with your firmly held position that he was a monster. It certainly didn't relieve the children of their sense of shared pain, their feeling that what happened to you also happened to them. Although of course it didn't. You were cheated on. They weren't.

Forgiveness is entirely in your hands. I can't comment on that, and don't think there is any right or wrong. It's an entirely personal decision.

There is, however, a difference between deciding not to forgive a husband who has wronged you, and asking the world to share your stance. Yes, I know you haven't asked your kids to shun their father. But when it comes to marital breakdown, you have to take a further step and encourage children -- even grown-up ones -- to separate their pain from yours. In fact, you have to do that right across the social spectrum, with extended family, friends, work colleagues, neighbours -- the lot. Otherwise, people feel honour-bound to take sides -- and the scorched-earth policy spreads.

It is truly terrible that your child passes a good father -- albeit one who cheated on his mother -- in the street. And no, the fact that he has since said how sorry he is doesn't make it all OK. But surely his track record as a loving father must count for something? And surely there has to be some measure in the punishment we mete out?

Like I said, everyone has to do it their way, and the children are adults. But yes, you are right, carrying around that kind of anger must be emotionally corrosive. Maybe you could talk to them again.

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