Your cheating heart: can a relationship survive an affair?
Can a couple ever overcome an infidelity? That was the question on everyone's lips when The Great British Bake Off judge Paul Hollywood and his wife Alexandra announced their separation after 20 years of marriage.
The TV chef, you may recall, admitted to having an affair with Marcela Valladolid, his co-star on the US version of Bake Off in 2013. The couple separated and Alexandra planned to divorce her husband on the grounds of adultery, but they reconciled a few months later. Apparently he makes a mean chocolate croissant.
Meanwhile, Wayne and Coleen Rooney are planning to renew their wedding vows next summer. Earlier this year, the footballer was handed a two-year driving ban after he was caught drink-driving in the car of Laura Simpson, who he allegedly "kissed and cuddled".
The Hollywoods didn't mention any third parties in the statement they released on Monday, but it's fairly safe to assume that the last few years have been challenging. The Rooneys, for their own part, are trying to meet those challenges with a fresh start and a golf-ball sized diamond.
There is plenty of advice out there for couples who are trying to overcome infidelity, but one wonders if they make it sound too easy. Sure, you can book in with a counsellor, partake in trust exercises and renew your vows, but would you try to salvage the relationship if you really knew how gut-wrenching a process it was going to be?
Here are the real stages of overcoming infidelity, and only the thick-skinned need apply.
The blind rage
Relationship counsellors will tell you that the first stage of discovering an infidelity is shock, but the truth is that it takes roughly five minutes before it is usurped by blood-curdling, vein-popping, excoriating rage. The aggrieved will raise ructions, slamming doors, screaming slurs and perhaps smashing an iPhone for extra effect. Relationship counsellors will also tell you that "anger is healthy", but any good doctor will point out that there is nothing healthy about feeling like the Incredible Hulk on steroids.
Once you can fool yourself into believing that your fury has given way to cold and calculated detachment, you begin to concoct an elaborate plan of attack. You're not a victim. No, you're a cold-blooded, badass Bond villain who begins texts with, "Riddle me this, riddle me that". Victim? You're a femme fatale who stubs out her cigarette with one flick of her black patent Louboutin stiletto. At 5am, you click send on a 3,000 word email that concludes with: "You didn't actually think you'd get away with this, did you?" Your family worry that you're having a psychotic episode.
The drunken reunion
Once you tire of trying to destroy your partner's life from the inside out, you hit the bottle. After all, even arch-villains can be seduced by half-price cocktail deals. At 4pm, you can't see straight. At 5pm, you forget that you decided to never speak to your partner again. By 6pm, you have sent him 42 texts and by 7pm you're outside his mother's house in a taxi. The sex is surprisingly good, until you wake up with a throbbing headache and the realisation that the hangover is your life.
The gathering of troops
Once the hangover eases, you focus on the pressing task of ruining your partner's life. It is time to lobby for support and solicit for votes. You no longer have mutual friends: you have allies and enemies. Friends who tell you to kick that useless waste of space to the kerb are kept close; friends who encourage you to look at the situation from every angle are phased out. Meanwhile, you ask the postman to choose a side and attempt to win over the cat (who, up to now, has been both literally, and figuratively, sitting on the fence).
After a few sleepless nights, you realise you have more questions than you have answers. What happened that night he went out to buy you a Golden Crisp and didn't return for 35 minutes? Why didn't he text you on October 11? What's going on with him and the woman who collected the Census form? They seemed awfully friendly. With the court's permission, your honour, I would like to draw attention to the night of November 2. It would also be relevant and pertinent to mention the defendant's suspiciously well-groomed pubic area...
The forensic comparison
Once every alibi has been cross-examined, it's time to compare every aspect of your identity to the person your partner cheated on you with. Whose waist is smaller? Whose teeth are whiter? Who has the better side profile? What did she say? What did you say? You said that? I can't believe you said that. Right, the trolley problem: she's the five people on the main track and I'm the person tied up on the side track. Do you pull the lever? It's a simple question - just answer it!
The ferocious paranoia
After weeks of 'talks', you decide to give it a second chance. You can get through this. You just have to communicate, rebuild trust and - what was that? Your phone. You got a text message. I heard it. Who would be texting you at 9.30pm on a Monday night? Show me. Show me the ****ing phone!
The second affair
The paranoia is compounded by the fact that you haven't actually told your friends and family that you took the "useless waste of space" back. For now, you conduct your relationship in secret, which at least gives you some insight into your partner's state of mind over the last few months. Yes, you are having an affair, with the person you share a home with.