Dear Virginia, My husband and I have been growing apart for three years, since the children grew up, and haven't made love for a year. I thought he'd lost interest in me, so when I started an affair with a man at work, I thought he'd be relieved to end our strained marriage. Instead, he burst into tears and said he loved me and thought I'd lost interest in him. He wants to give our marriage a second chance – but my lover wants me to leave to be with him. What shall I do?
Yours sincerely, Yasmin
What should you do? Do nothing, of course! We do far too much harm to ourselves and others by doing something. Obviously, there are moments when we have to do something, but so few people understand that doing nothing, at least for a short period, is most often, rather than being the act of a hopeless, helpless, head-in-the-sander, actually a positive act.
Let the wind blow past. Let the dust settle. Sit and hum for a bit. How can you possibly decide to do anything when you've had such a surprising and shocking reaction to a revelation that you thought was going to be greeted with relief and acceptance?
Your husband loves you. This puts an entirely new spin on things, surely. Would you have started the affair had you known your husband loved you? When you and your husband started drifting apart, what did you feel? Sadness? Inevitability? Relief? Anger? What was it that triggered the affair? It sounds as if it were prompted by something to do with your relationship with your husband because you say you thought he'd lost interest in you. Now it turns out that you were completely wrong, that all your actions have been based on a false presumption. You thought he'd lost interest in you. Somehow you communicated a reciprocal lack of interest in him, and thus you drifted further and further apart, each one convinced that the other was bored with them.
If I were you I'd wait around for at least six months and just see, given this entirely new angle, whether there is still a spark of anything between you and your husband. Obviously, if there is, it's well worth nurturing and fostering. Quite apart from the fact that it would be nicer for the children were you to stay together, it would also be far more convenient financially, and the truth is that there is something special in a truly long-term relationship that can't be got from a new one. I see it in old married couples myself. They may not be madly in love any more, but they have a deep attachment and security with each other, that is really enviable, something that only time can forge.
If your lover's that keen, he'll be happy to wait. And anyway, your husband's confession may well make you see your relationship with your lover in a different light, over time. You might find yourself more drawn to him, or less. But don't let yourself be bullied by either of them into making any kind of snap decision. It would be a great mistake. Over the months you will, I hope, come to a calm conclusion of your own, one that's not arrived at through guilt or panic or desperation or pity, but one that is right for all of you.
What do you want?
The short answer, Yasmin, is what do you want to do? The longer answer might include questions such as why you simply assumed your husband had lost interest in you, rather than looking him in the eye and asking him what he really felt about you and why he no longer initiated sex? And why, now it's all out in the open, you look to the needs and wishes of each of these men to tip the scales in deciding your future? Does it massage the ego to have both of them wanting you? (If so, you could always ask them to share you. After all, that's what they've been doing until now, although of course only one of them knew it.) Or are you in a state of flux, caught between oughts and shoulds on the one hand, wants and desires on the other?
For some people, desires and obligations are arch enemies, bound up in a fruitless, lifelong tussle for dominance: eg, if I do what I ought then I'll have to give up what I crave and will be consigned to unhappiness. But if I follow my heart and walk away from my obligations, then the subsequent guilt will ruin any newfound happiness. If that's the crux of your flux, then perhaps you should think about why, in your mind, desires and obligations have grown so conflicted? After all, you weren't born that way.
Holmfirth, West Yorkshire
Let your affair cool
You and your husband need to get down to some serious business. You've been unfaithful and maybe he's been neglectful (who knows?). Some would tell you to follow your dream with your new lover, but the fact that hubby is so upset should at least give you pause to think again. Some marriages don't last for ever, but your marriage was (I guess) a lifelong commitment and sex shouldn't be the only consideration when you make your decision.
I suggest that you tell your lover what has happened and allow your affair to cool off. This will be mighty painful, especially since you have to see him at work, but you're in for a lot of pain whatever happens. Be prepared to say sorry to both men and give your marriage another go. Get professional advice on the physical side of your marriage if you think that will help. You may come to the conclusion that your marriage really is a sham and that a new life beckons, but the real romance may lie in the mutual rediscovery of two people who fell in love all those years ago.
Follow your heart
The idea that you contributed to a misunderstanding is an excuse. Failing to have sex for a year is not a matter of forgetfulness. That your husband is feeling distraught now says it all: a comfortable situation (for him) is coming to an end and only now is he taking an interest. Unless there are other factors in play, your duty is to join a partner who is genuinely interested in you.
Next week's dilemma...
For the last year we've been promising our eight-year-old twins laptops for Christmas. But money is really tight, as I've been made redundant, and we may even have to sell the house. I feel terrible about letting them down, particularly as they both came back from school having written essays about "What I want for Christmas", and it's clear they're each expecting a laptop. How can I break it to them without feeling I'm betraying them?
Yours sincerely, Suzette
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