Five years ago my husband and I were at the point of no return. He was drinking, had debts and behaved really badly to me. With lots of love and support from me he gave up drinking and is now a changed man – and we were extremely happy and close – until I discovered that during those dreadful years, he'd slept with three women. He has cried and apologised, but I can't forgive him and yet I know that if I could, ours would be a great marriage. What can I do?
Yours sincerely, Barbara
There is, clearly, nothing you can do about your husband's past. He's done all he can to apologise and make it up to you, and as you say, he's a changed man. So there is nothing left but to try to change your own attitude. One way to start would be to stop thinking of "infidelities" but, rather, mad aberrations committed by a man in the thrall of some ghastly mania.
If you had a son who, while he had a temperature of 104F, suddenly lashed out at you, hallucinating that you were trying to kill him, I'm sure you'd be able to forgive him. You'd say, rightly, that he was in the grip of mind-altering sickness.
I'm not condoning your husband's drinking, and I don't happen to believe that addiction to drink is an illness but, rather, a choice, but once willingly under the influence, his mind was completely altered. It wasn't him, this changed man you love, who slept with these women. It was another man, someone hidden in the dark recesses of his soul, a man who could only be released by the powerful pull of alcohol.
Have you never been drunk? And while drunk, have you never said or done something a little out of the ordinary? I'm not saying you slept with someone else, but did you let slip a secret or even lose your temper more heatedly than you meant to? And didn't you say, later, that you were sorry, but you were drunk?
I'm wondering if your anger about the lost years with your husband isn't rankling rather more than you think. Perhaps recently you weren't as happy and close as you thought. Perhaps, festering in the back of your mind, was seething resentment at your husband's drinking, resentment that's now been released with these women as targets, rather than the real thing: your husband's drinking.
A few sessions with Relate may help. Just the fact that he'd agree to come with you might assuage the fury you feel, so you know he's prepared to do more than just say sorry, but actually help you over your pain and feeling of betrayal.
Remember that having sex with women – whose names he probably can't even remember – while drunk, means nothing compared to loving a partner for years and years. And remember also that although it isn't meaningless to you, it was meaningless to him. That should make a little bit of difference.
He sounds like me
Every depression (for that is what your husband was, and probably still is, suffering from) is different. But the story as outlined in your dilemma could have been mine. The biggest problem I had then, and I still have to some degree, is rock-bottom self worth, so I would do anything to prove – if only to myself – that I was somebody: being the life and soul of the party in the pub, including being generous with the rounds (as why else would anybody want to spend any time with me?), or being master in my own house, even if that meant shouting at my children and alienating them. The only time my eldest daughter has spoken to me in the last ten years was at my mother's funeral.
I suspect that your husband's bedding of three women during those bad years was his way of trying to show the world – that is, himself – that he still had it and could do as he liked.
That brings me to the crux of the matter. Your husband now is not the same person as he was during the bad times, nor (if my experience tells) is he the same person as before that.
My story has a different ending: our marriage did not survive. I did not sleep with any other women, but only because the outlet for my problems lay in a different direction.
I am now married to a wonderful woman who did not know me in my first incarnation; she loved me as I was when bad, and now loves me as I am – (almost) recovered. If you love your husband, and it sounds like you do, think of him in the bad period as a different person sharing your life while your husband was away. He is now back, so love him and cherish the rest of your lives together; if his depression had got really serious, you might not have him at all – I only just stopped myself leaping on to the motorway at one time.
Put this behind you
During that really dark period in your marriage, did you not suspect that his intolerable behaviour towards you might also have included a bit of womanising? He was on a downward spiral, self-destructing. Whatever his reasons were, he must have, at some stage, realised that he was in danger of losing the person he loved the most: you. Your love brought him back to you. Your bad patch was a bloody big gaping, bottomless pit and yet your marriage survived. Don't let this latest revelation destroy what you worked so hard for. The women must have been unimportant to him. Throw them into the pit with the rest of the bad memories and fill it in.
Give yourself credit
I really hand to you, Barbara. You have come through all this and rebuilt your relationship, and from what you say, you have done so without bitterness or blame. Give yourself credit for this – and allow yourself some weakness. Dealing with your husband's problems must have been terribly hard for you, but infidelity is deeply wounding to you personally and you wouldn't be human if you didn't feel terrible pain.
But recognise, too, that the affairs were part and parcel of his other problems and belong to a life that he has left behind. It will take time for you to grieve, rage and then hopefully move on. But if everything else hasn't destroyed you, you will survive this, too.
Next week's dilemma
My mother always said she'd divide her estate between my brother and me. But my brother has persuaded her to leave more to his – larger – family. I want my nieces to be provided for, but their portion could have come from my brother's inheritance, rather than taking a chunk out of mine. Am I being churlish since I'm in any case going to be comfortably off?
Yours sincerely, Saskia
What would you advise Saskia to do?
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