Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: I can't get over his affair

Dear Virginia,

Last year, I discovered my husband was having an affair with a woman at the office. After a lot of tears and heart-searching he gave her up and stayed with me and the children, swearing he loved me. But I find I just cannot put it behind me. I don't enjoy sleeping with him any more, although I still do, and I am on tenterhooks every time he's late. All my friends say I must just move on, but how can I?

Yours sincerely, Yolande

After a similar situation had occurred to a friend, she confided in me that her partner's infidelity was as catastrophic for her as a "crystal bowl breaking into a thousand pieces". It was, she said, irreparable. What she was talking about was trust.

Trust is terribly, terribly precious and fragile. You cannot "partly trust" someone. It's a silly as claiming to be "partly a virgin". The whole point of trust is that it is completely intact, the same when you give it or receive it as the day you both die. Trust isn't like lying and honesty, far more complex issues. There is such a thing as "sort of" telling the truth. But there is no grey with trust. It's all black and white. It's either there or it isn't.

And the truth is that your reaction, Yolande, is not only understandable, and human, but also, I'd say, rather sensible.

It's so easy for friends to say "Draw a line underneath it" or "Put it out of your mind and get on with your life". But would they say that if your son had been brutally murdered? (Actually, knowing the insensitivity of most people, I wouldn't put it past them.) It is just not possible to "Move on". Your mind is dominated by this breaking of trust and it affects every minute of your waking life. If you were dogged by some tiny obsessive thought about a friend forgetting to ring you back or something like that, your friends' advice would be good. But it's actually important that you are constantly aware of this man's infidelity. The reminder is a constant protector against being hurt in the future, in the same way as if you slip on a loose paving stone outside your front door, fall and break a leg you don't put the incident "out of your mind". If you're not a total chump, you are extra wary when you put your foot down on that particular spot in the future.

Now, I'm not saying that the trust couldn't be restored. It is, with painstaking care, possible to repair a crystal glass. But this mending has to be done by the breaker of the glass and unless your husband makes a daily effort to reassure you of his wretchedness, regret and real remorse about what he's done, then it's hard to rebuild anything resembling the relationship you had before.

The problem is that so many people who have affairs behind their partners' backs think that the problem is the affair – which is, usually, trivial compared to the real offence, the breaking of trust.

I think you should explain to your husband that it is not the sex or the brief emotional feelings that passed between him and this woman that worries you. It is something far more important. I hope he will then understand and try harder to right things between you.

Things will never be as they were, of course. The relationship is now different and, indeed, your husband is different or, rather, has revealed himself to be different. He has shown himself to be careless of your feelings, weak and selfish. If you can rebuild a different relationship with this new person – and for the sake of your children I think you must try – then in the long run you might find you have something together that, while not being quite as perfect as the original deal, is nevertheless something worth saving and working on in the future.

Readers say...

You're different now

We women all know how hard it is to forgive and (mostly) forget a mistake like that. He already asked you to forgive him and there's nothing else he can do to make you believe him. It's entirely up to you to let this go.

When we are young, it's just so easy to break up and move on, but now there are kids involved. Due to this incident, you are both different people with different feelings. If you could, in the name of this new woman you are, fall in love with him again, it'll be great. If you sincerely can't do that, it's time to find another path for your life.

Let's not forget we are human beings and we all have our flaws.

Betrayals break not just our feelings but our confidence. If you can not rebuilt that, there's no way you two can get through this. This is something you both will need to work together but the decision is only yours.

Jamilli Williams by email

Repair your confidence

Oh Yolande, I feel for you! This is what you must do. Banish all thoughts of him for now, and instead concentrate on boosting your own self-confidence. You are, after all, a sexy and attractive woman, or he wouldn't have returned to you and still want to sleep with you. Think about a general makeover, purely for yourself. Push yourself away from what you're used to, and imagine you're out to impress a new date. Banish excuses and negative thoughts; you've coped so far, and now you deserve a little "me time".

Then, and only then, can you consider talking to your husband about what has happened and the underlying problems that led to it. But by then, I suspect he'll be wondering why he ever thought to look away from you in the first place.

Debbie Jones by email

You must forgive him

Your friends are right and you have to try to forgive him and forget about what happened. Everyone deserves a second chance, even cheating, lying spouses. Remember your husband chose you over her because it's you he'd rather spend the rest of his life with. A lot of the time when people cheat on their other half, their intention isn't to hurt them. You also have your children to think about, they need a loving father. Since you are struggling to forget what happened it might be a good idea for both of you to see a marriage counsellor.

Nowmi Zaman


Consider your options

It's not a question of Yolande putting it behind her, but of deciding how to deal with a changed set of circumstances. Her old relationship with her husband is dead. She must decide whether or not she will accept the new relationship. Her husband chose to remain with her after considering his options. Yolande must now consider her options, too.

Mike Hockney

Newcastle upon Tyne

Quit while you can

Having been married twice to two men who have strayed (I am a bad judge of character) I feel that unless he takes serious steps to change the situation, you are in a lose/lose situation. Those women who reckon it saves their marriage are talking rubbish. It's so difficult to put it behind you, especially if they play mind games and try to satisfy their guilt by pinning it on you. In a nutshell – quit. You wont regret it and you'll find you have more power than you think.

Lorna, by email

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