The wife of the shamed Liberal Democrat MP Mark Oaten, whose bid to lead the party was wrecked by revelations that he had visited a male prostitute, has spoken about her feelings of betrayal - and also of how she is starting to forgive her husband of 14 years.
Mr Oaten has moved back into the family home in the Hampshire village of Bramdean and the couple are receiving marriage counselling. They have also had a holiday together.
"I haven't forgiven him - I'm in the process of forgiving him," Belinda Oaten said yesterday. "I've gone from feeling complete shock and numbness and thinking I'd never see him again to having him back in the house. I can't say what lies ahead. What I can say is that it's all on my terms. I am calling the shots."
Mrs Oaten, 38, described the conflicting emotions of shock, anger, humiliation and pity when her husband took her to one side on "that terrible day" in January and said: "It's all over for me. It's all over for us. I'm finished. I went to a rent boy." She hurled her engagement and wedding rings at him, forcing him to flee the house via the back garden fence.
The couple, who have two young daughters, met when Mrs Oaten was a 20-year-old student and Mr Oaten a 24-year-old Lib Dem councillor. It was the bond of having known each other for 18 years, and the shared responsibility of two children, that had drawn them back together, she said.
"He is my soulmate - I do love him in the same way I've always loved him," Mrs Oaten said. "I started to feel if there is still some love, there is still hope. You can't just wipe away 18 years with someone. I thought that even if our marriage didn't survive, there was still something there."
She added: "At first I couldn't stand him near me. Now we are able to give each other a hug and a peck on the cheek, and that's a huge step forward."
Mrs Oaten took the children to Austria to escape the publicity. It was there that she realised, even if her marriage was over, her daughters, Alice, 10, and Milly, six, needed their father. She summoned her husband, who checked into a separate hotel, and they began the long process of picking up the pieces.
"God knows what the hotel must have thought," she said. "I was walking around like some crazed banshee. I told him, 'The only reason I'm speaking to you is because of the children.' We were able to put all the anger and crisis on hold so that they could see, whatever happened, we both loved them equally."
Remarkably, while Mrs Oaten is cautious, saying that her husband still has to win back her trust, a stronger relationship may emerge from the wreckage.
Before the revelations, she was facing the possibility of being married to the leader of a major political party - a position that often has to take priority over home life. Now the Oatens spend more time together. After a family holiday in Florida, they are planning a trip to Portugal to mark their 14th wedding anniversary in September.
"I wish we'd spent this time together before," Mrs Oaten said. "Mark's realised where his priorities are; his work has been scaled down.
"We have a real foundation. I married for love and that's something quite special to hold on to."Reuse content