Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: I found a love letter in my husband's pocket. Should we seek help?

"Each day he lies I despise him more and more"

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The Independent Online

Dear Virginia,

I’ve discovered a passionate love letter in my husband’s jeans. Of course, I’m extremely upset, particularly as for the past year we haven’t been having sex. I have mentioned to him that we seem to be drifting apart but he just said it was because we were both busy, with a son of eight as well as full-time jobs. A bit of me feels so betrayed and fed up I just want to tell him to go. But a close friend says we should try marriage guidance at least for the sake of our son and because we were so happy for the first six years. But why bother?  I haven’t even told my husband that I know yet, and each day he lies I despise him more and more.

Yours sincerely, Ursula

Virginia says...

Of course you must do your best to save your marriage! And of course you must put your son first in all this. I wonder whether your own parents were divorced? Sometimes I think it’s only children whose parents split up who know the really agonising effect separation can have on the children.

It’s clear that there’s a huge amount of secrecy in your marriage. First, there’s the secret your husband’s been keeping, by not telling you about the affair and not even, before that, admitting how unhappy he felt about your marriage, and fudging around with excuses about being “busy”. But you have to take your fair share of the blame. You accepted his glib answer to your question about the lack of sex, even though you must have known it wasn’t really true, and even now, you’re keeping the fact that you know about the affair secret. Each day, as you say, you despise him more and more. Your secrecy is enabling you to build and build resentment against him.

Before you do anything else you must tell him what you’ve discovered. Things that can flourish in darkness often wither in daylight. It may well be that secrecy has actually played a part in the success of this affair – the titillation, the underhand naughtiness of it. The game of hide and seek, when everyone knows where everyone else is hidden, completely loses its thrill.

Once you confront your husband, he’ll be faced with the reality of what he’s doing. Things conducted by candlelight, as it were, look all very romantic and mysterious. Turn on the central light and they can appear tawdry, predictable and rather shabby. In other words, once you admit you know, your knowledge will actually have virtually a chemical effect on the affair. It will no longer be the same emotional entity. It may well suddenly turn into something your husband doesn’t like or, at least, feels differently about.

In the open, your husband will have to face the reaction of his friends and his relations, and he may well not like what he hears from them. On the whole, society prefers couples to stay together, not split up.

And then seek counselling. It’s so easy to break up over something like this – and if you don’t have a child then there’s no harm done. But as your friend points out, you were once happy. There’s no reason to think that, if you’re both honest with each other, you can’t be again. It may not be in exactly the same way, it may not be for ever, but if you can just stagger on until your son has grown up, bonded by a common desire not to hurt him, this will be a lot better than splitting up lazily without making any effort to heal the wounds. You wouldn’t just chuck out a television that stopped working without seeing if it was just a loose wire. Don’t treat your marriage – far more precious – in the same way.

Readers say...

You must confront him

You have ample time to take stock. Since your husband is unaware of your knowledge, it is only natural he will continue to be evasive.

I suggest you bring it to the surface and confront him in an effort to effect some sort of reconciliation… bearing in mind the needs of your child. Marriage guidance is there if you need it, but only if all else fails.

PJ Hill, by email

Are you feeling a little bit relieved?

As your instinct has not been to rip up the letter under his nose and say you are going back to mother with your son in tow, you need to be honest. It was a shock, but was it also a relief? Affairs can sometimes heal a marriage. You admit your own is under pressure from two jobs and (probably) from parenting a son too. It can take time to adjust from being a couple to a family. Not an excuse, but a possible explanation.

If you do still love your husband, try this. Write a letter of your own, evoking the years of your relationship when you were happy, making it clear you have read the other letter, but not mentioning it directly. Insert it in the same pocket, letter just visible, put his jeans on the bed, and just wait. This puts you in control, and gauging his reaction on reading it will dictate your next step.

If you do not love your husband, but would find it difficult to confront him verbally, write him a letter telling him the game is up. While you should recognise in the letter that he is a great dad and that you both still want the best for your son, you can say you have doubts about your future together. Suggest going to a Relate counsellor together as a next step and see what happens. Good luck.

Verity, by email

Don’t assume the worst

So you found a love letter in your husband’s jeans, but you haven’t confronted him about it. So you have assumed the worst and believe that he lies every day. But the whole thing might be innocent. So tell him what you have found and ask him to explain. If he is having an affair, he will be put on the spot and will have a difficult decision to make. His response will resolve your dilemma.

Malcolm Howard, by email

Virginia says...

I am going to be 40 next month, and I am absolutely dreading it. Some friends sympathise but most don’t know what I’m talking about. And anyway, even the ones who sympathise don’t really understand. I’m starting to get really depressed about being that age – I feel all kinds of doors shutting, and I’m starting to wake up in the morning full of anxiety and feeling tearful. I know there’s nothing I can do about it, but even though people say it’s the prime of life, and a wonderful age to be, it doesn’t feel like that. I’m already looking and feeling older.

Yours sincerely, Kerry


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