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Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: I'm worried that my lover's husband is dangerous

'He's said he'll kill their cats and poison their children's minds unless she returns'

Dear Virginia,

I’ve been having an affair with a married woman for five years, and now her children have left home, she’s left her husband. They have lived virtually separate lives for years, and he has said he doesn’t love her any more. But now she’s left, he’s weeping, furious, begs her to return, and says he’ll kill their cats and poison the children’s minds against her. I fear that if she goes to collect her things he may attack her. What can we do?

Yours sincerely, Jeremy

Virginia says...

I wonder if this man has a history of violence? If he does, then obviously you should steer clear of him. But it could be all hat and no cattle, as they say. In other words, he’s just making empty threats to show how angry and hurt he’s feeling.

I’ve known quite a few people like that. They’re very scary when they’re rampaging around, but usually they’re just venting. When it comes to cutting up clothes, they might be able to wield the scissors, but when it comes to actually slitting the cats’ throats, they find they can’t go through with it. And his daughters are old enough to be able to spot an unhinged and wounded father and not believe all he says, particularly if their mother talks to them first – preferably painting their dad sympathetically as temporarily mad and unhappy. You won’t find his words carry much weight with mutual friends, either. They’ll just stay clear of him until he calms down.

It’s not surprising that he’s reacting in this way. It’s often people who are the quietest and apparently least emotional who can snap very viciously when finally it’s made clear that they’re not wanted any more. They try to deny the reality by hiding in their work, they refuse to see anything is wrong, but when the truth really dawns on them, they are horrified, and surprised, too, partly because they never saw it coming. Unlike your girlfriend, who has obviously been aware of the cracks in her marriage ever since she started an affair with you, this man has kept his head in the sand. Now it’s finally been dragged it up into the daylight, he’s deranged by what he sees.

This is not the time for your girlfriend to go round with a collection of binbags. In a month or so, she could perhaps find out a time when he’ll be out and taking you and preferably another friend with her, she could make a quick raid on the house and remove her belongings. If by then he’s changed the locks, she should try to enlist the help of a mutual friend and give her a list. 

Don’t fear this man. And don’t condemn him, either. He’s obviously emotionally illiterate, and has now got to deal with an event he never, even in his wildest dreams, contemplated. And he probably didn’t contemplate it because he knew that, for him, it would be too much to bear. As it has proved. As the reality starts to seep in, over the coming months, he will almost certainly become more reasonable. And who knows, in the end, he may find another partner who transforms his life in a way he never knew was possible.

Next week's dilemma

I am starting to give up on the human race. People increasingly seem unwilling to respond to my friendly advances. I asked my sister if she’d like me to babysit and I’ve received no answer. Another friend suggested that instead of going out, he came to supper with me – but as he knows I have no facilities for cooking a proper meal, I realised he simply hadn’t thought it through. People are always jostling me in the tube and everyone I ring, even just to make appointments, is so rude. Is it me, or are people just hostile these days?

Yours sincerely, Ruth 

What would you advise Ruth to do? Write to dilemmas@independent.co.uk. Anyone whose advice is quoted or whose dilemma is published will receive a box of Belgian chocolates from funkyhampers.co.uk (twitter.com/funkyhampers).