Reader dilemma: 'After 15 years of marriage, my husband told me he loved my best friend, and left that afternoon'

"Is there anything worse than being abandoned like this?"

Dear Virginia

Three months ago, after 15 years of marriage, my husband told me he had fallen in love with my best friend, and left that afternoon. I am totally devastated. My children, in their early teens, are very unhappy and disturbed and I hardly know how to go on being strong for them. I’ve been to see a solicitor, but I’m finding it very hard to make ends meet as my husband hasn’t made any financial provision for us. Everyone’s kind, and keeps assuring me that it’s his loss and I’ll meet someone else. But that’s not what I want to hear. I just want him back.

Yours sincerely, Tessa

Virginia says

Is there anything worse than being abandoned like this? Quite frankly, it would be better if your husband had died. Then, at least, you would a great deal more sympathy from friends, you would know that there was absolutely no hope of his ever returning, and you wouldn’t be tormented by thoughts of him living in a love nest with his new woman.

And, above all, you wouldn’t have been rejected for someone else.

Of course, friends are as sympathetic as they can be, but at the back of their minds, you know that there must be a nagging doubt: did she drive him away? Did living with her become intolerable? Thoughts that would never have entered their heads if he’d just dropped dead.

The first thing you must do is sort out the finances. That’s a practical consideration which you do have some control over. He is legally obliged to make some provision, so get cracking on getting some money as soon as you can.

I would then make a list of all the things that will be better, now he’s gone. I can’t believe that there aren’t some tiny advantages, even if they’re as small as the fact that he snored in bed, or never helped around the house. Seize on every tiny plus, so you don’t get overwhelmed by the negatives.

Saying “it’s his loss” is glib. But remind yourself that if he could behave like this, so cruel and underhand, without giving you any warning or chance to repair your marriage before charging off, then he must, au fond, be a deeply unpleasant and stupid man. If he can do it to you, tell yourself, he can do it to your so-called “best friend”. And, no doubt, will at some point in the future.

Will you meet someone else? Face facts: it’s a possibility, but it’s also a real possibility that you won’t. But I’m constantly impressed by the number of single, older woman I’ve met who’ve either dumped or been dumped by a man, who manage their lives extremely well. After a terrible period of grief, crying and feeling utterly wretched, many of them rise up like phoenixes and start behaving in ways that they’d never have dreamed of behaving before. They discover that their lives, though not the same as when they were married, are, in their own ways, deeply fulfilling and interesting. Yes, it can be lonely, but there are compensations. And women seem to be far better at coping on their own than men are (with the exception, of course, of those who are busy groping for their phones to dash off an angry email to their ex).

I think those are the sunny uplands you must look forward to rather than finding yet another bloke. Find a new way of life, rather than another partner. In the meantime, give yourself time to grieve and rage. Yes, it’s worse than a death, but you will, I promise you, eventually find a new way of living. And it might not be nearly as bad as you think.

Readers say...

Life can’t go back to normal

You sound hopelessly confused, which is perfectly understandable due to this blow. You chronicle the betrayal by your husband and your “best friend” (really?!), the unhappiness of your children and your financial hardship, then end by saying, “I just want him back.” Why? To ease immediate financial constraints or to make your children “happy” again? I would hope the desire is not rooted in some belief that anything can return to normal.

He has cheated on you and your friend has betrayed you. Ditch both of them for ever and get a good divorce lawyer. Take Mr 15 Years for every penny you are legally entitled to. The happiness of your offspring will be immeasurably enhanced in the long-term by the realisation that the world is not an all-ends-happily movie, that people are capable of the most hurtful betrayal of those who should be entitled to better – and that practical, hard-hitting legal and financial redress is the only solution. After you have processed all that, then you may be able to contemplate the “plenty-of-fish” nonsense of your platitude-spouting associates.

Alistair Strachan

by email

There are ways to stay strong

My husband suddenly left our 20-year marriage for another woman, so I understand the pain and turmoil you are experiencing. You will get through this. Here are some of the things I found helpful in the early months. Write your feelings down in a private diary to help manage the pain. Self-help books written by women who have been there will make you feel less alone and give you strategies for coping. For emotional support, you may also be able to get free counselling through your GP. Your children’s school may also provide support and counselling for them.

Nurture yourself and create a space in the turmoil for you to do something you enjoy, even if that feels impossible at first. I found singing and planting seedlings really therapeutic. There will be something special to you, and simple pleasures in life can take on a new meaning.

I hope your solicitor has advised you to apply for tax credits immediately, which you are entitled to as a single parent. Your husband, if he is able, should be supporting you financially and can’t simply walk away.

Alison

By email

Next week's dilemma

One of my friends is extremely anxious. She says she rarely has a moment when she doesn’t suffer and she increasingly finds it hard to go out, and often rings up to put off dates because she has had a panic attack. She hasn’t been to see a film or been to the theatre for a year now, even though she used to love going out. I’ve tried to get her to see her doctor, but she’s very frightened of taking pills. All she’ll see is a hypnotist, who only seems to be taking her money and not improving matters. Is there any way I can help?

Yours sincerely,

Henri

What would you advise Henri to do? To answer this dilemma, or to share your own problem, write to dilemmas@independent.co.uk

Anyone whose advice is quoted or whose dilemma is published will receive a Finest Bean Mini Bar Gift Pack from Prestat (prestat.co.uk).

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