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BEL MOONEY: Can I mend a marriage shattered by my husband’s affair confession?

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BEL MOONEY: Can I mend a marriage shattered by my husband's affair confession?

Dear Bel,

Last summer my husband and I celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary. A month later, struggling with his mental health (as he has throughout our marriage), my husband told me that he had been having a three-year affair with a work colleague that ended seven years ago.

Months later we are still together but I am lost and confused. I never knew; I didn’t see the signs and trusted him implicitly.

Because it wasn’t a recent affair and because I didn’t know what was going on at the time, the man standing before me today is the same man I’ve always known and loved.

If he hadn’t confessed, I’d be none the wiser and we’d live our lives as we always have. Why did he reveal it?

I knew the other woman well. We went to her wedding. She picked him up from home every day to take him to work. That bit still makes me really angry.

BEL MOONEY Can I mend a marriage shattered by my

I have had some counseling which was quite helpful, but we have not been able to get couples counseling because of his mental health.

Relate didn’t feel he was stable enough and both his elderly parents are ill. Besides, only a few of his friends know about it. He’s told them he had a breakdown – it hurts when I’m there too, especially since he gets lots of sympathy and I get the “poor you” look.

Oddly enough, we live each day as we always have; we hold each other’s hands when we are out, on holidays and on trips – as if nothing had happened.

To this day, I haven’t shouted, argued or asked many questions. I do not know why. This year I turn 60 and will not throw my toys out of the pram in the hope of finding a better life.

I know people can forgive and move on from affairs and maybe after 35 years it could be us. But I’m not sure I’ve started processing it yet.

I’ve always been strong, but now feel like a bit of a doormat. I have been humiliated and had the last ten years of my life tarnished.

I look at all the family photos, go through the family calendar and realize that he lived a double life as we celebrated many special occasions.

I’m not sure he’s lost anything – he’s actually probably relieved it’s out in the open. But I feel stuck and isolated. Friends and family don’t understand that I’m staying, so I don’t talk about him anymore.

I’m afraid they’ll see us together and be horrified. I would handle it if I knew it was the right decision for us, but how do I know? What do you think?


Your email resonated with me in such deeply personal ways that it felt uncanny. So before anything else, let me express my deep conviction: I firmly believe that a couple can survive an affair—and that they can grow, both as individuals and as a unit, because of—not in spite of—the struggle.

That said, I also know that the process is very, very difficult, and inevitably marked by highs as well as the bleakest of lows.

I can see how much you still wish he hadn’t told you. A confession can make the sinner feel better about himself – you know, ‘I’ve told the truth, so I’m a good, honest person now.’

But what the revelation does, of course, is to transfer the misery, the lock, the warehouse, and the smoking barrel, to the wronged. No wonder you were so shocked after all this time. No wonder you feel, with justified bitterness, that your entire marriage has been sullied. Your husband looks the same and sounds the same and the touch of his warm hand is the same – but who is he really?

Contact Bel

Bel answers readers’ questions about emotional and relationship issues every week. Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 9 Derry Street, London W8 5HY or email bel.mooney@dailymail.co.uk. Names are being changed to protect identities. Bel reads all letters, but regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

My answer to that would be: the man you loved and who loved you back for 35 years.

Now, when you’re wishing you’d never known, confused that the woman could have betrayed you and wondering what the future holds, it’s important to understand the real meaning of ‘for better, for worse’.

Yet the process of enduring the ‘worse’ may even hold the promise of something potentially better than before. Because you are now both changed people. The joint task must be to make that change for the ‘better’.

Think of a Ming vase broken and then skillfully restored. Is it the same vase? No – impossible.

But with all its new imperfections, can it still hold some beauty? Yes, it can. Do you see what I’m going for?

The weak man who holds your hand when you go out together needs you to hold him up. You are not ‘humiliated’; he is. Far from being a ‘doormat’, you are now responsible for the magic carpet that can fly you into a future where you – skillfully restored, the strong, the remaining, the defiant wife – can call all the shots.

Some people will suggest that you stay because you are afraid of being alone in your 60s. Don’t listen to them. It’s also not about ‘friends and family’ whether you stay in your marriage or leave it.

Personally, I think you should go to couples counseling, and doubt that he is too weak for it. Why is ‘his mental health’ preventing him from talking to a calm therapist about the consequences of his actions and how you can become strong again? You love him and he loves you. Build on it.

Our fragile children will not heal the rift

Dear Bel,

I have two grown children – Jenna, 45, and Michael, 41. About four years ago, Michael went through a pretty tough time mentally after the end of a relationship. It was unexpected and resulted in months of suicidal thoughts and just not being able to function.

All through this, his father and I supported him as much as we could. We just desperately wanted our son out of this dark hole – so we were there for him, day or night.

Our problem began when my husband and I booked a much needed vacation. While we were away, Michael turned to his sister for support, but unfortunately it didn’t go well.

It was the start of the new school term and (like many mothers) Jenna struggled to sort her children that day. Michael was not aware of this. He called for help and was met with a total lack of concern.

In Michael’s eyes, Jenna was hanging him out to dry – he was desperate, but she was busy with family matters and would call when she had time.

I should mention that Jenna also had a mental breakdown a few years ago and we were all supportive.

Now Michael won’t forgive his sister and this has caused a huge divide. Jenna won’t apologize because she doesn’t think she did anything wrong.

I have tried to talk to her, but am met with anger and tears. It all makes our life very difficult and extremely upsetting.

I have pointed out to both that this is having such a detrimental effect on me and their father – to no avail. I am at a loss.


As a parent of grown children, I have nothing but sympathy. It always amazes me that younger parents seriously believe that once their children are grown, their parenting job is over. Personally, I feel like I’m going to worry about my children and grandchildren as I take my very last croaking breath.

Let’s pretend for a moment that we’re talking about two other adults. In other words, you did not write this letter, nor is it about your children.

Read it carefully again; what do you think? It seems that we are dealing with two rather immature people, unable to see how their behavior affects others, but ready to rage and cry over what they consider completely unforgivable insults/hurts.

Does it seem unfair? But it can also be accurate.

Before people hit me with the ‘mental breakdown’ stick, I’ll just reiterate my belief (shared by many) that such a label is used too lightly.

You have tried to be fair, but my feeling is that you consider your daughter more to blame, writes Bel Mooney

You have tried to be fair, but my feeling is that you consider your daughter more to blame, writes Bel Mooney

You have tried to be fair, but my feeling is that you consider your daughter more to blame, writes Bel Mooney

I’m not saying that Jenna and (especially) Michael didn’t suffer breakdowns; I just question the term and wonder why it can so easily be used as an excuse for unacceptable behavior.

Your mention of Jenna’s episode has that tinge to it. You see, here we have a 45-year-old mother of two who responds with ‘anger and tears’ to a simple request that she say, ‘I’m sorry bro, I didn’t understand because I was stressed. Next time I will do better – so let’s start again.’

If her tantrums seem unreasonable, so does Michael’s stubborn insistence on choosing to be hurt. He could grit his teeth and say, ‘OK, sister, I didn’t realize it was a bad day. Yes, I was fooled, but let’s move on.’

You have asked them both to think about the effect of their argument on you, their poor parents. But they don’t care. It suits them much better to hold their victim to their chest for months while you – clearly a generous, tolerant and loving mother – suffer.

You have tried to be fair, but my sense is that you consider your daughter more to blame. So what next? I would invite each of them to tea without telling the other.

Confronting them with the ‘enemy’ might cause trouble, but it would allow you and your husband to talk tough. I suppose you have been pleading and conciliatory up to now.

How about your husband telling them that he can’t take what they are doing to their mother anymore and until they are able to say sorry to each other, you don’t want to see either of them? And what if you agreed?

And finally… don’t look for the wrong end of the stick

Last week I wrote about the pleasure I get from receiving cards – specifically (currently) Get Well cards from friends and readers alike. I have been in terrible pain from shingles on top of my hip replacement and just seeing the cards has meant so much.

But three readers took me to task – quite rightly pointing out that this country’s terrible postal service is the reason many have stopped sending them.

Diane W: ‘I don’t think people who no longer want to send cards (of which I am one) are too lazy to go out and get them. . .’

Similarly, Penny B: ‘I don’t think the lack of cards has anything to do with cost or laziness, Bel. . . to add to the misery, the PO has raised the price of stamps three times. . . How dare they?’ I fully applaud her indignation!

But Rosemary R gave me a metaphorical slap: ‘. . . sorry to the people you called ‘lazy’ and appreciate the thought that goes into sending the cards you are lucky enough to receive.’

Well, appreciation was the whole driving force behind that column. And here is the interesting thing: the words ‘lazy’ and ‘laziness’ do not appear at all.

This is what I wrote: ‘Some acquaintances have announced that they will no longer send Christmas cards but will ‘give money to charity instead’. My first thought was, ‘Hey, why not do both?’ – because they were well-off people. My second thought was: ‘OK, just ‘think you don’t bother buying, writing and postcards’ anymore.’

I agree that ‘can’t be bothered’ is a bit judgmental (although I was referring to the lucky rich) and I’m glad to be reminded of the useless postal service. But sometimes readers seem perversely delighted to get the wrong end of the stick.

A few weeks ago a guy told me he didn’t read my column often because ‘it’s for the ladies’.

What? Read more carefully – and discover some truths about the human condition.

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