Tell Me About It

My wife wants to continue her affair while we carry on as if nothing is happening

I am hurt but I know the whole family would suffer greatly from a separation

PROBLEM: My wife of almost 30 years has recently informed me she has been having an affair with a colleague for more than two years.

I was hurt but not surprised by this news as we have been growing apart for a number of years. During a rare argument six months ago, she insinuated she had fallen out of love with me, so on reflection I was probably preparing for such a revelation.

We informed our three adult children of the affair and I am proud to say they have all shown great maturity in that they have been very supportive towards me without appearing to be judgemental towards her. Our oldest child has a young family and recently built a house on a site next to our home, and our middle child has moved back to the family home, while he saves for a deposit to buy a house. So while an empty nest may have contributed to the distance that erupted between us, our home life has never been more vibrant. My wife does not wish to end the affair, but she does not want either of us to leave the family home as she doesn’t want any disruption to the status quo.

I accept that the marriage is over, however for both financial and emotional reasons I think I would find separation very difficult. My wife believes there are benefits for both of us if we were to continue living under the same roof and where the family is concerned function as a unit, but otherwise live separate lives.

I don’t want to lead a fake life, but I know the whole family would suffer greatly from a separation.

ADVICE: The potential for emotional upset for you is very high in the scenario you describe. While your wife has had two years to consider separation, you are just coming to terms with the fact that your marriage is over.

If you take up your wife’s offer, you are agreeing to a relationship where you are not the lover and you cannot assume the position of husband any longer. Of course, you are emotionally distressed and perhaps your desire for the status quo is a way of not facing the crisis but there is an inevitability to this situation – a 30-year relationship and way of life has come to an end. Given the fact that you both agree the marriage is over, there is a strong case for going through a mediation process. This is a facilitated process where you both are taken through all the aspects of separation by an objective professional. You might find this professional is able to ask the questions you are avoiding and they can highlight issues of fairness and justice that are likely to bypass you. (See the Legal Aid Board for a free mediation service that helps couples resolve disputes and negotiate their own agreement).

Your children seem to be mature and will manage whatever outcome that you and your wife agree on. Your worry about the effects of the separation on them may be over-exaggerated and might actually be a cover for your own distress and discomfort.

You sound calm and considered in the face of the bombshell of the announcement of the affair and it might be fair to ask if this has been part of the problem in the relationship. Have you really not cared that much that you did not notice your wife’s attention completely leaving you? Is it possible that you freeze in the face of such emotional crisis and that the lack of response or action from you has led your wife to believe it is okay to have a lover while sharing your home? You might take time to reflect on these possibilities.

Of course, there are couples who can manage to live together while supporting each other’s romantic lives elsewhere, but these tend to be those who have gone through a lot together and over years arrive at a place of true friendship. I doubt if you are quite in this position – do you feel your wife is truly your friend and has your best interests at heart, and can you really be interested in and support her external relationship?

What is being proposed to you would require two very evolved people who can act magnanimously and kindly toward each other in somewhat extreme circumstances. Before you commit to this arrangement, you might need to give yourself time to let what has happened sink in and consider what will offer you the best option for living well. You might, in the future, wish to have another relationship and want to have that person become part of your and your extended family’s life.

The possibility for this needs to be catered for now so proceed slowly and give yourself plenty of time before committing to an agreement that might be harmful to you.