Expert advice

Dr Gabrielle Morrissey: Sexologist

Dr Gabrielle Morrissey has been a sexologist — sexuality educator, sex therapist and sex researcher — since 1990. She is also the author a number of successful books.

My husband had an affair after 20 years of marriage

Tuesday, April 14, 2009
How could he do this and still think he can come back to me?

I'm guessing that when your husband left you and your family, it was on the understanding, at least on your part, that it wasn't due to infidelity. I can only guess at this, based on your newly developed shock and devastation once finding out about the affair he had one month after leaving.

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Dr Gabrielle Morrissey’s advice
Presumably he left the marriage because he was unhappy in it. And then it didn't take him long to seek the comfort, attraction and desire of another partner, for however short a time. And that signals that his unhappiness in the marriage was related, at least in part, to an intimacy issue.

In today's age, with staggering divorce rates, to be married 20 years is highly commendable. You've built a life together and so it's completely understandable that you would be at a loss and experiencing a range of emotions at the thought of that life coming to an end. This is especially true when it happens so suddenly.

What's good is that you and he had established open lines of communication in the wake of this split. To experience something so negative, hurtful and dramatic, and still be able in a short period of time to join back together to talk, let alone to talk about reconciliation, means that despite everything you still have a bond and a willingness to both consider not splitting and working on fixing your marriage.

The spanner in the works of course is the latest news that your husband strayed. When and how and with whom are mere details. The main point is he made the choice — one he regrets and is sorry for now — to be with another. It's a natural reaction for you to be angry. And it's a very real worry to wonder how you can ever trust him again. This is a huge consideration. You don't want to live the next 20 years, or more, with mistrust. That's no way to live.

VIEW GALLERY: Relationship myth busters

Marriages can survive infidelity. Generally, only when both partners are dedicated to working on the flaws in their relationship, and on being very truthful about their feelings about each other, the affair, and their future. Without laying everything bare, the chances of fixing the marriage for any length of time are very small. You may feel alone and cruelly betrayed, but at least you know the situation now, before you agreed to get back together. This gives you the chance to reflect and then decide what you want to do based on knowing these facts.

It's better to know now than later. You need to talk about how and why he left, and also why he sought intimacy (physical or more) with someone else so quickly after leaving you after 20 years together. Gaining honest answers from him can help you to understand, and to decide what to do now.

Your reaction questioning how he could do this and think he could return to your, shows that you have defined a clear boundary for yourself that you wouldn't take him back if he cheated on you. So you're angry, perhaps because you came close to getting back together and fixing your 20–year-long marriage, and he's gone and made it all so much worse with his infidelity, on top of everything else.

For you to take him back, you have to be really okay with extending or breaking this boundary of yours. That's no small thing and you shouldn't do that lightly. I would strongly suggest a session or two or more with a relationship counsellor to discuss how able you are in fact to take him back now (as well as define what you consider cheating — not just for you, but your husband as well, should you decide to reconcile).

You state you're not sure how to get over this, which implies a desire to try. So to bridge all your conflicting emotions and confused thoughts, sessions with a counsellor will be helpful to gain clarity on what is best for you. You have to care for yourself right now, respect your own needs, and be tender with your own feelings. You're the only one who can. Your split marriage isn't supporting you, your husband isn't there for you, and your future isn't trusted. So the first step in caring for yourself, and helping you make the right decision would be to see a counsellor.

A counsellor will be on your side and help you to make the choice that feels right for you. Whether that is to move forward on your own, or make an effort to fix your marriage and stay with your husband (with both you and your husband learning a new way to be with each other) the next 20 years of your life will be different than you thought. But those years could be happy for you as long as you take time to get clear about your feelings and make the right choice for you.

For more information please see Dr Gabrielle's website or visit her consultancy website Bananas and Melons.

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