Caroline West-Meads: Her online fling has blindsided me

Caroline West-Meads
Chris O’Donovan

Q: A few weeks ago, my wife suddenly announced that she wanted a divorce. She wouldn’t give me a reason – just that she wasn’t happy. We have been married for 17 years and have two children in their early teens. I was shattered and for several days, although I managed to act almost normally in front of the children, I could barely function – not eating or sleeping. I kept asking her why but she just said that she didn’t think she loved me any more. Then eventually, one evening after the children had gone to bed and I was close to tears, she finally admitted that she had been exchanging messages with a guy online – who she had never even met. She burst into tears and told me that she thought she had been in love with him but when she had told him this, he cut off contact with her. She said it had been a terrible mistake and that she did love me and wanted to save the marriage. The next day she seemed to think everything was fine again and she had decided not to leave me after all. But I am still shell-shocked and finding it really hard to get over. I keep wondering how explicit the emails were and I am gutted that she thought she was in love with someone she had never even met when we have had 17 mostly happy years together. She seems annoyed that I can’t just put it behind me and move on. Now I don’t know what to do.

A: No wonder you feel gutted. This has been a huge shock to you. Your wife is behaving pretty unfairly. She has rocked your world to the core and to expect you to move on and pretend this never happened is unreasonable and unrealistic. Sadly, and I know this is painful for you, it must make you question whether she really loves you and wants to save the marriage or whether she has decided to stay because her online relationship wasn’t what she thought. Though nothing physical has taken place with this man, emotional affairs can hurt just as much so what needs to happen is a lot of talking. Ask her to have joint counselling. Contact Relate (relate.org.uk) or the College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists (cosrt.org.uk). Although you thought that you had a mostly happy marriage, there must have been some gaps – perhaps you had fallen into a routine where you didn’t communicate well or took each other for granted. She wasn’t really in love with this man, of course – it was just an infatuation. I expect she might have been bored and unfulfilled, perhaps she has a job she finds boring or had been feeling like ‘just a mum’ and forgotten how it is to feel sexy or desired. She wanted admiration and got carried away by this man fancying her and seeming to adore her. Counselling will help you decide if you want to stay together – this is your decision just as much as hers – and hopefully help your pain start to heal.

Am I making a mistake by leaving the family home?

Q. I am 72 and was widowed four years ago after 43 years of marriage. My children live ten minutes away and are both good to me. I’m still in the family home of 40 years and, while I don’t need to move for financial reasons, it is too big for me. A smaller property is for sale two doors from my daughter. She has two lovely children and we get on well. I’ve put in an offer, but am having doubts. It’s such a big move and I keep crying at the thought of leaving my memories. Everyone says it’s my decision, but I would appreciate your advice.

A I am sorry to hear that you were widowed at only 68. As the move is making you cry, you are perhaps not ready to leave your house. Some people say it is better to downsize before you need to, but at 72 you sound active and independent – and not in need of a smaller house just yet. On the other hand, there are families desperate for bigger homes – but this alone is not a good enough reason for you to sell yours. It could be that the new house is not the right one. It may seem sensible, and you may fear another will not come along. But that is not true. If you don’t love it, or can’t see yourself living there, it might be good to wait. In time, you could consider lodgers. A homeshareuk.org scheme could provide affordable living for young people and company for you. The pandemic is causing so much anxiety that it may be too unsettling to add a house move to the mix. When you are ready to leave, your memories will still be there through photographs and time with your family, even without the familiar setting.