Caroline West-Meads: ‘I don’t know if I can trust my husband’

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Q. I have been married for 35 years and my husband and I are in our mid-50s. We’ve had a largely happy marriage – with three children, now grown-up – but we split temporarily about 30 years ago after my husband had an affair. When we got back together, we worked hard to recover our marriage. However, when the pandemic started, my husband’s work dried up and he took a temporary post in London doing Covid testing. He spent weekdays away and only came home at weekends.

Alarm bells began ringing when, after he went back to his old job in April, I noticed he was being secretive with his phone. I asked if he was having an affair and he denied it. But a couple of months later, I discovered he’d been contacting a woman he had worked with on a daily basis. When I confronted him, he said they weren’t having an affair, they just got on well together. He apologised and said they would stop contacting each other as he realised how it looked.

Now I’m struggling to trust him and wondering if our marriage can survive. I really don’t want to check up on him but, with social media, it is so easy for them to stay in touch. I love him and he says he still loves me, but I wonder whether that’s true. I have considered counselling, but I doubt he’d go. Perhaps it would help me decide what to do. It would be hard to leave someone I love, but if he can’t be straight with me, what option do I have?

A. It must be difficult for you to trust him, especially as he had an affair before. Unfortunately, because he is secretive, it may sadly be that your fears are true. Even if it wasn’t physical, they may have been having an ‘emotional ’ affair. This can feel just as painful because all that closeness – the in-jokes, thoughts and feelings – are shared with someone else instead of you. I agree that social media makes it very easy to keep in touch now, yet equally hard to check up on someone. But if trust is to be rebuilt, you must check your husband’s phone, emails and social media – and he must agree to prove his commitment to you.

You should certainly go to counselling together to see whether your marriage can be saved. If it can’t, as you say, it will help you decide what to do next. Thirty five years is a long time, so if you decide to part you will need plenty of support. You are only in your mid-50s and there’s always the possibility of meeting someone else who you could love and trust completely. This may seem unimaginable now, but please don’t see your marriage as all or nothing.

If your husband refuses to go to counselling, tell him that it shows a lack of willingness to make your marriage work. Also tell him that you feel very hurt by his closeness to this woman and that if he doesn’t agree to counselling, you may feel unable to stay married to him. If he still refuses – well, that tells you a lot, so go on your own to help you to decide what to do.

‘Since my son left home, I’ve been a wreck’

Q. I am in my early 50s, with a good marriage and two lovely sons. But the youngest has just gone to university and I’m having trouble coping. I know I’m lucky to have had a really happy family, but with both my sons finding their way in the world, it feels like it’s all been taken away from me.

It wasn’t as bad when the eldest left four years ago as he was at university nearby so he came home quite often – and his brother was still here. But our youngest now lives over 200 miles away and hasn’t yet been home. My husband says that our son is happy so I should let go, but I find I’m counting the days until Christmas and crying a lot. I know it’s not healthy but I don’t know what to do.

A. I feel for you, as empty nest syndrome can leave a big void in a parent’s life. It marks such a huge change and there is grief for part of your life that is over while the new phase isn’t yet clear. This can be particularly hard if you feel being a mother defines your identity. I do think also that the pandemic and the huge uncertainty that it has created has made problems like this worse. Few people have escaped without a significant increase in their anxiety levels, so no wonder we want to keep our loved ones close.

But your husband is right – your son is happy and you do need to concentrate on things that define you outside motherhood: your marriage, friends, volunteering, taking up new hobbies, etc. However, the crying and feelings of hopelessness perhaps indicate a deeper level of sadness, possibly depression, so do please see your GP for help.