Caroline West-Meads: ‘Should she still be in touch with her ex?’

ask caroline

Q. I’ve been with my girlfriend for three months. We are both in our late 30s, and she has a nine-year-old son from her previous marriage. I don’t have children. We really hit it off, the chemistry is there and we enjoy being together. I really like her son too and am happy doing family activities with them both.

However, recently she admitted that she had had a four-year affair with a colleague while she was married. It started when she was going through a rough patch with her ex-husband and they hadn’t been communicating well – her ex still doesn’t know she had an affair. She told me that she really fell in love with this man – and when her marriage ended, she was upset because he wouldn’t leave his wife. She says that he still contacts her when his wife is away but it is only to see if she is available for sex, even though she has told him that she is with me and that is now off the table.

How do I tell her to break off contact with him? I’ve been cheated on before and I’m worried that she could restart the affair.

A. I can understand your fears. Your girlfriend clearly loved this man and I agree that she does need to break off contact with him if she wants to give your relationship a chance. It does sound, unfortunately, as though she still has feelings for him, so this won’t be easy.

Affairs don’t always end naturally – often they finish only because of discovery or the difficulties of finding time together – and feelings might not get a chance to burn out. During the affair’s height, both parties are on their best behaviour and they don’t see each other’s faults. This, added to the thrill of the illicit, can make the lover seem very exciting. I suspect also that because she met this man when her husband wasn’t emotionally available, she may have leaned on him for support and friendship.

Your relationship is new and you’re probably wondering if she will develop such strong feelings for you – while also worrying that the affair could restart. But this can all be addressed. You need to explain to your girlfriend that you realise she may have feelings for this man, but that you don’t want to be second best. If she is still thinking about him, it will stop her committing to you. So ask her (perhaps boldly) if she thinks she could fall in love with you in the same way as she did with him. If her answer is positive, then she must cut off contact with him. It might be a good idea for her to get counselling to sort out her feelings for her ex. It’s possible there could be a transition phase as she starts to fall in love with you, so don’t give up just yet.

If she decides to end it and commit to you, it could be worth going to counselling together so that you can both explore your understandable relationship insecurity and the importance of being a partnership.

‘I want my mother to be properly diagnosed’

Q. My mum is in her late 80s and I am fairly sure that she has dementia. My dad, who is 90 and physically frail, is having to look after her. It’s a huge strain on him even though he still has all his mental faculties. I really want to take my mum to the doctor to get a proper diagnosis but my dad and my brother are reluctant. They both say they don’t want her to know that she’s got dementia because she’d be upset. I can understand their point of view to some extent, but I’m really worried about my dad’s wellbeing and I think he needs more help. My brother and I both have to work full-time so we’re not around as much as we’d like.

A. I understand the fears your dad and brother have because it is a scary diagnosis. But your parents need proper support and only a diagnosis will help them. Explain gently to them both that if they don’t address the problem, your mum could miss out on treatment and support that she desperately needs. There is no cure but there are medications that can sometimes slow the progress of the condition.

Also, your parents would be entitled to various benefits such as attendance allowance or carer’s allowance and a reduction in council tax. This might enable your dad to get some help. Caring for himself at his age is enough of a challenge so looking after your mother too potentially puts them both at risk. Please ask your dad to take your mum to see her GP. Do also contact the Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Connect service on 0333 150 3456.