How could a change of diet or buying a holiday home prove more toxic than an affair? Sometimes even the smallest betrayal can blow a relationship apart, as the women here reveal.
‘When we talk about betrayal in a marriage, we think of sexual betrayal,’ says Andrew G Marshall, marital therapist and author of Wake Up and Change Your Life. ‘But there are many other ways trust can break down. Maybe your husband took out a loan without checking with you, or secretly bought a motorbike which he keeps in his friend’s garage. Or perhaps he has texted a work colleague many times out of hours and, to you, it feels like a violation.’
A betrayal is a transgression of trust that – to one of you at least – goes straight to the heart of a relationship. It’s a ‘broken contract’: you feel as though your spouse hasn’t kept up their half of the ‘deal’ (your expectations of how each of you should behave) or has stepped over (often unspoken) boundaries. The trouble is, couples don’t set out the finer details of their ‘contracts’ in writing. What feels like betrayal to you may seem fairly minor to your partner.
‘For some, discovering a partner is a secret smoker is a devastating betrayal. For others, it isn’t,’ says Marshall. ‘Is watching porn a betrayal? And who gets to decide?’ Ten women reveal here how they reacted when the truth came out…
‘When I needed him most, he let me down’
‘It was the worst point of my life – my dad had just died and I was in deep grief. My family are very close so my mum, brothers, uncle, aunts and I had been at the hospital, constantly on the phone or in each other’s homes. Now we were trying to plan the funeral and I went into the office at home to use the computer. My husband had left the room but was logged on to his email account and I saw my name in the top email. I started reading. He was arranging to meet a friend and made just one cold reference to what was happening: ‘Debbie’s dad has now died and I wonder if her mum is going to move in full-time. It feels like her whole family already have.’ There was no sympathy, nothing about the loss of my dad – just how invasive it was for him.
‘It felt like a betrayal – bitching about me when I most needed him. We’d only been married for three years and within a year of that, we’d separated. I could never get past it.’
‘He sent family photos to my estranged mum’
‘I come from a very messed-up family – more issues than EastEnders! My mum is a narcissistic alcoholic who made my childhood miserable. Then, several Christmases ago – after she didn’t show up when she said she would, or send a card or presents for the children– I decided I couldn’t have her in my life any more. She’d hurt me too many times. It was a massive decision, but I asked her not to contact me again, blocked her on Facebook and stuck to it.
‘Then I learned through my sister that my mum had been in touch with my partner. From time to time, behind my back, he had emailed her pictures of our children and told her our news. I went absolutely mental and felt completely betrayed. He says he was just trying to keep the door open – and I know that he’s a good, kind person. My mum had manipulated him, messaging him, saying how much she missed her grandchildren. But I don’t forgive him – and I’m still not in contact with my mum.’
‘I’m terrified he’ll slip back into old habits’
‘When I met my husband six years ago, he was a chain-smoking heavy drinker. By that, I mean waking-up-in-A&E kind of drinking. His dad was an alcoholic, his sister was an alcoholic, and I told him that I couldn’t imagine marrying someone who smoked and drank like he did. Soon after, he gave up both – he was so horrible to be with when he went cold turkey that it practically split us up anyway, but he came out the other side and vowed that he’d never go back.
‘We’re now married with a baby, and he recently went away on a stag do. He came back looking wrecked but it was only at the wedding afterwards that I found out, through the banter, that he smoked and drank the whole weekend. I feel betrayed, terrified he’ll slip back, and so angry that one stag do was all it took to put everything at risk. It’s like the rug has been pulled out from under us. It doesn’t feel so safe any more.’
‘I discovered he was deeply in debt’
‘My husband racked up more than £15,000 worth of debt and to me that felt worse than a one-night stand. It wasn’t just one moment of weakness – it was years of hiding the truth and damaging our future. We have separate accounts and a joint mortgage and I only found out about the debt when I was trying to switch mortgage companies. I needed to share all our finances with the broker. My husband tried to avoid giving me his account statements – saying he was busy, or he’d forgotten his password – but eventually he had to tell me the truth. I felt as though I’d been hit by a train.
‘We don’t have much money but I’d always believed that, apart from our mortgage, we were debt-free. I’ve never even had an overdraft and thought he was the same. We weren’t able to remortgage and needed help with the spiralling debt and the interest, so my sister has helped us out and we’re slowly paying her back. She wondered if he has a secret life or a gambling habit but his story is that we overspend as a family. He pays for the Saturday shop, then there’s Christmases, birthdays, always something, and the debt has just built up. Truthfully? I don’t know if I believe him. I hope I’m beginning to trust him again and that we’re open about our finances. But sometimes I do wonder what else he’s hiding.’
‘I found a letter from the other woman’
‘My husband having an affair after 33 years of marriage wasn’t the worst betrayal – and that’s not what ended it. Our last child had left for university, my husband was looking at retirement and there was all the emotion that comes with that – and everyone does stupid things in a long marriage. He told me he’d run into an old colleague outside his office, someone he’d known 20 years ago. It was a chance meeting, they went for a drink, and that was the start of their fling. It didn’t take me long to guess what was going on – when you’ve been married that long and your spouse suddenly starts coming home late and staring into space looking moody, you know something’s up. I kept asking until he admitted it.
‘We talked and cried, I spent time staying at our son’s, then we reconciled and moved on. But a few months later, I found a letter from the other woman in his briefcase along with a poem. The contents showed that they didn’t “bump into each other” by accident – he had looked her up and sent her a message. He’d made it happen – so he had still been lying to me when we were trying to sort it out. The trust was destroyed and we’re now divorced.’
‘He lied to get a good night’s sleep’
‘We have two children born very close together, and when they were young we had horrendous sleep problems. Every night there was musical beds, soothing babies, rocking them, putting them in the car and driving around. My younger son didn’t sleep through until he was four years old. I was a zombie. My husband had a job in IT in the City, and although we live in London, his firm had flats close to the office. He used to tell me they were doing ‘disaster recovery testing’ at night when the office was closed, so he needed to stay over. It happened a lot and I didn’t question it.
‘Years later, we were remembering the newborn period, and he quite casually admitted that most of those disaster recovery tests didn’t exist. He’d lied so he could have a good night’s sleep in a nice flat. Our children are almost adults now and it’s behind us, but when I think of my knackered self at home alone, I want to strangle him – and I trust him less.’
‘He changed his mind about moving abroad’
‘For years, my husband and I had this plan to one day leave the UK and move to France, so when we finally bought a run-down cottage in Occitanie, it was the first step towards the dream. The cottage needed work, and we juggled this project, going back and forth in the car, spending holidays doing it up, taking friends over to pitch in. It dragged on, cost a fortune – we’ve all seen the TV shows – but it also began to feel as though my husband was dragging his feet.
‘Two years in, he admitted that he didn’t want to actually live there, or ever leave the UK, but it could be a ‘pension’ or a ‘holiday home’ – which makes it the most inefficient pension and most expensive holiday home on the planet. At times he has said he’d changed his mind about moving to France and blamed Brexit. Other times, he says he’d never agreed to it in the first place and I just hadn’t listened. I think he strung me along because he was too weak. Now I don’t want to stay here and he doesn’t want to go abroad. It’s a stalemate and, to me, a betrayal.’
‘He promised he’d find another job’
‘Three years ago, my husband told me he wanted to apply for voluntary redundancy. His company was “restructuring”, he hated his job in IT and could get a very good payout. It was still a bit of a risk – I worked part-time, we have two children – but he said the money would be our first proper nest egg, and it was easy to get work in his field. I trusted him. He took the redundancy package, weeks turned to months and he did nothing about getting another job. First he was taking a “break” because of the stress, then he was deciding what he “wanted to do”. More than once, he was offered some contract work but decided against it.
‘Now he doesn’t even talk about going back – he’s a house husband, except he doesn’t do much housework. He isn’t depressed, he’d just rather be at home – wouldn’t we all! – pottering around while the kids are in school. The nest egg has run out and I’ve now gone full-time, yet I still have to put the washing on when I get home. My husband betrayed me – he promised one thing with no intention of following through. I’m trying to see the positives – he’s happier and my career is progressing faster – but there’s still resentment bubbling underneath.’
‘His diet has spoiled our shared passion’
‘Friends often laugh when I tell them, but for me it was a huge betrayal when my husband became vegan overnight. Until that point, our relationship had been based on a shared passion for all types of food. We’d cook together, go out to hot new restaurants. Then, sparked by a diet to shift his middle-age spread, he started tutting if I ordered a burger and lecturing me on the ethics and health issues around eating meat. The one big love we shared – our sexy gluttony – was suddenly gone. Now we never go out to dine and have started cooking and eating at different times. We are still together, but I feel as though he isn’t the fun man I married. It’s as if he’s broken our vows and is no longer offering the kind of lifestyle we both committed to. To be frank, I would have found it easier to forgive an affair.’
‘He secretly binged on our favourite show’
‘After scores of recommendations from our friends, my husband and I pledged that we’d watch The Crown on Netflix together. As much as I enjoyed it, I’d often feel like the plot was jumping around, as if it was on fast-forward. That was until I stumbled upon my husband in our spare room one afternoon – watching it without me. It turned out he’d been enjoying it so much that he’d been squeezing in extra episodes. No wonder I had no idea what was going on! I still haven’t forgiven him…’
Betrayal: how to move on
By marital therapist Andrew G Marshall.
First, notice the other emotions alongside – anger, sadness, grief and probably love too. (If you didn’t love your partner, you wouldn’t care so deeply.) Then examine what’s behind those feelings: why does this matter so much? Maybe your father was a spendthrift so you’ve grown up with a fear of debt. Or perhaps you’ve been cheated on in a past relationship so are sensitive to signs of growing closeness between your husband and another woman. Next ask yourself why he feels the need to conceal something from you. Why couldn’t he tell you sooner? Is one of you laying down the law? Are you giving each other room to grow and change? What can you control and what should be beyond your reach?
Maybe betrayal feels like the end – and sometimes it is. But if you look for the lessons, it could even bring you closer… without the rose-tinted glasses. Once the naive view of ‘soulmates’ is stripped away, you can rebuild something that’s more honest. It just takes some difficult questions and a lot of talking.