Therapy

‘Should I cheat on my husband?’

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Should Ellie have an affair? She’s unhappy with her partner and knows she will cheat if things don’t change. We ask Healthista therapist Sally what she should do

Dear Sally,

I am 37 and have been with my partner for ten years and we have a little girl aged eight. I have increasingly been thinking I have had enough and want to leave. It’s not that is really, really bad. He isn’t abusive, or dirty or anything, I just don’t feel in love with him anymore and find myself flirting with other men all the time. I just feel so bored and uninspired by him. He never wants to go anywhere, is not really earning enough at the moment (he’s freelance and having a quiet patch) and that is putting so much pressure on me to earn that I resent him.

I know I will cheat soon if I don’t leave him

I’ve always been a flirt and find my eye wandering more and more and I know I will cheat soon if I don’t leave him. I just don’t know if I am doing the right thing. I’m 40 this year and wonder if I will ever find another guy who will accept me and my little girl and be as loving and good to me as my partner is, at least emotionally. Plus, what would it do to my daughter? I come from a broken home so I know how bad it can be. I wonder if me feeling bored and like we don’t have any shared interests is enough reason to divorce someone or whether I am making a huge mistake. I feel so ambivalent about the whole thing. It’s funny because only a few years ago I was still so in love with him that if you’d told me I would be feeling like this I would never have believed you.

As for the sex, he rarely initiates it, I sometimes do (about once a month) but it’s so samey that I usually end up wondering why I even bothered. When he does initiate it, it’s quite ‘wham-bam-thankyou-ma’am’ and over before it even started. I don’t know, I am feeling like, ‘Is this all there is?’ and wondering if I need to just go.
Ellie, Manchester

 

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Dear Ellie,

Only a few years ago you were so in love with your partner that you couldn’t imagine ever feeling differently, or ever wanting to leave him. Yet you now find yourself feeling bored, unhappy, resentful and dissatisfied. The question is, what’s changed in the intervening period – is it you, him, or both?

Let’s start with him. He doesn’t want to go anywhere, his career is floundering, and he rarely initiates sex. It sounds like your partner is suffering from depression. My guess is that his work situation has trapped him in a vicious circle – that ‘quiet patch’ has lowered his mood, raised his stress levels and undermined his self-esteem. Physically, depression produces a kind of brain fog that makes it hard to focus and make decisions. It also zaps energy levels, all of which makes it harder to pitch for work, or consider a career change. So he feels even more trapped, hopeless and directionless. On top of that, he is probably dealing with guilt at ‘failing’ as a man, and providing for his family, with devastating effects on his libido.

man depressed on bed, ask sally should i have an affair, by healthista

As depression takes hold, the mind starts to filter out optimistic and positive thoughts and memories

I don’t know if you have ever personally experienced depression, and it may be that you have. But if you haven’t, it can be hard to understand the power it has to paralyse and debilitate. One of its most insidious characteristics is the effect it has on thinking. As depression takes hold, the mind starts to filter out optimistic and positive thoughts and memories, so that eventually, the sufferer’s default mental imagery and soundtrack is made up entirely of fears, failures, mistakes, and regrets. There’s every possibility that your partner is battling with this from the minute he wakes up. Meanwhile, he’s also receiving external confirmation that he’s a failure or disappointment in his daily interactions with you, communicated by your growing indifference and resentment towards him.

I’m sorry if it sounds harsh, but I’m struck by how caught up you have become in your own experience without stopping to consider what’s going on for him

I’m sorry if it sounds harsh, but I’m struck by how caught up you have become in your own experience without stopping to consider what’s going on for him. It’s highly likely your partner is just as unhappy with the state of your relationship as you are. But by seeing the situation as completely his problem – his fault you have to work more, his fault your sex life is floundering – you have built up a wall of resentment, blocking your ability to feel any empathy for him, or to look at the situation objectively.

You have built up a wall of resentment, blocking your ability to feel any empathy for him, or to look at the situation objectively

But let’s look at what’s changed for you. You’ve had a tough time. You can no longer rely on his income, so you feel under pressure to keep the family finances afloat. It must also be hard to find enough headspace and emotional energy for your daughter at the end of the working day, which no doubt makes you feel guilty. You also have to deal with the hurtful and rejecting experience of feeling that your partner is no longer there for you emotionally or sexually.

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You talk about leaving, but I wonder if sub-consciously, you feel that on some level, he has already left. He’s physically present at home, but absent emotionally. And as you experienced your parent’s divorce, that feeling of ‘being left’ may be a powerful trigger for you. I’m wondering if that instinct to ‘bale out’ when a relationship starts to flounder is a pattern of behaviour you learned from one of your parents? Your needs aren’t being met and your response is to look elsewhere, rather than to ask for what you need from your partner, or to try to communicate how hurt you feel. Instead, all your instincts are telling you to find a replacement source of love, pronto.

Your needs aren’t being met and your response is to look elsewhere, rather than to ask for what you need from your partner,

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It can be hard to believe that a relationship can survive a bad patch, and emerge stronger as a result, if you’ve had no evidence of it growing up as child. But the problem with seeing a new relationship as the solution to the problems you’re facing in your current one is that those problems never get addressed, and it’s only a matter of time before they raise their ugly head again. Let’s imagine you do have an affair and leave your partner for someone new. What happens when that relationship hits a rocky patch, when your new partner experiences a tough time, or withdraws from you, leaving you feeling abandoned? Do you then start looking for someone else, repeating the process all over again? You certainly wouldn’t be the only person to fall into that pattern, and clock up several marriages or serious relationships in a lifetime. But is it really what you want?

The risk is that leaving merely ramps up the unhappiness, financial uncertainty, feelings of rejection, guilt, hurt and stress.

You say you worry about the impact on your daughter of splitting up the family, but what about the impact on you? You seem convinced that leaving your partner is the only way to escape your unhappiness. But there’s no guarantee of that, and the risk is that leaving merely ramps up the unhappiness, financial uncertainty, feelings of rejection, guilt, hurt and stress.

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There has been a lot of love invested in this relationship over the past ten years, and I urge you to tap into that love, and use it to save your marriage. Could you have a compassionate conversation with your partner, where you focus on how he’s feeling, and try to communicate your willingness to understand what he’s going through? It’s not a conversation where the focus is on ‘fixing’ the situation or finding solutions, it’s just about understanding what he’s going through. Then it’s your turn, to communicate to him how abandoned and rejected you feel by him withdrawing from the relationship. It’s time to be really honest with each other, and reveal your vulnerability.

It’s hard, but facing your problems head on rather than running away from them is what takes a relationship to a deeper level

It’s hard, but facing your problems head on rather than running away from them is what takes a relationship to a deeper level. Use this difficult time as a time to learn how to give each other what you need, and you will emerge with a more satisfying relationship on all levels. Put aside that feeling that it’s ‘all his fault’ so he should be the one that makes it right. You could easily come up with plenty of reasons to justify it being ‘up to him’ to change, like you’re the one who’s bringing in the money, and you’re the one who’s trying to keep your sex life going. But ask yourself, what’s more important – being right, or being happy? Your best chance of happiness right now is to take the initiative, sit down and tell him that your relationship needs attention, and that you’re prepared to put the work in to make it stronger. Then invite him to come onboard. Take away the fault and blame, and approach it like a joint project to find the answer to the question, ‘What needs to change to make our marriage work for both of us again?’

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It’s not easy, but I highly recommend you read – and ideally, work through together – Andrew G. Marshall’s brilliant ‘I Love You but I’m Not in Love with You: Seven Steps to Saving Your Relationship‘. It’s like a crash-course in relationship dynamics. Marshall believes – and I agree – that it is possible to fall back in love, and to emerge with a better relationship. It’s up to you – you can carry on in helpless, ‘it’s all his fault’ mode, or reframe the situation as an opportunity to create a stronger bond, and a deeper understanding of both your partner and yourself.

Ask Sally Sally Brown is Healthista’s resident therapist and agony aunt. She loves finding out what makes people tick and will winkle out your life story if you sit next to her at a dinner party. She feels lucky to make a living from hearing those stories, and helping people make sense of their lives and reach their true potential. Registered with the British Association of Counselors and Psychotherapists, which means she has the qualifications and experience to work safely and effectively, she also writes about emotional and psychological health for the national press.

Find out more at therapythatworks.co.uk or follow her twitter @SallyBTherapy

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