- Views 31
A reader asks what she has left to look forward to – Mariella Frostrup suggests she embraces freedom from an unhappy marriage
The dilemma My husband and I have been together since our early 20s. When our children were seven and 11, I found out he’d been having an affair with a work colleague for several years. In a rage, I told my children and my 11-year-old daughter told him she would never speak to him again if he carried on seeing her. He ended the relationship and moved out for a while. Family and friends mostly advised me not to give him another chance but I did. Fast forward 10 years – my daughter just finished university and my son is about to go. My husband has announced he no longer wants to be married to me and he only stayed because he felt blackmailed into ending things with her. He knew I’d end up with the better deal, he’d have to live in a tiny flat somewhere and he wasn’t prepared lose everything that ‘he’ had worked for. So he bided his time until the children had grown up, to now divorce me and push for 50% of the assets. He feels no guilt because I told the children about his affair – which he says was totally unacceptable. I’m angry and desperate, my son will be gone soon, I’ll be alone in an empty house which I’ll have to sell, with no husband, in my fifties, with nothing to look forward to.
Mariella replies Freedom? Instead of clinging to his shirt tails you should be pushing him out the door. I know that’s what you’re afraid of, but the minute you do the relief will be palpable. What’s the alternative? Yet again you somehow manage to convince him to remain, fuelled by guilt and you both waste the second half of your lives in miserable cohabitation. I appreciate that it’s terrifying to conjure an independent existence when you’ve co-existed for decades, but no sustainable union can be built on the reluctant presence of one party.
You’ve clung on now for as long as possible and, by your own admission, through fair means and foul. Putting your children at the epicentre of your problems 10 years ago was selfish and unfair as you are clearly aware. It’s to your credit that you bring it up almost immediately. In your efforts to prevent your husband from leaving you introduced insecurity and anxiety into your children’s lives. You found yourself in a terrible, hurtful, confidence-eroding situation, like many millions of other cuckolded partners. Of course, your husband’s affair was wrong and his long-term plan, if he really had one, is cold and calculated. Who’d want to waste another second on such a man?
It’s time you shrugged off this debilitating dependency and got on with your own life. Fear is a terrible thing, and allowing it to dictate your choices makes for no life at all. None of the reasons you cite as causing trauma at present are about your feelings for this man with whom you’ve conceived and raised two children. You mention trepidation about a lonely future, worry about where you will live and highlight your renewed sense of betrayal. Not once do you say you love him and want to be with him.
Being alone in your 50s may seem unbearable, but it’s a decade ripe for dramatic personal change. Whether it’s getting divorced or coming out, starting a business or making a career change, your 50s is officially the most popular time to be doing it. Here you are at the midpoint of your life unfettered and not destitute. Your children are off to college and you can live anywhere, do anything, meet anyone.
The demise of your marriage is cause for mourning, but there is also plenty of scope for celebration. You’ve lived dependently for way too long in a world where opportunities for women have been expanding by the decade. Just think of the incredible sense of worth taking charge of your destiny will give you. Perhaps if you’d wanted him more and needed him less things would have been different. That’s water under the bridge, though, and you should be firmly focused on making the most of what the future has to offer. Follow your kids’ example and become a mature student, go on a gap year, join a club, gym or night class.
Whatever your husband says now about the past 10 years you should take with a pinch of salt. He’s clearly a weak man who struggles to take responsibility for his own choices. For that you should pity him. There’s also room for gratitude that he returned as you clearly desired and stuck around while your children grew up. He is responsible for his deceit and betrayal, but you too must shoulder responsibility for your own actions. What you did may have festered in this man for the past decade, feeling himself held to ransom by his daughter’s ultimatum. We are adults and no matter the pain we’re in we can’t offload it on to our kids.
Fear of your own company and dependence on another’s is an easy pattern to slip into but puts you in a very vulnerable position. Now big changes are being forced upon you and instead of battling against the tide, let it carry you to places you’ve never dreamed of. I appreciate the mighty strength you’ll need to muster to stay afloat, but clinging to a sinking ship is not the alternative. There is much to look forward to once you resolve to let go.