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BEL MOONEY: Will I ever get over the affair my husband had in 1973?

Dear Bel, 

Pete and I got married at 16 and 17. I was pregnant, we were very much in love and after four years we got a council place and settled into poor-but-happy married life.

By now I had three small boys. One day, I was looking for money to buy bread for tea and found a letter in his jacket from a girl asking when he was going to leave me.

Thought of the day 

And King Solomon spake further unto the Queen of Sheba, saying, ‘What is the use of us, the children of men, if we do not exercise kindness and love upon earth? Are we not all nothingness, mere grass of the field?’

from The Kebra Nagast (epic Ethiopian book dating back 700 years)  

The shock was huge. When he came home I told him to pack his bags. He said it had ended months before and meant nothing. I asked him who she was, what she looked like, how they met. He wouldn’t talk about it — and said I should get over it.

Now I had four sons and two dogs and life was very busy. So we stayed together, as for me it was important to keep a stable home for our sons.

Life was mostly happy in those years. There seemed nothing wrong but it was always there in the back of my mind. Approaching my 70th, I said if he didn’t tell me the whole story, I’d leave. I said, be honest, but when he was, there was pain all over again. It is so hard to come to terms with the deceit and the fact that he could do those intimate things I thought were special.

I can’t forgive him. We’ve both worked hard, made a nice home and have a loving family. He’s a kind man — always there for me. We get on well, but I can’t get over the fact that he was happy to risk all that we had to be with that girl.

He tells me all the time how much he loves me, but I can’t forget he wanted her. He only saw her seven times in three months, while we’ve been married for 56 years, but it’s a daily struggle to stop myself expressing hurt, anger, jealousy and bitterness. How can I let it go?

ROSE  

Hi Bel — this is Pete,

Rose was not my first girlfriend but I felt different about her and wanted to care for her.

In 1973, I had a short affair, just seven secret dates — not a love relationship, a sexual fling. I came to my senses and walked away, asking myself: ‘Why am I messing around with this girl when I have a perfect partner in Rose?’

But Rose found out and all hell broke loose. She told me to go but I wouldn’t leave. How could I? She is the girl I love — still my everything.

I’m someone who shuts his mind to bad things, so I told Rose nothing. But three years ago she returned to it and insisted I tell her everything. Now we’re on the verge of splitting up. I can’t imagine life without her.

Please help with some good advice. I can’t bear the thought of 56 years down the pan just for sex a few times with a random girl.

PETE

This week Bel advises a reader who is struggling to get over the affair her husband had in 1973. 

This is only the second time in 15 years that a husband and wife have written in together, sharing an email. Can we begin with that union in e-space?

I believe you can still share old age together — instead of this miserable, misguided plan of splitting up in your 70s, because of a stupid (but very common) lapse 48 years ago.

Right now, you are sharing this heartache. Pete, I bet you wish you had learned how to talk things through years ago. And that you could have your time all over again. (Don’t we all?)

Rose says you tell her you love her — and I believe you. But how can you make her believe it and help her exorcise that old demon? People often say ‘sorry is not enough’, but it can be — as long as you don’t tell Rose to ‘get over it’ or ‘move on’.

The demon is living with you. It may be a stupid little thing, but it’s real and needs facing together. Rose can’t forget, and that’s how it goes. Yet forgiveness is always possible.

Are you listening, Rose? You were a naïve girl who married her first love, and was then shocked and disillusioned to find that (like so many men) Pete had allowed himself to be led by his libido for a while.

You are the mother of four sons; surely by now you have gleaned that men may misbehave and hurt women? It happens vice versa, too. If we were to abandon all those we care for because of one wrong (one sin, if you like), no humans could live together. Honestly, when you are able to say, ‘I can forgive you now,’ a dead weight drops from your heart.

Pete remains your first love. You two can still tiptoe into old age, holding each other up. So why not try the burning ritual together? Rose writes a letter full of old hurt and ongoing anger and pain and blame. Pete writes one saying how stupid he was and how sorry he’s always been, but how full of love he feels. Then you go out together and set fire to the letters and disperse the ashes, look at each other and say aloud: ‘It’s gone now.’

Then hold each other’s hand. Remember you are still the 16 and 17 year olds who fell in love. Within your souls is all you shared, the bad times and the good, the joy of children, the anxiety of watching them grow — together.

Think of those boys; how you feel about them still. To choose loneliness would be to negate a lifetime. That love must be allowed to outweigh pain, or there’s no hope for any of us. No, Rose, please don’t throw away a lifetime together.

I'm locked down in abusive hell 

Dear Bel,

I’ve noticed my hair is falling out. Anxiety and chest pain.

People think I’m strong, but I’m not. I should ring the GP, but you never see the same one and they don’t know you.

This was the case even before Covid. I long for a caring doctor who takes the time to listen. Not all ailments are visible.

Discussing the virus with a friend, I confessed I’m not coping. I survived March lockdown; the weather was good etc. But my other half’s drinking got out of hand.

Second lockdown, it increased. The abuse started. The verbal stuff isn’t that hard to deal with, but the physical abuse is another story.

He never remembers or says sorry the next day. I got a black eye and a fat lip. Another time he was drunk and I went to help him get on the bed.

He didn’t like my assistance/interference and pushed me away. I fell on the floor and in his rage he stamped on my ankle.

I am now limping — and tell anybody who asks (when I go out) that my plantar fasciitis in my heel has returned.

Now here we are again and since my partner is self-employed (I’m employed by him) no money is coming in.

It feels harder than ever. This loneliness may be my own fault, as I was brought up in an era when people said: ‘You made your bed, so lie in it.’ It’s taboo to discuss personal problems.

Thank you for listening — I have no one to turn to.

JUNE 

Your letter makes me sad, angry and helpless. I hope it helps others realise how terrible it is for women trapped in lockdown with an abusive partner.

‘Stay Home’ is all very well, but what if ‘home’ is hell? There was a huge spike in domestic violence during the first big lockdown and since the current situation is worse (levels of stress and helpless anger) I fear there will be a grim reckoning come this spring.

I don’t want to treat you as a statistic, June; your unhappiness is individual and real. Nevertheless you are yet another woman experiencing potentially dangerous ill-treatment at the hands of her partner — and nothing is being done. The charity Women’s Aid called for at least £48.2 million in emergency funding to help local services cope during the crisis.

You don’t say if you’ve ever tried to leave him, or whether the drinking is only recent. Like many people he’s probably been driven to excess drunkenness by stress.

   

More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail...

Perhaps you accept it as a part of your lifestyle together, in which case you should urgently visit the website Al-Anon (al-anonuk.org.uk), as his behaviour is entirely unacceptable. Since your letter is hand-written with no address, I have no idea if you are able to access online services. However, you can also call Al-Anon’s helpline on 0800 0086 811.

On the subject of getting help, you must both get information on possible government aid for the self-employed, so I hope you do have access to a computer to find out what there is. Not all citizens’ advice bureaux are open, but they do have free national helplines (0800 144 8848 for England; 0800 702 2020 for Wales; 0800 028 1456 for Scotland).

Lockdown imprisons people within their misery. Is there somewhere at home you can retreat to when he is drunk? Removing yourself from anger is wise.

The number for the free 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline is 0808 2000 247 — please use it. If your partner injures you again, you should call the police when he has passed out.

You say he doesn’t mention his violence (verbal and physical) the next day and presumably you don’t either. But this man needs to be told what he’s doing and I hope a visit from the police would give him a shock.

You are unwell and under great strain so need to see your doctor. Please, please do, because this awful situation cannot continue. You are one of those who has always believed it good to be stoical. It’s not. Confide in a friend and don’t conceal his guilt. It’s not your fault. Cry out — please.  

And finally...the virus is killing our empathy 

It seems to be becoming harder and harder for people to be kind and tolerant as we all struggle with the utterly depressing reality of life in Lockdown Britain.

Contact Bel 

Bel answers readers' questions on emotional and relationship problems each week.

Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or email [email protected]

A pseudonym will be used if you wish.

Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

I’ve been very disturbed by a mean-spirited willingness to judge others and call them names — with no knowledge of what private heartaches may afflict them. (For example, see today’s second letter). I’ve personally encountered unnecessary nastiness and worry that the issue is damaging many family relationships.

The anger is fuelled by fear, but also by self-righteousness and an unwillingness to try to understand that the lives of others may be more complicated than our own.

I had a polite letter from Mrs T asking if I had ‘obeyed the rules’ at Christmas. Well, they altered, didn’t they — from six people to three households and then only for Tiers 1 to 3? Rules change; no wonder people feel confused and/or fed up.

Mrs T continued: ‘I get the impression, although you are looking forward to a vaccine, you are not entirely convinced Government policy is correct... I wonder if you refuse to be judge and jury to us because you are not complying yourself?’

No, I refuse to judge because I do not think I have the right. Yes, the new strain of the virus is a game-changer and, yes, we must obey lockdown rules as far as we can. And so I do. But how can I ‘stay home’ when I drive five miles to look after my mother, while my father’s nursing home is five miles in the opposite direction?

People are making tough decisions and often live in places where they need to get out. It is imperative that we do not let this virus destroy our empathy.

I have heard from people in their 80s, desperately alone, whose ‘caring’ adult children refused to spend Christmas Day with them (even though it was allowed) because they were ‘protecting’ the old.

But the elderly ladies longed for company. So were those children caring — or cruel? Is it right to lock down on love? 

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