By Clare Campbell
What do you do when you discover your husband of ten years is having an affair? Throw him out and call a divorce lawyer? Try to forgive him for the sake of your children’s future?
Like countless others, that’s the agonising choice 37-year-old Stephanie is facing after she discovered her wealthy husband is having an affair with a female colleague.
She’s been married to her husband, Ian, a 40-year-old hedge fund manager, for a decade and they have two sons, Jake, seven, and Isaac, four, and live in a large, fivebedroom house in South-West London. They also have a country cottage in Devon.
Here, Stephanie describes how she discovered her husband’s infidelity, and how she has spent months wrestling with the question: should she stay or should she go?
Crumbling marriage: Should Stephanie stay or should she go?
Try as I may, I cannot banish from my mind the words I discovered on Ian’s phone four months ago: ‘Miss you, X.’
Only three words, but he had sent them to someone other than me, and they were enough to shatter my contentment, my peace of mind, and the illusion that mine is a happy marriage.
I knew instantly – call it woman’s intuition if you like, but from that moment I knew my husband of ten years was having an affair.
The sense of betrayal and shock was like a blow to my stomach. It was only by chance that I’d seen the message. Ian had left his mobile face up on the table showing the last text he’d sent.
I’d only come down to the kitchen to collect a pair of tights I’d left there after returning from shopping. I often consider what would have happened if I hadn’t forgotten them. I might never have found out. I almost wish I hadn’t.
That was the evening of Monday, March 31, this year, and we haven’t made love since.
How can I feel close to my husband with the memory of that night still replaying in my head? After I’d read the text, I remember hearing Ian up in the bathroom with our two sons splashing and laughing and sounding so happy. I realised the perfect family I thought I had was simply a sham.
Until that moment, I trusted Ian implicitly, never even looking at his mobile, or his e-mail. In 17 years I’d rarely even seen him flirt with another woman. Only once, just after our youngest son was born, do I ever remember feeling jealous, but that was only because he came home drunk after having been to a stag party at a lap-dancing club with a photo of himself posing with some girl.
But I was sure it hadn’t meant anything, and we’d even laughed about it afterwards.
Deep down I’d always been convinced of Ian’s love, just as I knew how much I loved him. Like all parents, our relationship had changed after having children, but that was only as a result of being tired and having less time to spend with one another.
If anything, I’d believed that having the boys had strengthened rather than weakened the bond between us. We’d always had a healthy sex life – making love about twice a week – and that hadn’t changed.
But all that had evaporated the moment I saw the message on Ian’s phone in March. Suddenly, I felt incredibly naive. The recipient’s initials, ‘MK’, stood out among a list of familiar names and numbers (Ian later admitted her name is Kate, and that he’d reversed the order of her initials).
After a relationship as long as ours, I knew Ian’s life inside out and all his friends and contacts. I’d never heard of ‘MK’. And why the initials rather than a name?
My mind raced with questions: was I going to lose him? How long had it been going on? Worst of all was the agonising pain of being betrayed. I felt sick and breathless, barely able to function from shock.
I confronted Ian immediately, screaming ‘Who is she?’ like some woman from a TV drama, while our sons cowered, weeping in their Spider-Man pyjamas. He looked at the phone in my hand and the look on his face was just like one of our sons when they have been naughty – guilty, scared and trying to wriggle out of it.
He actually had the nerve to say: ‘You’ve been checking my phone.’
Then he walked out and stayed out for several hours. Recalling how Ian always reacted whenever I accused him of anything, even leaving the bathroom untidy, I knew instantly that his defensiveness was due to guilt and that he’d left to avoid a confrontation.
I guessed, too, that not having been prepared for being found out, he hadn’t yet worked out what to say.
I assume he went straight to her that night – although he’s never admitted it. I hoped desperately that he was just giving himself time to think, rather than that he’d really left me for good.
After settling the boys, I lay awake waiting for him to come back. By the time he came home at around two in the morning, I was so totally exhausted by the shock, as well as the anger, of what had happened that I couldn’t bring myself to speak to him.
Instead I just lay there rigidly staring at the ceiling, smelling the wine on his breath, and wondering if this was the end of my marriage.
What little sleep I’d had was full of nightmares about Ian’s betrayal, constantly re-living the moment at which I’d realised he’d been unfaithful. I know people say that the wife’s always the last to know. But I really didn’t think that this could happen to us. We’ve been together since we met at Oxford University 17 years ago. There’s never been anyone else – for me. I even gave up my career as a banker to care for him and our children. Now I don’t even know if this is the first time Ian’s cheated on me.
I hate his mistress, of course, although as far as I know I have never met her. At first, I tortured myself that she might have been one of our friends, or even a parent from Jake’s school.
That first night I just sat crying for hours, trying to think of all the attractive women we knew. Everyone was a suspect. It wasn’t until he came home from work the following day – having done his best to avoid me the next morning in the rush to get the boys to school – that Ian finally admitted that, yes, he was having an affair.
Staring at me with a strange kind of defiance, he told me that she was a work colleague. It had been going on for eight months. She was 34 and Ian had been a shoulder to cry on when she broke up with a boyfriend.
I wanted to know every detail, and each one brought a new level of betrayal.
He had set up a private e-mail account so he could e-mail her. How could he do that? It’s one thing for your partner to get caught up by passion – but another to realise he set out deliberately to deceive you.
Was it my fault?
All I could think about after that was all the things we’d done together as a family during that time he’d been seeing her: going to stay with my parents in Dorset, days out at the beach with the boys, while all the time he’d been sleeping with another woman. And yes, sleeping with me, too.
Several of our friends’ marriages have fallen apart over the years. But I’d never appreciated before how absolutely devastating it feels to see everything you’ve worked at for so long crumbling around your ears, and all because of someone else’s selfishness.
I wondered how it was possible that the man I loved and trusted so much could have been lying to me for so long, and whether he was thinking of her each time he made love to me.
I tried to imagine his mistress, automatically assuming she looked something like Sienna Miller, without a trace of stretch marks, or post-baby flab. And then I’d start to cry all over again, realising I couldn’t possibly compete. At moments like this, I hated Ian, too.
In my darkest moments I wondered if it was my fault, had I let myself go? Should I have been the one to instigate sex more?
Then I would remember all those happy years we had together, our wedding day, and the birth of our sons. I didn’t want to end up a single mother, my boys being ferried between warring parents.
When I asked him if he wanted to leave me he would only say: ‘It’s complicated.’ How pathetic was that? By the end of the evening, I was too exhausted to row any more and just crawled up to bed.
After that horrible night of confessions, it took Ian four weeks of coming and going between our home – where he slept in the spare room – and Kate’s flat in London before he finally told me she didn’t want him.
I know most women wouldn’t have put up with being treated like that – and it was torture – but I remembered when friends of ours split up a few years before, and how Ian had said: ‘If only she had let him alone, he would have come back.’
So I tried to give him space, and I tried not to strangle him every time I set eyes on him. I wanted him to stay because he loved me. But in the end he stayed because she’d rejected him.
He did at least admit to me that she had ended their affair – but then I simply didn’t know whether to believe him or not.
By now it was May, and we settled into what I can only describe as a chilly existence.
The atmosphere was always strained, and I found myself crying at the slightest thing that went wrong. But as the weeks passed, we were at least able to go out for meals occasionally, both with the boys and on our own, and were able to talk fitfully about the affair.
Were they still seeing each other?
But just when I thought we might see a way through and keep our marriage together, I have become convinced she’s contacted him again.
As we were going to bed last Wednesday, I heard Ian’s mobile go off. I was in the bathroom taking off my make-up. Ian was already in bed. He took the call. I couldn’t make out what he was saying. But his voice was low – and it didn’t sound businesslike.
I rushed in, Clarins cleansing gel all over my face and feeling really unattractive. I asked him who had called, but he just said it was work. He knew I was trying to catch him out and rolled over and turned his back to me.
I feel terrified, and simultaneously furious, all my insecurities flooding back. This was my worst fear, ever since he told me that the affair was over. I’d wanted him to be the one to make the decision to end it. But it was her, Kate, his mistress and work colleague, who decided she ‘couldn’t be responsible for taking a father away from his sons’. Now she seems to have changed her mind.
I feel helpless, paralysed by my emotions.
Nothing has got any better between us. Ian and I still haven’t made love because all I can think about is my husband in bed with someone else. I am obsessed with knowing what Kate looks like – whether she’s dark, or blonde, thinner or prettier.
But he won’t tell me, and gets irritable when I mention her name – which makes me angrier still. He doesn’t seem to understand how the thought of him making love to another woman eats away at me inside, how it haunts me wherever I am, even walking on the local common with the boys and their friends, or wandering round the aisles of the supermarket
Can I forgive and forget?
I have even thought about ringing his office, and asking for a woman called Kate, with a surname starting with M. Once I even got as far as lifting the receiver, and dialling the number. But then I realised how humiliating this was, and put it down again.
I’ve been trying to pay the boys special attention, to make up to them for the atmosphere in the house. But they are always either fighting or crying, picking up on the tension around them. I feel very depressed.
All the plans I’d made for our wonderful family house, putting in a skylight on the top floor, digging out the basement and turning it into a playroom for the boys, seem meaningless now. Everything about our life together now seems a sham. I also find it impossible, not surprisingly, to believe a word my husband says.
I want to make our relationship work again, but I’m not sure I can. When Ian came home stressed from work last week, made worse by news about the economy, I made sure I sat down and really tried to listen to him.
But then I found myself staring at the bookshelf behind his head, thinking: ‘If he gets sacked, it’ll be more difficult for us to split up.’ So the subtext of separation is there all the time, whether I want it or not. I wonder if it’s possible ever to forget a husband’s infidelity, or whether it’s too late for us already.
And now, in the past few days there has been this call which seems to confirm of all my suspicions. I can’t spend the rest of my life worrying about where my husband is every time he’s a few minutes late home from the office.
Part of me wants a reconciliation for the sake of the boys, while the other thinks perhaps it’s time to see a divorce lawyer. My sister keeps telling me I should have done that already, even offered to give me the telephone number for one.
She and my parents were the first ones to know (I told my sister the day after it happened). My mother and father are trying not to take sides, hoping that we’ll make it up and stay together.
But that will only work if Ian’s not seeing Kate any more. I’ve got to know one way or the other. If Ian won’t tell me, I’ll have to find out for myself. I’ve made up my mind now I’m going to have to watch Ian constantly, check his phone, and request itemised billing on our next account.
I hate being forced to play private eye, but that’s what his adultery has done to me.
We’re going away to our country house in Devon next weekend. Part of me is glad – if he is away with me, he can’t be with her. But deep down I will be miserable, because I can never escape the suspicion, anger and hurt.
I want to make my marriage work for the sake of our children – it’s not their fault their father is so weak – but I keep asking myself what sort of life of misery I would be signing up for.
Besides, if she has decided she still wants him, it might not be me making that final decision.
Names have been changed
So what should I do?