Should I stay or should I go? That was the agonising question 37-year-old Stephanie asked Daily Mail readers five months ago after she discovered her husband of ten years, a hedge fund manager, was having an affair. Days later Ian, 40, described his regret when he told his side of the story. But that wasn’t the end of it. Here, Stephanie, who lives in South-West London with her sons, aged seven and four, tells CLARE CAMPBELL about the final bitter twist to a story that will be all too familiar to thousands of wives.
My husband, Ian, finally walked out two days after Christmas, abandoning me and our two young sons. After ten years of marriage, I think it was probably the bleakest and most lonely day of my life.
As the door slammed shut after him, I watched from a window as he walked to his car.
It took every ounce of my emotional strength not to run after him, hug him and tell him that I would forgive him anything, rather than watch him walk out of my life.
But I just couldn’t do it. Not after all the promises he’d made to me, as well as to both our families, that he would never see his lover again, never speak to her or contact her in any way at all.
We’d been trying to repair the damage he’d done to our relationship ever since last March, when I first discovered his affair. Or at least, I thought we were.
Even now, ten months on, I can still remember the shock and hurt I felt at reading a message meant for another woman on his mobile.
I’d always trusted Ian implicitly and had known him since we were students at Oxford together. I always thought that affairs were something that happened to other people, and that my husband would never, ever betray me.
Now I look back and wonder how I could ever have been so naive. Following four weeks of agonising indecision, my husband promised to end the affair, telling me he had come to his senses and realised what was really important to him – our marriage and family.
Like a fool, I believed him, wanting with all my heart to trust that he meant what he said.
For the next three months, from August until November, Ian seemed to be doing exactly as he’d promised.
He not only took more time off from the office to spend at home with the boys, but also started taking me out to dinner at least once a week, as well as buying me unexpected gifts like tickets to the theatre, perfume, and expensive Rigby and Peller lingerie.
Although suspicious at first, I was touched by the effort Ian seemed to be making to regain my trust. We started sleeping together again, laughing and talking together when we were alone, just like we used to.
Gradually, the atmosphere in the house became more relaxed. The boys were calmer, too, and stopped fighting with one another. I could see they were happier now that their father and I were no longer arguing and the frosty atmosphere had lifted.
Once or twice, Jake even ordered me to ‘give Daddy a kiss’ and seemed really pleased when I did. Although I realised it would still be a long time before we were as close as we’d been before Ian’s affair, I did begin to think that one day we would be.
I started to feel optimistic about the future once more and glad, even, that I hadn’t thrown away a happy marriage for the sake of a ‘mistake’.
‘I could hardly believe how my husband had lied to me’
Then on Christmas Eve, just as I was wrapping the boys’ presents in the spare bedroom upstairs, I happened to look out of the window down into the street below.
Our road looked lovely, the trees in our neighbours’ gardens uniformly decorated with silver lights, and all looking warm and welcoming.
I remember thinking that in a few minutes I’d be finished with the Christmas preparations and I could then go downstairs and join Ian for a glass of champagne, the way we’d always done every year since we met.
And then I saw my husband, standing furtively outside our house a few yards from the road, talking earnestly into his Blackberry. It sounds crazy, I know, but I just knew in that moment that he was talking to Kate, his, or so I thought, ‘ex’-mistress.
I was certain he couldn’t be speaking to anyone from work, not at 9.30 in the evening on Christmas Eve. Ian’s offices had closed down for the holiday the previous weekend. I had even asked him to switch his phone off at home so that I would feel that the boys and I were getting the full focus of his attention.
Now I sensed instinctively that my husband was talking to her, the woman he’d been sleeping with for ten whole months of our marriage.
The shock of finding out that my husband was betraying me for a second time was almost worse than the first. I felt physically sick, my stomach turning over and my hands shaking as I watched him.
The pain felt unbearable as I imagined him telling her how much he was missing her, and how much more he wanted to be with her than with me and the family we’d made together.
Even as I watched him, I could hardly believe how my husband had lied to me. I kept wondering: ‘Was the affair ever over at all? Or had he been seeing her throughout our attempts at a reconciliation?’
I felt Ian had not only made a fool out of me but also our parents and all those who had been so stupid as to take him at his word.
Recalling all those weeks of arguments, and sleepless, tearful nights and my husband’s apparent ‘remorse’ for his behaviour, I was seething with rage, fury at the further damage he was causing me and our sons. R
unning down the stairs and out into the street, I snatched the Blackberry out of his hand and threw it down onto the pavement, so hard that I must have broken it.
Ian looked so shocked, and clearly so guilty, I knew for certain I was right. Grabbing at Ian’s arm, I made him look at me, repeating: ‘That was HER, wasn’t it?’ over and over again until he was forced to answer me.
This time, he didn’t even try to deny it, countering by accusing me of behaving hysterically, and even having the hypocrisy to warn me against waking our two sons who were upstairs in bed.
All he kept saying was: ‘For God’s sake, keep your voice down,’ as if all that mattered was that we didn’t disturb the neighbours.
Our sons, I thought, would know soon enough what their father had done. There was no protecting them from that knowledge simply by not talking about it too loudly.
After more than an hour of wrangling, Ian asked me wearily what I wanted him to do.
This time I answered him quietly, firmly, and with as much dignity as I could scrape together in the circumstances: ‘I want you to go. But not until after Christmas.’
‘After he’d gone, I sat down and cried for an hour’
I dreaded the thought of spending the festivities with my lying, cheating husband but at the same time I felt I couldn’t separate the boys from their father just when they were most looking forward to spending time with him.
Somehow, we would just have to get through the next few days before I had to break the news to our sons that we would not be living together as a family any more.
Ian didn’t argue, or try to dissuade me, simply shrugging his shoulders and with a ‘if that’s what you really want’, turned round and went to sleep in the spare room.
After he’d gone, I sat down at the kitchen table with a glass of wine and cried for over an hour. Then I went upstairs, too, took my make-up off in the bathroom next to our empty double room, put on my dressing gown and crept in to put the boys’ presents on their beds, before curling up on top of the covers of our double bed.
I woke up around 5am to find both our sons bouncing on the bed, shouting: ‘Where’s Daddy?’
I told them that their father had been snoring and so I’d asked him to sleep in the spare room.
Moments later, I heard the boys racing upstairs, Ian’s voice sounding strangely normal, as he colluded in the pretence that everything was still alright between us.
How I got through the rest of Christmas Day, I’ve no idea. When I looked in the bathroom mirror I looked terrible, pale, with dark shadows, my eyes red-rimmed from crying.
After getting myself bathed and dressed, I put hot croissants and coffee on the kitchen table and tried to distract myself by cooking lunch.
When Ian came down he handed me a small, expensively wrapped parcel. I didn’t open it, and had to restrain myself from throwing it back at him. I knew what it was – Creme De La Mer face cream we had bought together just a few days earlier.
I could not even remember where I had put my present for him, a beautiful dark grey cashmere sweater and Prada For Man aftershave. I certainly wasn’t going to give them to him now – I’d prefer to donate them to the charity shop.
Neither Ian nor I ate any breakfast and hardly spoke to one another. But fortunately our sons were so occupied with their new presents, they didn’t seem to notice.
One of the worst moments was the arrival of Ian’s parents who were spending the day with us.
After signalling to Ian’s mother to come into the kitchen, I burst into tears and confided to her what had happened the previous evening. She was very shocked and saddened, and asked me if I wanted her to talk to her son to make him see sense.
But I shook my head, telling her I realised it was too late for that. She must have told my father-in-law at some point, too, as later in the afternoon he suggested that he and Ian take the boys to kick a football around on the local common.
I guessed my father-in-law was going to try to have a man-to-man chat about Ian’s affair but as they both came home looking upset and angry, the conversation obviously hadn’t worked out the way my father-in-law had wanted.
‘My pride won’t let me stand by while he keeps a mistress’
Following another sleepless night, we spent Boxing Day driving out into the country, again with Ian’s parents, to have drinks with a family we’d known since Jake was a baby.
I hardly said a word, apart from a few tearful chats with my mother-in-law whenever we were alone, while Ian got so drunk that I was forced to drive us all home, dropping Ian’s parents in Surrey before returning to our house in total silence apart from the boys’ persistent chattering.
After going to bed exhausted, just after nine, I was woken at around six the following morning by the sound of Ian coming into the bedroom to collect his clothes.
Bleakly, I watched him pulling out the shirts I’d ironed just a few days earlier, throwing them into the suitcase as if he didn’t care how creased they got.
For some reason, even at such a poignant moment the casual way he treated all my hard work upset me terribly.
‘Where are you going? I finally forced myself to ask. ‘To her?’
‘I don’t know. No, not straightaway,’ he answered brusquely. ‘Why do you care? I’ll go to Devon for a few days. Then I suppose I’d better see about putting it up for sale. You and the boys can stay here – at least for now.’
As he packed to go to our second home, a cottage in Devon, I wondered whether I was supposed to feel grateful for being allowed to stay in my own home, but didn’t have the energy to start another argument.
The only thing we agreed about was that we would wait to tell the boys that Daddy had moved out for good, and that for now we’d say Ian just gone away on business.
All I could keep wondering was how I was going to get through the next few weeks, not to mention the rest of my life, as a single mother to two small boys who were going to be devastated by our divorce.
‘I feel really stupid to have been taken in by him’
I would have done anything to avoid this outcome but only if Ian had been willing to keep to his side of the bargain.
My pride won’t allow me to stand by while my husband keeps a mistress. Too much has happened between Ian and I for us to have any kind of future together.
However much it hurts me to let him go now, it could not be worse than all we have been through since I first found out he was having an affair in March last year.
I have told my family now that Ian has betrayed me again, and this time they agree I’m right to ask him to go.
I feel really stupid now to have been taken in by Ian’s deception. Before he left, he finally admitted that he’d been back in contact with Kate for over two months.
He said he’d meant everything he said about rebuilding our family but that Kate had called him. He said when he heard her voice again, he knew he felt too much for her to let her go.
So all the time I was telling my friends and family what an effort he was making to repair our relationship, I now know Ian was secretly still in contact with his lover.
My husband has not only destroyed our marriage. More importantly, he’s broken my heart.’