Tuesday 22 January 2019

Suzanne Power: An affair can be a catalyst for change

Affairs are blunt knives causing wounds that are never clean and leave ugly scars. They're never one person's fault. If you decided to marry a glad eye, and expected 'I do' or 'I won't do it again' to stick without a serious talk or challenge you were asking for too much.

My friend who works as a therapist says people show you who they are from the word go. Writer Maya Angelou says: "The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them."

But there are those of us who fall hard and quickly decide otherwise. It's like slalom jumping without any practice. Great while you're up in the air, but the ground is coming hard and fast. Bones and hearts break.

I have never yet met anyone who had an affair, or whose partner had an affair, where the relationship was happy. I have only met couples where one is pretending the person that they love is not the way they are. I had a boyfriend who persuaded me to go out with him. I had been unsure because the Wild Rover was written about him. But little voice in my head said: "You can change him."

His wife changed him by saying: "Anything you can do I can do better." They're still my friends and now and then it comes up how they were on a train and he got a phone call. She knew it was some floozy. So she got off and caught the train back to Dublin and had a mad fling. Six months later my ex was hers for life.

The 'challenge' strategy changes when you have children. The only couple I know who survived an affair and who've had children, took a shared responsibility approach. She did it, he realised why. He was always busy at work. She was always on her own with the children. She got lonely. He didn't realise how much. He forgot she existed. She forgot he cared. She got involved with someone in what she now sees as a moment of madness.

She has no doubt if the shoe was on the other foot she wouldn't have been so forgiving. "No one wants to be cheated on. But he knew, I know this sounds crazy, how much I loved him. He knew I wouldn't have done anything if I felt he still loved me. I thought the children had changed us forever. In fact I was sure we would split up anyway, we got on so badly. The affair saved our marriage. Not that it felt like that at the time."

Five years later there's a better work-life balance. She hung onto her husband by coming clean. I know she thinks men would do the same if they thought women could take it.

One friend whose husband had a long affair told me that for her the worst thing was the public humiliation. "But after he left, I realised I hadn't loved him for years. He'd acted on it. I don't think I'd ever have been honest enough to face it if it hadn't been shoved in my face."

One of my friends is waiting for her husband's affair to be over. She thinks it will end naturally. Maybe she's right. Her decision not to confront him is based on their two children and a fear of losing him. In her case the affair is not cleansing, it's soul destroying. She accepts he never told her he would change when they married. "I knew what he was like, now I have to deal with it, or leave."

I think one day she will leave. But she's doing the classic thing: everything she can.

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