herald

Monday 11 December 2017

Suzanne Power: Desperate husbands are an antidote to lonely housewives

There's nothing worse than watching someone trying to hang onto their spouse. It used to be that I knew only women in this sad situation. Today, I know very few desperate housewives, but a lot of desperate husbands, none of them house-bound.

The desperate husbands I know were once hardworking alphas, who came to realise they were nothing without their families. Two of them put their families at risk, not with another woman, but with a job that became their mistress.

Both men found that women were coming onto them in the workplace. One was a personal assistant who seemed content to keep the same hours as her boss, for a tenth of the pay. The other was a colleague chained to her desk, too. The wives reared the children these men rarely saw, though they provided for them handsomely.

When I was turning 40 a rash of my female friends announced that their relationships were on the rocks. The two women were the first to hold up red cards and admit they'd been playing away from home. They had time, space and opportunity. They were lonely and child rearing had taken a sledgehammer to their relationships. They became confidantes for each other, and, on occasion, alibis, though those times were rare. A man who works six-and-a-half days a week doesn't know his wife's not home. His wife not complaining anymore makes him grateful rather than suspicious.

The men had to be told. Both women had decided to support each other through the divorce process. Something magical happened. The men came clean, too, about their almost affairs and their increasing dissatisfaction with their narrowed role as bacon bringer. Both men became desperate not to lose their wives.

In a twist that's far from ironic the couples ended up double counselling, though seeing their counsellors separately. The men, who had never met before the women came clean, worked out their anger and regrets over pints with each other. The women were the adulterers, but both men realised leaving a woman to support herself on all levels but financial is not a marriage. They saw their contribution to the situation that led to their women having affairs and they forgave the women far quicker than the women forgave them for their might-have-dalliances.

The affairs, in this instance, brought issues to a head that might never have been addressed. It wasn't a simple process, resolving the hurts, but it allowed the men to ease off the earning throttle and take the weekends to get to know their own offspring, and their own wives.

Moralising makes for misery. If either of the parties involved in this had thrown mud, then someone would have sunk. The women see themselves not as the forgiven party, but the acknowledged: "If you don't think you're important in your husband's life, you don't think the person you're seeing on the side will make any difference to him. His reaction told me he still loved me."

Isn't that why any of us rear up and whinny? We want to know we're loved and when we're dismissed we'll look for it elsewhere. Betrayal is awful, but if the circumstances can be coped with, and realisations reached, it may turn a desperate husband into the kind all women need.

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