Question: Dear Luise: Where do I start? I am 55, married for 20 years but together for longer. My sex life ceased with my husband 8 years ago due to his physical problems ( compounded by drinking). I now understand he cannot be intimate in the truest sense of the word. We have never kissed during sex for example and it was always a clinical, objective experience. He is still a handsome man but I cannot bear him to touch me now! 6 years ago I acted outside my moral code! I began an affair with a married man (he was my surgeon!….yep!) but I discovered with him intimacy, kindness and a sexuality I did not know I possessed. 2 years ago he ended the relationship suddenly…sent me an email asking never to contact him as he wanted to try and be a better man. I honoured his wishes and never even replied to the email. It brought me to my knees. Overwhelmed by abandonment and sorrow I somehow kept going but eventually spent 2 months in a trauma clinic where I looked at my history for the first time. A history of extreme violence and abuse from an alcoholic father. Poverty, hunger and a mother who did her best but stayed with him regardless. I have worked very hard to make a decent life for myself and have never hit my children, only ever loved them dearly. But I never knew what normal is, an aggressive and intimidating husband, but not physically violent, seemed a great improvement on what I knew. I must add he is hard working and a good provider, but despite joint counseling feels it is all ‘down to me’ and would never have married me if he knew about my ‘damaged background’. I only told him last year as I needed to go to the clinic. He knows about my friendship but not the full extent. As I was waiting for the taxi to go to the clinic last year my lover contacted me out of the blue. He apologized, said he loved me but has 4 children and could never leave them. I have some sympathy as I love my children so much but I was prepared to make the jump to a new life with him. We are back in touch now. He says he cannot live without me. That he has been clinically depressed because I told him to let me go. I love him but know I will never be with him. I am in pain. He wants to resume our affair but stay with his wife. It’s hard to let go as his was the only tenderness and love I have ever known. I feel I must sort my life out with my husband. It is not fair to stay with him if I cannot love him and he is entitled to that. So the choice is stay or be alone. At 55 I am scared. Financially and otherwise. Must I have faith and courage and leave? Or stay and know I am not being true to myself? Sorry for the length of the post but never dreamt of doing this until I read your warm, non judgmental and intelligent advice to others. Thank you M.
Answer: Dear M.: I am 84, live in low-income housing, am alone and am not scared. Think about that a little. It is all about perception.
I get that you are a valiant and strong person. We all have painful histories. The person I trust the least is the one who says she had a perfect childhood. There is no such thing because there are no perfect parents and, for that matter, no perfect children. We take what we were given, good and bad, and sort it out if we are courageous or we unconsciously live at the effect of it…if we are not.
I believe in infidelity. I know that is a rash statement and I don’t make it often. However, what I have learned is there are few “rules” that hold in all situations. No one can give us everything we need and visa versa. Most of us do the best we can to give what we are able to give and learn to be satisfied with what others are able to give us. That’s about as good as it gets.
The exception to the rule, it seems to me, is also to be considered. In your case, your marriage is incomplete and so is your affair. If your lover left his wife and children and you did the same thing…would that be wonderful? I doubt it. If your can make peace with the fact they both serve you and you serve both, you may be able to live your life on the fence. If not, you will stay where you are and grieve or leave and grieve. There is no perfection.
We all compartmentalize. We are different things to different people and we are also often inconsistent within the boundaries of apparent consistency. Life isn’t a simple process and, in my belief system, we are here to learn and grow. Often “thinking and acting outside of the box” is mandatory to be able to do that.
As you ponder your situation, think about what will work best for you within the limitations you have to factor in and what you expect of yourself. Most of us were not brought up to practice self-love. We often don’t see ourselves at choice because it is easier to feel helpless than it if to face the consequences that choices bring.
When I am backed into a corner I play a game with myself and ask, “What do you want on your tombstone.” (Not really relevant since I have donated my body to the University of Washington for medical research.) I don’t want it to read, “Here lies Luise, she did the right thing.” I am aiming at, “Here Lies Luise, she gave it her best shot.” And only I can determine what that is. Blessings, Luise Volta
P.S.: I also want to thank you for your monetary donation. It is both timely and validating. I am about to change the structure of my site to requiring a minimum donation of $10 while further asking people to use a sliding scale to determine what they feel is appropriate both before and after my answer. If it was useless, back goes the $10. Conversely, if it exceeds expectations an additional payment may be made. I’ve been doing this for six years and the volume has grown from 10- 15 questions a month to 100 – 150. I find that amazing as well as daunting.