‘I Can’t Leave My Rich Husband’

Catherine is 56, has been married for 34 years, and is having the best sex of her life – with her lover. But this may not be an ideal long-term scenario, says divorce expert Charlotte Friedman

Catherine writes: For the past five years I have been living a lie. To the outside world, I am a woman who has it all. I’m still married to the man I met at college, when many of my contemporaries are divorced. We are wealthy and enjoy a fabulous lifestyle. We have two children who are now in their late twenties and are successful and independent, and a source of great pride to us both.

Yet, even though I have this seemingly wonderful life, it is not enough for me. Despite our frequent luxury holidays, our three properties, and the fact that I don’t have to work, there is something missing.

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He has his work, which consumes him, and since our children left home I feel even more alone

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I know that sounds selfish beyond belief, especially in the current financial climate, but I feel as if my head is going to explode.

I met my husband when I was 18. We were inseparable then and it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to get married when we were both 22. We were true soulmates.

We are 56 now. He has his work, which consumes him, and since our children left home and started their own careers I feel even more alone.

So here’s my dirty secret. For the past five years, I have been serially unfaithful to my husband. For three years I had stupid, meaningless affairs while my husband was away on business. But for the last two I’ve been seeing the same man. We have the most amazing sex life, better even than the first few years with my husband.

I know how wrong this is, but I can’t stop. I know I should either finish with my lover and commit to my husband, or I should ask for a divorce.

But the horrible truth, which makes me feel sick with self-loathing, is that I honestly don’t think I could surrender the lifestyle that being with my husband gives me. And yet I am addicted to this other man. I can’t give him up either.

Charlotte replies:

You say in your longer letter that you were ashamed to write to me. I understand why. I think your shame is about being serially unfaithful and not giving a second thought to the man who supports you and has stayed by your side for the past 30 years.

The most interesting aspect of your letter is that you don’t say anything about your feelings – or lack of them – for your husband, or what your marriage and relationship is like. It’s almost as though he as a human being and person doesn’t exist. You speak of him in terms of what he provides for you by way of financial benefits.

The shame is not about being unhappy for many years with a cold, unloving partner who has forced you to have your needs met elsewhere. Your shame seems to lie in your disregard for dealing honestly and fairly with a relationship that has served you well.

Empty nest syndrome is common and it is, of course, a loss. It needs to be mourned and dealt with. The lack of connection between you and your husband has to be dealt with too.

What strikes me about your letter is not only your lack of description of your marriage and your husband as a person, but also your lack of description of the man you have been sleeping with for two years. Your concern is about your loss of lifestyle if you leave your marriage. Is that it?

You don’t say whether, if you left, it would be for the man you are sleeping with. Does he know you are married? Does he love you? Does he want a life with you? I get none of this from your letter. I think you are not only sleeping with this man, but that you are asleep.

My advice is this: if you have any feelings left for your husband at all, apart from for his wallet, seek help. If your marriage is worth saving, save it. You’re going to have to come clean with both men, and face some difficult truths.

If you have spent years being miserable and unhappy, and this new man can give you something real, long term and substantial that you are convinced your husband can’t, or won’t, provide, then leave.

Be prepared either way for repercussions. Divorce is never ever easy and sometimes, when the grass seems greener on the other side, it proves to actually be pretty much the same. If this sounds harsh, it’s because I am firing a warning shot to say: wake up and look at what you have, before you give it up.