Lifelines: Anne Chilton on affairs

My partner of 30 years has just told me she has been having an affair for six months with a work colleague. I'm devastated; I thought we were heading towards retirement together and would spend more time with each other. Now, although my partner says the affair is over, I cannot forget and wonder if our relationship can ever be the same.

Finding out that your partner has been involved with someone else will have shattered your trust and will have seemed like an attack on the emotional bond between you. Right now the wound will seem raw and you will feel as if it will never heal. Affairs, though, do not always have to mean the end of the relationship. If you and your partner both want the relationship to continue, couple counselling could help you both sort out what was happening before the affair started. Had things been drifting or been difficult between you? You are right, though; your relationship can never be the same. Something was not right for the affair to happen so you would not want it to go back to that place. It can, however, change and become a different relationship; maybe one that is better for both of you. You will have to be honest with each other about what wasn't working.


My new boyfriend is still friendly with his ex-partner, with whom he has two children.

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He visits them several times a week and sometimes sleeps over. I don't trust him and think he is still sleeping with her. They split up three months ago.

If we could all start relationships afresh, with all our old baggage behind us, it would be so much more helpful. However, life doesn't work like this and it sounds like he is trying to adjust to not being with his children and develop a new relationship with you at the same time. Ending one relationship and beginning another can pull people in different directions. You want all of him with you so you can start building a life together, and because he isn't wholly with you it sounds like you are beginning to distrust him. It sounds as though you are not yet sure where you fit into his life, just as he perhaps isn't sure where he fits into his children and ex-partner's lives yet. Have you been able to talk to him about how he feels about leaving his children and how he is adapting to being away from them? You also need to talk about where you fit into his life and maybe begin to develop a new couple identity. Trust can only build once you start talking about the things that are building up between you. Intimacy and trust build through how we deal with our difficulties.

Anne Chilton is consultant in professional practice at Relationships Scotland

So when something invades that intimacy it can feel as if it has struck at the very heart of you.

Affairs are like this, and while they can be devastating, they can also help couples look again at their relationship to see what wasn't working to allow this invasion.

Intimacy is something we have to work at; we have to pay attention to our partners and what is happening to them, just as they have to pay attention to us. We can neglect this most important thing as our day-to-day lives take over; this can leave gaps where other things can move in. Ensuring those gaps don't arise is essential if intimacy is to grow and develop. n