“I left my horrid husband after 28 years, but now he’s seeing my ex-best friend and I’m mad with rage.” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Perspective. No Glib Life Tips (I promise).

“After a difficult 28-year marriage (which produced four fantastic children), I asked my husband for a separation.
He’d been moody and withdrawn for many years — very rude to and about people, especially if they were close to me.
He had a strong dislike for my mother and encouraged our children to share his disdain.
For the last ten years, I tip-toed around his moods and began to dread being with him.

Added to this, we had always had a very sad emotional and physical connection. He always kept love-making (in fact any physical contact) to the minimum, for deep-seated psychological reasons.
Although this caused me enormous sadness, he refused to seek any help, so we lived with it.
When I told him I needed to separate, his response was angry, with no acknowledgement of his part in the breakdown.

He told me I was a victim; told me I was critical and dissatisfied.  He got a new job a long way away, saying he felt the separation would give us space to think, but I saw the geographical distance as final.
After about seven months, I met an old friend and began a relationship which has been very happy and mutually supportive.
A couple of months ago my husband announced that he’d started a relationship with a very close friend of mine.
This was a woman whose own marriage had recently broken down, someone I had supported and trusted. She had adopted a five-year-old child from Russia and I was sponsor for the adoption, and the child’s godmother.
The feelings of betrayal I’ve had since hearing about them have been overwhelming. 
I cannot get this woman’s treachery out of my head. I feel loathing.
My husband tells me that once again that I have re-cast myself as a victim, and that I had ended the marriage and started a new relationship so have no right to express these feelings.

But the raw hatred and constant chewing over in my mind continue unabated.
People tell me I should be glad for this woman’s betrayal as it has given us a chance to move on.  But I can’t.
What are these feelings? Abandonment? Am I wallowing in being a victim? Are they tribal (I hate the thought of her being anywhere near my children)? Or pure jealousy, in which case should I be trying to mend my marriage?
Incidentally, she’s repeating a behaviour pattern. She was the ‘other woman’ in the break-up of a marriage ten years ago, married her lover and they adopted the child. Then he left her for yet another woman — and in this raw state, she started a relationship with my husband.
I might also add that I had very recently told her that I was thinking deeply about going back to him. So it was with this intimate knowledge that she started their affair.
I am out of my depth.”

This letter first appeared in the Daily Mail.

My thoughts: 

You begin your letter, clear and direct, by describing a man nobody in their right mind would want to live with. He’s moody and attacking, hitting you where it hurts (people closest to you) and making you frightened to be around him. ‘Difficult’, ‘moody,’ ‘withdrawn,’ ‘rude’, ‘dislike’, ‘disdain’, ‘tip-toe’, ‘dread.’ You put up with this for nearly thirty years along with the ‘sad emotional and physical connection’ by which you mean lack of connection. He ‘refused’ to make any effort to improve the situation and was angry when you said you wanted to split up. As readers we are not supposed to have any doubt in our mind as to how things are.

Then, things get a bit murkier. You say, in the same tone of absolute certainty, that he didn’t acknowledge his part in the breakdown at all. This may well be (probably is) true, but what’s interesting is that you don’t acknowledge that you have any part in the breakdown. You present him as vile, yourself as reasonable and that’s that. Cut and dried.

He continues to attack you over the separation, but you brush this off and move on into a happy and supportive relationship. So far so good – no doubts in your mind as to your exemplary behaviour and none in ours.

However, he, apparently, was not supposed to move on. Here you get into a bit of a mess. We thought things were clear – your tone and choice of words assured us that facts are facts. Now your friend is not your friend but your enemy. Your husband is not the discarded abuser but a deceitful philanderer.

You mention that your friend is newly single and that she has an adopted child from Russia in whose adoption you were involved. I wonder what this information means. Outwardly, you are telling the reader how close a friend to this woman you are. However, the information contains an attack – you are making her very identifiable to any reader who knows her. Your visceral hatred is acknowledged. The sub-text is, I think, that you were the needed friend, the helper but, it turns out, you are not needed. The same is perhaps true of your husband – you wanted him to continue to need you but he didn’t. If you so need to be needed then I’d suggest you are defending against a terrible sense of neediness that frightens you. Perhaps you have never had your basic needs met (certainly not your sexual ones for thirty years) and defend against that by making others need you.

Half way through your letter you’re still clinging to your sense of certainty but the grip is less secure. You try to back up facts that aren’t facts. You describe their relationship as ‘an affair’ and say, very coldly that ‘incidentally’ she has done this before. You say she broke up a marriage and was ‘the other woman’, your speech marks particularly aggressive. Your tone ignores the fact that she didn’t break up your marriage but had just been left, like your husband.

But we get almost to the last line before you reveal yourself. You say you were thinking ‘deeply’ about getting back together with your husband. To the reader this is staggering news. From the first two paragraphs we understood that you found this man abusive and despicable and that you have no intimate life together. Indeed, you suggest that you fear him.

Are we to dismiss that? Which part of your letter is untrue? The contempt for your husband or your desire to get back together with him? Were you really as close to your friend as you say? Now it seems you always disapproved of her. Are you really happy and fulfilled in your new relationship?

So much of what you write, in such a forthright tone, makes no sense when looked at more closely. You stayed 28 years with someone who sounds cruel. You seem crystal clear about your reasons for leaving, but then you say you might want to go back. You say you’ve found someone wonderful, but still you want to go back to your cruel ex. You say you were close friends with someone but she betrayed you.

Your description of your state of mind as out of your depth seems very accurate and poignant. You are extremely confused and I think this letter is about self doubt. It seems to me that your need to sound completely certain masks a terrible doubt. You wonder (since you bother to quote him) if your husband’s accusations against you are accurate. You perhaps wonder if you were really as unhappy as you say (since you are considering reconciliation). You wonder if these ‘deep-seated psychological reasons’ you sound so knowledgable about are real or if he finds you unattractive. You wonder if you can recognise a true friendship when you see one. You wonder if you perhaps always hated this so-called friend, tried to control her, and that she was on some level aware of your unconscious hatred (or, rather, I wonder this). You wonder if husband and friend are together specifically in order to hurt you. You wonder if that thought is paranoid or justified. You wonder if you are mad or sane.

You ask; ‘What are these feelings?’ and it’s a very real question. You don’t know what to call how you feel because you doubt everything and try to mask your fundamental sense of doubt with a flimsy veneer of absolute certainty. Things have to be black or white – he must be vile or supportive, she must be a friend or an enemy. There is no grey area allowed because the doubt terrifies you. You want clear answers and when things are murky you try to tidy them up with a quick fix explanation/condemnation.

Freud wrote; ‘A man who doubts his own love may, or rather, must doubt every lesser thing.’ It seems that you doubt your husband and friend’s love for you and yours for them. Maybe he loved you? Maybe you love him? You don’t know. For all your bluster, it feels as though you just aren’t sure what this love feeling is or might be. Did you experience it as a child or were you told that cruelty or neglect was called love? You have strict codes of behaviour for everyone else – husbands should be like this, friends like this. But people don’t seem to obey. You are baffled.

Yes, you’re jealous. He wouldn’t have sex with you. Is he having sex with her? Was she ever your friend, or was she always this glamorous, international home breaker? Are you clear-headed and right about everything or do you doubt your perceptions? The not knowing, which really you have always lived with, is overwhelming.

The question of why you doubt your perception of reality and are confused about the names of emotions is more complicated and will relate to your early life, I imagine. You are out of your depth as you rightly say, but you are managing that by unleashing a hatred and anger that frighten you (and are perhaps misdirected) instead of looking in the mirror.

[Some wild guesses: Perhaps you stayed with someone unable to touch you because he seemed safe? Perhaps you were okay with not being touched for reasons of your own. Do you secretly desire your ex-friend whose child’s adoption you were involved in? In any case, if your husband didn’t desire you then you weren’t in danger of losing control of yourself or of him. You were safe. Something about being with an apparently impotent man seems to have suited you for a very long time, despite his cruelty. All we know about your friend is that she is a mother but that she couldn’t reproduce naturally – she needed your help (in a sense). This also makes her somehow inferior to you and under your control – or attractive? Then it turns out that sex is being had and you are not in control of it. You thought you were the needed one, but now you are not. This sense of things being out of your control is unbearable, but why is unclear. I would guess at a frightening childhood in which emotions were not named or were misnamed, a lot of confusion masked with certainties that turned out to be false or hollow.]

Thoughtful Advice via Skype or email: anna@blundy.com

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About Anna Blundy

Honorary psychotherapist with a Masters in Psychoanalytic Theory and another in Psychodynamic Clinical Psychotherapy. Novelist - Author of the Faith Zanetti quintet - The Bad News Bible, Faith Without Doubt, Neat Vodka (US - Vodka Neat), Breaking Faith, My Favourite Poison. Also a memoir of my father, Every Time We Say Goodbye and my most recent thriller - The Oligarch's Wife
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