‘It is ruining my life’: I divorced my husband after his affair. Decades later the other woman is back

I divorced my husband after his affair eroded our 22 year marriage (three children). We then had new spouses for another 20 years. He has now left his wife and is with the woman he was involved with during our marriage (her husband died).

My children were initially abhorred by this union once I told them who she was, and the pain the affair caused me. She frequented our house whilst the affair was going on. But my children are slowly accepting her.

I know I can’t make them feel the way I do but this feels like the ultimate betrayal to me. This woman is by stealth moving in on my family once again, and they are accepting her. Please help me not to feel this way about their father and my adult children, it is ruining my life.

Eleanor says: I don’t know why people say time heals all wounds when often after years the same wound hurts as badly and the only difference is other people expect it won’t.

The first thing I want to do here is commend you for wanting to change this. Plenty of people wouldn’t. Especially in the grip of fear and betrayal, many of us turn our own reactions into concrete truths; we move from “this makes me feel betrayed” to “I’m being betrayed”, from “I feel invaded again” to “They’ve set out to invade me”.

The fact that you haven’t done that speaks to your dignity as a person and your strength as a mother. Happily, it also proves why you’re the kind of parent who won’t easily be discarded: by wanting to be rid of this feeling, you’ve already shown how much you love your children and prioritise their wellbeing. That’s the kind of selfless regard kids detect and cherish even well into their adulthood.

Two additional thoughts might help when you feel the bile rising.

One is to try to separate this actual woman from what she (reasonably) represents. Sometimes the Other Woman can take on a spectral, shapeshifting quality; she’s a shadow disappearing down a hallway, her only known characteristic that she’s not you. Like the monster in the horror movie before you actually see it, she becomes an amalgam of all fears – even when they’re contradictory. But just like the monster, she’s less scary once known. She invariably turns out to be just some person who gets things stuck in her teeth and misses the bus like the rest of us.

Though it’s natural this particular woman would roil up feelings of neglect and abandonment, those feelings are bruises, not predictions. She herself is not the loss of your home life (you already survived that), or the end of your children’s love (no chance). She’s just Carol, or Susan, or whatever her name is, and she has edges and boring bits too. If you were ever able to find a complex peace with your ex-husband about the affair, you may someday find that with her – once she strikes you as a regular old person.

The other thought is that when we feel scared, threats can look bigger than they are. We confuse the long shadow of a horrible possibility for the possibility itself. You talk about this woman “moving in” by “stealth”; the echo of being invaded or compared. But there is space between her getting to know your kids and you being devalued or at risk. The kids might have dinner or holidays with her, but I promise that doesn’t mean they’re replacing you or that they’ve forgotten about your pain. They may just be guided by the same thought you are; “how can I act normal for everyone else’s sake?”.

You don’t have to heal from this completely to declare it’s in the past. It will still hurt. But let it hurt at the size it is – a reminder of pain; not the size it wants to be – a sign of more to come.

In time you’ll be able to feel what Emma Thompson said years after Kenneth Branagh’s affair with Helena Bonham Carter; “it’s all blood under the bridge”.


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