Could Your Marriage Survive This Disaster?

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Reader’s Question

My husband of 3.5 years is causing me huge emotional pain. Our relationship is usually brilliant, with lots of laughter, fun, friendship, sex, cuddles, love, shared respect, shared hobbies — and then he does things which totally derail the relationship. I am on a roller coaster and my hair has started to fall out because of the stress.

Our life is very stressful. I have to carry him financially, and my business in finance took a severe downturn in the credit crunch, resulting in a pay cut. I am on about one third of the salary I used to be on. He is an unemployed musician and has a huge amount of time on his hands. He became very depressed in March when I went back to work, as he was totally alone. He has a studio so he could have used the time constructively but he couldn’t. He is also in debt.

A major factor is that he is from West Africa and is finding the fact that he cannot read and write English hugely restricting. He is learning. He also has to pass his Indefinite Leave to Remain tests this month or he will have to return to Senegal. Living in England is very difficult for him because he does not have his family to support him.

Eighteen months ago it started when he met up for an evening with a single lady and lied about it. There have followed at least eight other women with whom he has formed inappropriate relationships, one of whom he had a sexual affair with. How do I know? Because they told me. I have just received a text from the latest asking me to tell my husband to stop phoning her.

All the women say the same. He is so ‘full on’ with numerous texts and calls. Facebook is also how he contacts them.

I told him last night that one more woman coming out of the woodwork would mean divorce. He cried. He said he was going to go back to Senegal. He says he does not want to hurt me anymore. He is doing it for ‘entertainment’. He loves me (which I do not doubt). None of the women are a threat to the relationship. He believes that I want total control of his life and for him to have no women friends. This is not true; I just want my husband to behave like one and learn how to put the boundaries around friendships to keep our marriage safe. He says I am complicated, but I know of no woman who would be happy finding texts to other women saying “I love you xxxx” or finding out that he is telling a woman that he finds her sexy and wants to meet up, or finding 82 texts to a woman or finding out that he is calling someone 6 times a day.

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I failed to get him to attend Marriage Counselling. He went twice and just raged about how I did not trust him.

Psychologist’s Reply

I notice that you have not asked a question. That’s OK. The purpose of your writing seems evident: you need to get this out, you need to say it for the sake of venting and also possibly to get a reflection from someone other than your husband that this is, in fact, painful! I’m counting the wedding vows on my fingers and wondering which one has not been broken. I’m wondering how many of these issues are cultural in nature, and would not have been violations by Senegalese standards. I’m wondering how many of these potential difficulties you were aware of before you married, and if you thought that love might conquer all.

To the extent that you only want a witness to your pain, I do truly sympathize with you. To the extent that you are asking whether a traditional Western marriage could survive this kind of infidelity, well, there are some critical red flags, aren’t there? To the extent that you have discussed a trial separation (his return to Senegal), you may be able to take intermediate steps before jumping to divorce. I wonder, in this last instance, if I am in the minority in supporting moderation in your response to this.

Kim, clearly your marriage under traditional standards is broken. The largest red flag that I see is his rage at the marriage counselor that you did not trust him. My best thought in trying to salvage the marriage is:

  1. find someone who is respected in his culture to advise you both (as a marriage counselor is respected in our culture), and
  2. have him evaluated by a psychiatrist for depression.

If you are willing to frame this behavior in terms of his depression AND he is responsive to your mediator, then there could be a pathway back to marriage. You must adapt this to suit you, but here is what I have in mind:

Trust is the foundation for any relationship, and mutual trust has been shattered in yours. To regain trust, I recommend a follow-up to your marriage contract. As I wrote in my book Of Sound Mind to Marry [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK], specifically the chapter detailing the terms of a marriage contract, couples may add contractual agreements at any time during their marriage. We are accustomed to hearing about prenuptial agreements. There is also a thing called ‘internuptial agreements’. In such an agreement (which is legally binding), terms of reconciliation can be described in detail. In the event that one or both spouses breach the terms of that agreement, then the divorce settlement is also described in detail. That settlement can be considered an immediate consequence of the breach. If both of you agree to the terms of the internuptial agreement, then you have settled the most acrimonious part of a divorce, the estate settlement. If your second try at marriage fails, you would still be left with heartbreak, but you would not be left with an angry, expensive, drawn-out divorce.

When we marry for love, we think of marriage as a testament to our love. Yet, the marriage contract does nothing to protect that love. It does, however, protect property and social security. You can take matters into your own hands by writing your own internuptial agreement, wherein you decide what is expected, preferred, and intolerable. If you can each behave in accordance with your new agreement, then maybe trust can be rebuilt and your marriage could survive this disaster.

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