I'm a 35-year-old woman married to a 50-year-old man. We have been married for three years, together for seven, and have a 18-month-old child. I recently discovered that my husband has slept with at least six other women in the last five years. He seems to be a compulsive liar and serial cheater, and my question to you is whether he can ever really change.
The backstory is that we met when he was still married to his now-ex wife (they have two older children together). He told me they were essentially separated (living in different bedrooms) though I no longer know if I believe this. We had a fun whirlwind sexcapade affair in hotels around the country. We both traveled a lot for work, and attended a lot of the same conferences and work events. After he got divorced, we moved in together, and had a good relationship for a number of years. We got engaged, got married, etc. Shortly after our wedding, he started acting weird, staying out late with his 23-year-old assistant, etc. I confronted him and asked if he was sleeping with her, and he looked me in the eye and told me No. I chose to believe him, but we ended up separating for six months to see if being together was what we wanted. I wanted to be married, have a baby, buy a house, the whole suburban dream. We dated while separated and ended up getting pregnant, mostly on purpose. We bought the house, and have been living mostly happy for a few years.
I've always harbored some suspicions about what really went on with the 23-year-old assistant—knowing that if he did it WITH me, he would likely do it TO me, "once a cheater, always a cheater," etc. He confessed to having an affair with another woman before me while still married to his ex-wife, so I knew I wasn't the only one. A few months ago I found some text messages on his phone to the 23yo that were suspicious, but not damning. But I am a trusting person and chose to believe him.
Before deciding whether to have a second child, I had to just know if I was really just being jealous and paranoid, or whether he was truthful, so I looked at his personal email. His email was littered with very explicit photos and emails to a handful of women throughout the past five years, including the six months where we were separated and he was actively trying to get back together with me. When confronted, he admitted to the four women in the emails, but didn't tell me about the other two, which I found out later. He had a chance to be honest and didn't take it.
Turns out I was right about the 23yo—they had a 2.5 year affair that lasted through our engagement, wedding, pregnancy up until when our child was born. He also had an ongoing affair of multiple years with another colleague, and a number of one-/multiple-night stands with other women. The affair with the 23yo bothers me most of all because 1. he is twice her age, 2. she reports to him at work so it is MAJORLY illegal and put his professional career at risk, 3. she has been my "friend" and come to our house, held our baby, etc., 4. it started before we were married and continued through our wedding (WTF?), 5. he used all the same lines and moves on her that he used to seduce me, and 6. he lied to me when confronted and let me think I was jealous and paranoid. The rest bother me, but not as much as this.
I don't care that much that he had sex with these women—in fact, I had brought up the possibility of having an open marriage, but he wasn't into it. I'm just really hurt that he lied to me, for so many years, to my face, over and over. I don't know if I can forgive that.
He is in therapy now, and has been attending Love and Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings (not sure I believe in the "disease" of sex addiction). He desperately wants to make it work, but I am not so sure. For our child's sake, I would rather break up now than when she is older and can understand and be traumatized. I just can't believe that at 50, he is going to all of a sudden change patterns of cheating and lying that he has mastered over the last 25 years. He is a great husband otherwise, kind, caring, stable, smart, etc., he just has some hole in his life that he fills by seducing and sleeping with women so that he can feel attractive and wanted.
Sorry for the long email. But my heart is broken and I need to know whether I should just do my best to move on and write this guy off (though I have to see him every day of my life due to our having a child together) or whether there is any chance it can work.
Want It To Work
Let's embrace the worst-case scenario: your husband can't and won't change. Your husband continues to cheat on you—just as he once cheated with you—despite the therapy and the "I'm a victim of a cruel and terrible sex addiction!" routine and the desire, perhaps sincere, to save his (current) marriage. What are your options?
You can divorce him or you can Duchess of Devonshire him:
Her marriage lasted 62 years, surviving Andrew’s long bout with alcoholism, as well as his discreet dalliances. “It was absolutely fixed that we shouldn’t divorce or get rid of each other in any way,” the duchess said. “It’s completely different to Americans, who all divorce each other the whole time. Such a bore for everyone, having to say who’s going to have the dogs, who’s going to have the photograph books.” Andrew was great company, she said, which went a long way, and he shared his wife’s facility for drawing humor from challenging situations.
I love that quote—I've worked into columns, I've linked to it into countless SLLOTDs, I even used it in my last book. Now I'm offering it to you, WITW. If you stay with husband you will, like the Duchess of Devonshire, have to put up with your spouse's philandering. (And he'll have to put up with yours—you're in an open marriage, WITW, and always have been. And now you know it.) If you can't put up with a husband who sleeps around—if that's not a price you're willing to pay to be with a man who is an otherwise kind, caring, stable, smart, etc., spouse—then you should absolutely divorce him now.
One caveat: he's cheated on you throughout your marriage and, by your own account, your marriage has been pretty good, he's been a pretty good husband, the cheating was discreet enough that you were able to suspend your disbelief and pretend that the man you married wasn't actually the man you married. But bringing that 23yo into your house, encouraging her to pretend to be your friend, allowing her to hold your child—that adds a layer of insult to the injury that most people (myself included) would have hard time getting past. But if you can get past it... if you stay married... turning a blind eye to your husband's future dalliances would be less exhausting than policing the whereabouts of his penis for the next 30 years.