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'My husband won't admit his flirting is a form of betrayal'

Marriage
Question: Dear Bel, my husband (42 years together, and two children) and I run a stressful business.

It has taken a toll on our relationship because we found it hard to make time for ourselves. More than two years ago, I had a heart attack, which was followed by a bad reaction to my medication.

Two weeks after I left hospital, my husband informed me that one of our female employees is the only one who understands him and makes him happy.

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File photo: Such activity (as I know well from experience) can insinuate itself into the cracks in a marriage, as frost does into stone, causing it to crumble. Picture: Supplied

He said she’s only a friend – but made it clear he’s obsessed. I flipped and left, but we talked and he said he had not so much as kissed her or touched her. She has worked for us for a long time and (I think) used her position as his favourite, causing problems with other staff.

I went into overdrive to improve things in my appearance and our sex life. Then, 18 months ago, other staff told me that they had seen him kiss her on the neck and the mouth.

I am devastated at this betrayal. I tried to explain to him that this is an affair, even if it is only an emotional one, but he said it was nothing and that other men do much worse.

After a year of splitting up and getting back together, and many tears and talking, he has apologised. When I confronted this woman about her relationship with my husband, she said he’d been sexually harassing her since about six months before I had my heart attack. Her story, however, changed – depending on what she thought was in it for her.

This woman still works for us. I have cut this down to the legal limit of one day a week, but I dread that one day every week. I feel she has betrayed me and my husband with her behaviour.

I’m upset and hurt about what went on. The fact that my husband does not acknowledge that working with her is an extra strain on our stressful life is hurtful.

Last week, they seemed to go back into flirt mode – unacceptable given all the hurt that has been caused.

All the pain is coming back when I was beginning to feel better about us. Does he believe it’s all forgiven and forgotten?

Am I overreacting? Should I be able to take him flirting and chatting with her, knowing the previous obsession he had and how much hurt I went through?

DAWN

Answer: You were right to point out to your husband the fact that an “affair” does not need to involve full sex.

If someone chooses to behave in a way they would rather keep secret (for example, by having an intimate lunch with a work colleague once a week and sharing deep confidences as well as flirtation), then what is happening is an affair of the heart, if not of the body.

Such activity (as I know well from experience) can insinuate itself into the cracks in a marriage, as frost does into stone, causing it to crumble.

If it is true that your husband started the relationship six months before your heart attack, then he was kicking you when down (as you put in your e-mail subject line).

The woman’s accusations of “sexual harassment” trouble me, especially because they are so friendly again.

If the whole thing was his fault, then surely you need to force him to be honest? And if she is lying, is she someone you wish to employ in a caring role (I have kept the exact nature of your business private)?

You say she “has betrayed me and my husband with her behaviour”. Again, if that’s the case, why does he still wish to employ her? Were the staff tales true, or motivated by jealousy? These are questions which you, the boss, surely need to have answered, in order to get your life back.

You also have to avoid placing all the blame on her – which, reading between the lines, I think you might be doing. It takes two to tango, after all. Even if she has lied, he is surely just as culpable.

It’s clear that you passionately wish your long marriage to continue and that your love for your husband has survived the blows that have been dealt.

It is wrong for him to continue to see the woman, and I firmly believe it would benefit all three of you for her to work out any period of notice and move on.

Relationship counselling would also be a great help to you and your husband; you could insist on it.

I don’t think that you are overreacting. What woman could tolerate such public humiliation and pain?

It seems to me that the way forward would be for you to be much stronger than before and tell your husband that he is jeopardising the business, your marriage and his future relationship with his children.

He has to grow up and make his choice.

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