Group Therapy is a relationship advice column that asks readers to contribute their wisdom. Each week, we offer a problem for you to weigh in on, then publish the most lively responses, with a final word on the matter delivered by our columnist, Lynn Coady.
A reader writes: My husband died last spring following a year-long illness that occurred after I announced I was divorcing him. We were married for 46 years. He had sex for 35 years with someone I knew. I confronted him with my suspicions many times over the years, but he called me crazy.
Before he died he asked for my forgiveness and confessed his multiple indiscretions. He liked women who knew me. Why? Because they would never tell; too embarrassing for them. He told me how easy it was to spot a "player" and how that sort of thing went right over my head.
How do I deal with his long-time mistress? I cannot avoid seeing her and our circle of acquaintances, some of whom know and some of whom refused to believe it. People will ask why I stayed in the marriage when I suspected my husband was having affairs. Wives know, they just can't prioritize it enough when they are dealing with children, moves, jobs, financial stress, illness etc. I am sick of people telling me to take the high road; I wish I had a 4-iron.
STRIVE TO FORGIVE, LET GO
While it is very much in your interest to end up in a spot where you can forgive and let go, you have to go through the pain and anger before you can reach true forgiveness. So what can you do? I suggest you write letters - to your deceased husband, to the others involved in this marathon of betrayal. Tell them how much they hurt you, and what you would like from them: an apology, an explanation? Think hard about this. Then send the letters (and burn the ones that can't be sent). That's a start to letting go.
- Sandra Robinson, Vancouver
CONFRONT THE MISTRESS
Your philandering husband's deathbed confession and plea for forgiveness was a coward's way out. It was only to alleviate his own conscience. If he were any sort of gentleman, he would have taken the information with him.
As for your unscrupulous "friend" - confront her. Ask her if she feels it appropriate that you remain friends. Circle of acquaintances or not, it is better to avoid her. Make that the higher road - choosing your own path.
- Christine Anh, Vancouver
LOOK INSIDE YOURSELF
It sounds like you've been a very responsible wife, mother, friend and contributor to your community, but the tone of your letter suggests an unhealthy reliance on these external elements. Your husband has done you a great favour by creating an opportunity for you to confront the reasons that made you a player in the charade of your marriage, and so beholden to "what will people think."
You need to take that 4-iron to your own fears, to launch on a private, inward journey to find out about yourself. You have 46 years of catching up to do, so professional help is a good idea. There's no time to waste on duplicitous friends, unfaithful dead husbands, and life's minutiae. For once in your life, put yourself first.
- Joan Hotson,
St. Catharines, Ont.
THE FINAL WORD
I'd like to start by saying I read your letter in its original state - that is, before our editors dutifully tucked in its raw, bleeding edges. They preserved the reference to the 4-iron as an acknowledgment of the hell-hath-no quality of your fury, but nothing can really duplicate the howling emotion of that first draft. You are angry - message received.
Before we parse the wisdom offered above, we need to get something straight. You are furious because your husband treated you with utter contempt. Joan's outlook, that he ultimately "did you a favour" is very Zen, but I simply can't agree: He betrayed you for 35 years in the most devious and calculated of ways, and when you were brave enough to voice your suspicions, told you you were crazy.
Christine says if he were "any kind of gentleman" he would have taken this information with him to the grave, but the question of whether or not he was a gentleman has been answered pretty decisively. The deathbed confession comes down to this: He made a big disgusting mess, and rather than leaving you to step in it, he took the time to say, "Oh by the way, look what I left on the floor," before riding into the sunset with a clear-ish conscience. Either way, you end up elbows-deep in the emotional aftermath - outrage and betrayal.
The problem is, the appropriate target of your 4-iron is no longer with us. And so, in your fury, you turn to the runner-up - the mistress. I'm by no means saying this woman didn't betray you, but take a breath and realize that the grotesque, egregious violation of trust was your husband's, not hers. He was married to you; all the commitment and obligation was his.
Does she not deserve a taste of your 4-iron - which has now moved into the realm of the strictly metaphorical, okay? Of course she does, if she called herself your friend. So take Sandra's advice and put it in a letter, and definitely take Joan's and get some therapy. Pour the rage onto the page and take satisfaction in the knowledge that this version will be read in its original, unexpurgated form.
Lynn Coady is the award-winning author of the novels Strange Heaven and Mean Boy, with another one currently in the oven.
Next week's question
My ex and I split up 16 years ago but I am still friends with her mother (let's call her Martha), who's known me since I was a teenager. The breakup was ugly: My ex was a condescending control freak who called me "stupid and useless," helped herself to my inheritance and had other lovers. Click to read the rest of the question.