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The question

My husband and I have been married six years and together for nine years total. We both cheated: He cheated back in 2015 with my best friend, my favourite cousin, our neighbour and others. I didn’t find out about his cheating until 2018. I also cheated with my first child’s father for about two years from 2016 to 2018. We both love each other very much and we want to make it work. We both agreed we would never cheat on each other again, and have been doing great but the cheating definitely messed up our sex life. We have sex but not passionate sex. We are not happy in the sex department. He is already saying he doesn’t know how long he can take it any more without stepping out on me again. I’m not too happy either, but I have not thought of cheating again. Any advice?

The answer

A former incarnation/iteration of me might have said: “Stick a fork in this marriage, it’s done.” And: “Once you go through that door, the one marked ADULTERY, it’s easier to go through again and again.” And: “It’s only after you get your ticket punched to ‘the cheating side of town’ that you realize it’s a one-way ticket.”

And, pardon me, about what sounds like your moribund marital sex life: “A relationship without sexual chemistry is like a car without an engine. You can push it up one hill and it can roll down another, but it’s not a good vehicle to get from Point A (getting married) to Point B (one of you dies).”

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But time has passed, and in the interim I’ve seen marriages navigate the treacherous terrain of adultery, as well as marriages that have passed through extended sexual droughts like dry desert gulches, (metaphorical) tumbleweeds blowing by sun-bleached skulls, and begin to bloom again. First a tiny flower blooms on one of the cacti, eventually all is lush and happy again.

So there’s hope. But I am bound by morality and common sense that it seems very faint in your case. Best friend, favourite cousin, your daughter’s father, neighbour – a shorter list might be whom you two didn’t cheat with.

Another puzzling and dispiriting aspect of this question is the contradiction between your husband’s two following statements: 1) “We both agreed we would never cheat on each other again” and 2) “He…doesn’t know how long he can take it any more without stepping out on me again.” So which is it?

You say you both love each other very much and would do just about anything to make it work. Well, here’s a novel idea: Stop having sex with other people.

There’s a good chance a religious or nautical figure at your wedding mumbled something to the effect of how you shouldn’t cheat on each other. Think back on that and hit replay.

But that’s just step one. Step two: Be absolutely open, honest and transparent with one another henceforward.

One of the many problems with adultery is the mountain of mendacity and deception required, often, as L. Rust Hills points out in his “The Problem with Adultery” chapter of How to Do Things Right, to the face of the very person you would most like to confide in about it all.

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Time to set aside those childish things, i.e. lying, and become an adult, i.e. honest and responsible for your actions. Sounds simple, right? But it will require day-by-day efforts from both of you, constant adjustments and communication.

If you can’t, the outcome is inevitable: one or the other of you in a cheap, fleabag, neon sign outside the window with one letter burned out – HOT – zzt! – L, HOT – zzt! – L, flipping through the Yellow Pages with tears in your eyes, until your fingers come to rest on “Lawyers – Divorce.”

Naturally I don’t want that for you.

Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

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