Hi everyone. This is my first post here. I am desperate for some advice and help with a complex emotional situation with my bereaved wife and our marriage.
My wife and I have been together 20 years and married for 18 years, we are in out late 40s and have two teenage boys. We have been generally very happy except for the last four years during which a series of bereavements, family tensions and now job insecurity have caused mounting problems.
My mother died of secondary breast cancer in December 2007 and my father died this past October. My younger sister has lived in Australia since January 2008. We were never a big, close family and my parentsí deaths have not affected me very much; my motherís death was traumatic as I watched her slowly dying over 3 months in hospital, but I did not see eye-to-eye with my father and though his sudden death due to heart failure was a shock, I have not experienced any great sense of loss. I am quite a shy, self-reliant, introverted person who has never had need of many friends; I have many work colleagues and I have a couple of old friends from school and college days, but I was never Ďone of the ladsí.
In contrast to me, my wife is a very outgoing woman who has and needs many friends. She is far more of a people-person than me and she used to be a Samaritan volunteer! Her family was larger and always much closer than mine; they often had large family Christmases and holidays together in her younger days. In the last 7 months my wife's parents have both died in their 80s and her brother-in-law died at 54 due to alcohol-related problems back in 2006. The latter of these caused awful tensions between her, her middle sister (who was the bereaved spouse) and her eldest sister, to the point where, following the recent deaths, both my wife and her middle sister have now severed all contact with their elder sister. My wifeís mother died of cancer in May, but had been in a home or psychiatric ward because of dementia for the past two years or so; my wife only saw her a handful of times over that period because we live over 100 miles away. Her father died in July after suffering with cancer for several months. It seemed to us that he had continued to battle the illness for his wife's sake, but once she was gone he gave up.
At first, I thought that her parents deaths had not affected my wife too badly because both were expected at the end of long illnesses. She seemed to be almost normal in her behaviour; she didnít cry much in front of me. My fatherís death a couple of months later acted as a kind of distraction from her grief as she helped me and my sister with sorting out his affairs and the house, etc. In addition, because of the UK government spending cuts her job as a co-ordinator in education is under threat which has proved to be traumatic and another distraction from her grief. I have now noticed her gradually becoming more withdrawn. We went on holiday at the end of October and she was very subdued. She has also been writing poetry about her parents and her grief in a book; she hasnít shared this directly with me but I have read what she has written as the book was on the bedside table. She had clearly been feeling more pain, guilt and anguish than I had thought. But one part was difficult to read: she wrote some lines that go:
Like brother and sister
Itís not the same.
Itís not a shared bereavement,
Is it the grief thatís to blame?
This seems to me to be a reference to us.
Having read up on the process of grief I realised more what has been happening so I began talking to her about how she was feeling. Iím not very good at this sort of thing and have found it quite hard especially with my wife being an ex-Samaritan; I just donít know what to say for the best and feel very awkward. During one of our conversations she said that she didnít expect me to put her world right and that although sheís finding it hard to even think of the future (especially Christmas), when she does sheís afraid for how things will turn out as our two boys grow up and leave home, gradually losing her circle of friends and, most worrying to me, scared of just growing old with only me. She also picked on my (to her) lack of ideas and imagination about doing things as a family or just together Ė this and other negative comments about me has surfaced before when she was (I think) clinically depressed about 7 years ago when her teaching job was in a big, complicated crisis that upset her greatly. I said that Iíve felt like she had been retreating from me in her grief rather than coming to me for support and that, given what sheíd said, I too was now frightened that she didnít see any future in our marriage. She has said that she hasnít deliberately been withdrawing or hiding her emotions from me, itís just that she has tended to feel most tearful and sad in the middle of the night or when alone driving to work, and that she was keeping her grief from our two sons as best she could.
All of this has made me very uneasy and has been made worse by my discovery of a Ďtext relationshipí with an ex-boyfriend from 30 years ago. The ex- is in his 50s (apparently heís in a relationship and has two failed marriages behind him) and came to her fatherís funeral because her father had worked in his families company for many years; I spoke to him for a while at the wake. She was only about 17 when they were together I think, but I know (from the texts) they slept together. They have been texting each other since about a week after her fatherís funeral in August. I found the texts by accident when I was checking on a time in a text from my youngest sonís football coach one Saturday morning. Iíve never checked up on her before in any way and I feel quite guilty about doing this, however innocently it started. She has said to him in these texts that I donít know about the texting, that she would write letters to him as ĎPandoraí when I was away on business and that sheíd think about how their long distance relationship could work. Sheís become very secretive about her mobile phone too Ė it never leaves her side or she hides it. They are planning to meet this coming weekend when she goes to her sisters in the Midlands. She asked me if this was OK last weekend and I said yes, but she has not mentioned their text relationship at all. I thought that they would be meeting for coffee or something, but Iíve now found out that he has booked 2 rooms for them at a hotel. I did some Internet searching and I now think sheís started whatís apparently called an ĎEmotional Affairí with this man. I am really upset and shocked, and terrified it will intensify and lead to actual physical infidelity, especially with the way she is feeling about our future relationship at the moment. I have thought about bringing up the texting, but every time I am stopped by the thought that she will see this as another negative mark against me, i.e. Iíve been snooping and donít trust her, and say that they are just innocent friends catching up on old times. This may be true and itís not as if the texts are explicit (though I havenít seen them all), but I am very upset nonetheless and canít help feeling that this is a betrayal and the start of the slippery slope for our marriage. I keep wondering how she would feel if the tables were turned and it was me secretly texting and meeting an ex-?
I have tried to rationalise all of this and wonder if it is all tied into the grief, loss and upset she has suffered in recent times. She is clearly dealing with a lot at the moment and so it seems unfair for me to unload my insecurities about the text relationship and risk damaging our relationship. I am so anxious and upset I donít know what to do for the best.
Tell you W that her visit to her sisters is bad timing. You are not sure why, but the feeling you are get from her is not good and you can't explain why you feel this trip will be a step back in the marriage. If she could postpone the trip until we can reconnect and strengthen the marraige, that you would feel better. Right now you would feel if the two of you were not apart.
She will give you all kinds of excusses on why she needs to go, and reasure you that it will be all right, she may even tell you that your insecurities are crazy. Well you know better and with out revealing you souce, let her know that postponing this trip is extremly import to our marriage and if our marriage means anything request that you go with. And if you can't stand firm that this trip is bad timing.
Most likely she will disespect your wishes and take this trip. When she returns....that is when you take the hard evidence and show her (so get copies)
If she elects to stay home then keep the evidence quit and wait.
Bottom line here is you are invading her secrecy. Her behavior is inapropriate and you are concerned about her abillity to be open, which causes you to become protective with regard to being decieved by someone that you consider a loyal friend and partner.
I didn't feel that I could ask her to not go to her sisters and also meet the ex-. She did sort of explain further why she was going to stay in a hotel when I gently asked why (her sisters place is only 20 mins away): she said that she was going to her parents memorial in the churchyard and that she didn't want to put any pressure on her sister so she was staying out of the way and it was the only evening she could meet the ex- cos he was picking up his children. What she didn't say, was that he'd booked the rooms. This sort of made me feel a little better, I just wish she'd been more open about it in the first place.
We have talked more about how she's feeling and I think we understand each other better now, so we are making a little bit of progress; she wants to be left alone to deal with her grief because she can't deal with my reaction and emotions on top of the grief.
I do think her behaviour has been inappropriate, as you say, but I also feel terrible guilt about monitoring her texting. I'm coming more round to the thought that the texting has been innocent and has been some comfort to her, as the guy knew her father, but I want to confirm all this somehow. Right now I think the softly-softly approach is required; I don't want to make things worse.
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Yes, I see now reason for the hotel, other then being alone with her ex.
I'm glad you feel a little better, but I advise you to keeps an eye on her once she return. I have a feeling you will notice somewhat of a change that you may not like. Her behavior will be odd b/c of guilt or a new emotional attachment with someone new, or both.
And don't feel bad for snooping, you are invading her secrecy, not her privacy. I believe you have a right to protect you self from betrayal.
Hire a PI to follow her, I wish you could plant a camera or microphone in that hotel room.
Everything about your situation is wrong, your denial, your exceptence, her attidude. Granted she is in morning, what I don't get is the fact your wife is not leaning on you for the support. And I understand and agree with you approach. The balancing act you have to play between pushing her away and protecting your marraige is a b*tch, but for know you have no control over her part in the marraige, but you do have control over your self, so take care of you and good luck. Please let us know who things are after her trip, I hope that I'm completely wrong and she returns with loving arms.
I don't know what's happened since December, and this is coming really late, but feeling uncertain about the future is normal while grieving. I think that a unique aspect of losing a parent is that so much of who we are is based on our parents - our genes, some of our mannerisms, and our outlook on the world whether as a result of imitation or direct opposition (I'm a lot like my father, whereas my mother strives to never be like her own mother). Once our parents are removed so completely from us and from the world it is up to us to decide who we really are, and death always leaves people uncertain about the future. I never truly feared death until the death of my father, for example.
It sounds like your wife depends a lot on others - she has/needs a lot of friends and is close to her family. This isn't to say she's co-dependent, but humans naturally define themselves by the people around them. So then it is easy to see that losing her parents would be a devastating blow not only to her for the loss, but also to her identity.
I want to say that it is excellent for you to do something that is difficult for you - reaching out to her in this time of need when you don't know what to say or what to do. The fact that you're making the effort is what's important, and being there for her (even now, months later) is very important.
I hope things are okay - I hope we can see any further developments.