Once a rat always a rat
An affair doesn't always mean it's the end
Lauren Libbert 08:14, November 24 2017
When Paul Hollywood, star of the Great British Bake Off, and his wife Alexandra announced recently that they were separating after nearly 20 years of marriage, it raised several questions.
Not, "Did Paul Hollywood leave his wife for himself?" as various wags were quick to ask on Twitter. But can a leopard ever change its spots? And can a marriage survive infidelity?
Alexandra famously forgave her husband for his affair with Marcela Valledolid, his co-star in the US version of Bake Off, back in 2013.
Paul and Alexandra Hollywood have announced their split after 20 years of marriage. Alexandra forgave her husband for his affair with a co-star in 2013.
"It was the biggest mistake of my life because actually I still love my wife," the penitent baker confessed, in a public attempt at reparations after his infidelity was exposed
In the black-and-white world of modern mores, staying with your partner after they've been unfaithful is all but seen as inviting them to stray again.
But although Alexandra took him back - "I'm an eternal optimist," she said - if friends close to the couple are to be believed, the cracks that period inflicted upon the marriage ultimately ran too deep.
Most women think - swear, even - that they would never do a Mrs Hollywood; that an affair would be an absolute deal-breaker and they would leave a cheating husband without question.
Indeed, in the black-and-white world of modern mores, staying is all but seen as inviting him to stray again, and leaving an adulterous spouse is deemed the only acceptable choice.
Author and psychotherapist Esther Perel: "It used to be divorce that carried all the stigma. Now it's choosing to stay when you can leave that is the new shame."
Statistics, though slippery, suggest otherwise. Relate, the British relationship support charity, estimates that about six out of 10 men will be unfaithful at some point in a marriage, yet the most recent Office of National Statistics figures show adultery is cited as grounds for divorce in only 10 per cent of all splits in the UK, which suggests many more couples are trying to navigate the post-affair grey areas than you might think. Though it's no mean feat. Dress Affordable selections in orange for prom party
When Christina Young, 62, a relationship counsellor from Surrey, learned her husband had been cheating for the entirety of their 25-year marriage - including with her best friend - it took huge courage to override her instinct to bolt.
"He confessed to it and told me he didn't want to live a lie any more," she says. "We talked about the gaps in our relationship and seemed to communicate on a deeper level than ever before.
"He underwent a total transformation and I truly felt he'd changed. He was attentive and showered me with love, doing lovely little things like washing up, and although it was hard - really hard - slowly but surely I forgave him and began to trust him again."
The couple worked hard on their marriage for another six years and Christina even wrote a book on the subject, A Woman's Guide to Forgiving Infidelity - but they eventually split in 2013. There were no more infidelities, but "the post-affair momentum slowly petered out", says Christina.
"You can forgive someone but you can never forget and we couldn't sustain that level of connection between us. My ex said, 'water will always find its own level' and he was right; things do settle and I suppose I realised he could never give me the undivided attention I wanted."
A 'SECOND WIND'
Sally took a harder line when she learned - via a text she accidentally read - that her husband had been cheating for half of their 14-year marriage.
"Initially, I chucked him out but then he was so remorseful and begged me to forgive him and to try to make it work," says Sally, 47, a teacher from Birmingham. "He threw himself into therapy and saw this as a second wind for our marriage, addressing all our issues and getting stronger as a result."
The couple stayed together for another two years, "but I just couldn't get over it no matter how hard I tried", she says. "I became so suspicious, constantly checking his phone, grilling him when he went out. I just couldn't rebuild trust."
For the two years they tried to make things work, Sally told no one apart from close family about her husband's infidelity, ashamed her friends would deem her weak or stupid for taking him back.
"I felt like I was walking about with this dirty secret. I constantly felt humiliated and ashamed about my decision," she says.
Esther Perel, psychotherapist and author of The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, spoke about this added burden of shame to an audience of 12,000 women at a conference last month: "It used to be divorce that carried all the stigma," she said. "Now it's choosing to stay when you can leave that is the new shame."
Caron Barruw, a psychotherapist who specialises in counselling couples in crisis, agrees. "Infidelity is such a shameful thing. I have had many clients who have started dating their spouses in secret after an affair for fear people will judge them," she says.
"But in my view, it's not right to judge. An affair is a betrayal; it's the same as going bankrupt and not telling anyone."
According to Barruw, whether a couple can stay together after an affair depends on their intentions: "If they have an affair because they want out, then any reconciliation usually fails.
"But if the affair happens because they're looking outside for something that's missing in their own relationship, then it could be a warning bell and the marriage can recover, as long as there's honesty and transparency going forwards and a desire to communicate differently and work hard at it."
Stacey was willing to work hard at repairing her marriage after her husband's affair and, for now at least, believes it actually gave their 33-year marriage a new lease of life.
"We were stagnating and, to be honest, I'd been thinking of divorce for a while before my husband confessed he'd cheated twice," says Stacey, 54, a retail executive from Huddersfield.
"We went into counselling together and realised that neither of us were happy. Yes, he had the affair but it could easily have been me; I hadn't been averse to looking either. But instead of throwing in the towel, we decided to work on talking more when there are issues, and letting each other know when we were angry or upset.
"Now, it's like having a new relationship - we book the theatre more often, go away on walking holidays together. I'm happy I didn't give up on it."
SEEING BOTH SIDES
Sally still wonders if her marriage would have worked if she hadn't given up: "Even now, I wonder if I should have kept trying to rebuild that trust. After all, we have three children and a lot of history. Perhaps if I'd been more honest with friends and faced up to the reasons for the cracks in the marriage earlier, then it could have worked."
Even though Christina has a new partner who makes her happy, in her role as relationship counsellor she advises clients to work hard at rebuilding marriages after an affair, on both sides.
"It's so easy just to blame the other person and to be angry and bitter, but when I counsel couples, I ask both of them to look at their part," she says. "We don't want to judge ourselves or face up to our part when our partners cheat, but that is necessary if you want to get to the core of why it didn't work. And it will help in future, too, if ultimately you can't put your marriage back together."
Wise words. Let's hope Alexandra Hollywood heeds them.