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BEL MOONEY:  Why did my cold wife lie to me for 58 years?

Dear Bel,

I married an extremely attractive girl five years older than me in 1962. We had children in 1962 and 1963, after which my wife showed no interest in the physical side of our marriage.

During most of our married life this situation did not change, and I succumbed to temptation with other women. For this, I felt very guilty, and was severely criticised by my children, my family, neighbours etc.

One of my fiercest critics became a close friend and confidante of my wife for around 40 years. Some years ago my wife told her she had never really wanted me, but just wanted two children. The friend suggested my wife should tell us all the truth, but although she promised she would, she didn’t.

My wife died earlier this year from cancer, diagnosed eight years ago. It was only after she had died that the friend told me and the children what she had said. Her reason was to make clear the criticism I had suffered for about 50 years was not wholly justified.

The children took the revelation very badly. I was very upset to think that for a 58-year marriage, I was never really wanted other than as provider. A big problem we had was that my wife refused to engage in conversation over issues of any sort in our marriage, either regarding the two of us or the raising of our children. She did everything her way but marginalised me.

I have now concluded that while I stood at the altar meaning every word, my wife did not. I believe she should have told me her thoughts before we got married.

I feel very let down and victim of a very long-term deceit. Being told of her attitude after my wife died clarified so many things my wife did and said over the years. Overall, she and I rubbed along fairly well and I thought the world of her, but now realise how much was missing.

There is now an impasse between me and the children. If they take on board the facts of our marriage, their opinion of their mother would be adversely affected, and I cannot change the facts as I see them. I can see no answer, and have come to the conclusion that I have to live without them in my life, which is so sad.

TERENCE

This week, Bel advises a man whose late wife’s friend has claimed she had only married him to have children 

Marriage is one of the greatest tests of character anybody ever has to face. After 16 years writing an advice column, I am actually astounded that so many succeed — although ‘success’ can too often mean staying together as the least worst option.

Please don’t think me cynical: I believe in the state of holy matrimony as society’s bedrock; if I didn’t I wouldn’t have had a second try. Nevertheless it is very depressing to realise that so many couples never communicate on any meaningful level and are ready to believe the worst of each other, too.

On the other hand, ‘rubbing along fairly well’ (your phrase) becomes, for many partners, a reasonable stab at contentment and rather better than living alone, especially in older age.

Thought of the day  

The first week was a consolation, a pure relief. The world will give you that once in a while, a brief timeout; the boxing bell rings and you go to your corner, where somebody dabs mercy on your beat-up life.

from The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (American novelist, born 1948)

 

Here you are, widowed fairly recently, looking back on a rather turbulent marriage, determined on negativity. Your wife went off sex after having children (not unusual) and you believed that rejection (as you saw it) gave you carte blanche to be unfaithful more than once.

Your sexual activities were not kept secret but earned you the opprobrium of everybody you knew, even your children.

We can therefore conclude that it must have been pretty blatant — and must have made your wife very unhappy. But you say you ‘thought the world of her’. What if she thought the world of you too, and was desperately miserable? What if she loved you, but just didn’t want to have sex? Many women feel that way.

Enter the friend-who-might-wisely-have-kept-her-mouth-shut. She used to think you awful because of your behaviour; now she’s convinced you it was justified. She says your wife told her she never wanted you, she (good as) merely wanted a sperm donor.

You’ve eagerly grasped this excuse for your infidelities but what did the ‘friend’ think she was doing? She seems to wish you and your children to think badly of your late wife. To what end? What on earth was the point of her meddling with the memory of the dead?

Now you have taken a further step towards blanket judgement, in asserting your wife was lying when making her vows at the alter rail, while you (her victim) were telling the truth. Oh, for pity’s sake, how do any of us know what the truth is, in long relationships?

You now say your wife ‘should have told me her thoughts’ — when you cannot possibly know what her ‘thoughts’ were when she set off for the church. Maybe she adored you but felt nervous. Maybe she was shy at the thought of sex. Who knows?

For you now to libel your whole marriage as ‘long term deceit’ simply because this so-called friend has tittle-tattled about something your wife may or may not have said in the precise terms it has been reported . . .Well, it is misguided and plain wrong.

You also want your adult offspring to take your side and admit that you were more sinned against than sinning; in other words, wish them to collude in blaming their dead mother for all that went wrong in your marriage. Worse, so determined are you to cling to ‘the facts as I see them’, you are prepared to sacrifice any relationship with your family from now on.

You will be cutting off your nose to spite your face, deeply upsetting the people you should love, and condemning yourself to loneliness — all because you wish to think ill of your poor wife because she went off sex and so ‘made’ you have flings.

You say you are ‘sad’. Well, it’s in your control to choose contentment or wilful self-justification.

 My daughter’s broken by failed marriage 

Dear Bel

My daughter has been married to her husband, a professional man, for 16 years. They have three teenage children.

Since the third child was born, they have struggled since he was a very difficult child and caused a lot of stress. They live in an isolated area and my daughter’s role seemed to be driving the children to and fro, cooking for them and so on. Her husband was sometimes foul-tempered when he came home.

She is very bright and asked if they could buy a property in town so the children could walk to school. She started a business from home — which caused more stress. This summer, her husband stated he’d had enough and wanted to separate and buy my daughter out. He’d stay and she’d move into town. He’s now changed his mind and states he will sell the property and also move to town, but not with her.

My daughter is suffering great mental stress, doesn’t want the separation, feels despair, not only for her future but for the children’s wellbeing, too. I am so worried she will break down altogether suffering from his continual change of mind.

They haven’t slept together for a while and when she recently asked him to share her bed, he refused. I am so worried about her and would love some advice.

LOUISA

You are describing a desperately upsetting time and I feel so sorry for everybody concerned. The children must be so unsettled and of course your daughter is confused and miserable.

But I’m glad you wrote because people must understand how the end of a marriage can have a profound effect on the wider family. Grandparents suffer twice over, worrying about a son or daughter who is hurting and the grandchildren who will inevitably be upset.

To make another generalised point, I’d also point out how the decision to have another child can sometimes become the straw to break a marriage’s back.

It’s easy to coo, ‘How wonderful’ when a couple announce a pregnancy, but even second children can put an unexpected strain on a marriage. A third doubles the total.

   

More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail…

More thought and realism needs to be applied to such decisions. We may love our children, but they do make life tough. Your daughter’s situation is one many women will recognise. Suddenly you feel like a dogsbody and — exhausted and often bored — you have no idea what to do about it. Living in a rural area presents practical difficulties townsfolk are spared. I know at least one young mother it almost broke.

What can you do? Very little, other than offer stout, sensible support. It sounds as if it is too late for couples counselling, but your daughter should certainly try Relate and National Family Mediation for advice about how to deal with whatever is coming.

It goes without saying that she should find a good solicitor if her husband is talking about selling the home.

It sounds as if a move to the town would be the best thing for her and the children, and the truth is, while it may cause anguish to sell a family home which carries a powerful symbolic value, in time you do get used to the idea.

And the door that opens on a new life can, in the end, lead to happiness undreamt of. Just now, all you can do as a worried, devoted mother is encourage her, offer whatever help is needed, and stay as calm as possible.

 And finally…A send-off is a mark of life well lived

The prospect of a 90-minute High Anglican Requiem Eucharist was somewhat daunting — even to a churchgoer like me.

Yet the Devon funeral on Wednesday was an object lesson in family friendship, shared memories and the collective significance of ritual.

These days (sadly) fewer and fewer people consider church services essential for marking the great stages of life: christenings, confirmation, marriage and death. Yes, there are now many dedicated celebrants (see humanists.uk) who create wonderful rituals for those who don’t seek the additional seriousness of a holy place.

Contact Bel 

Bel answers readers’ questions on emotional and relationship problems each week.

Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or email [email protected]

A pseudonym will be used if you wish.

Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

What matters is the awareness that some sort of formal ceremony makes events memorable. Such moments are needed as true markers in life.

On a day of sunlight, warmth, tears and much laughter (at the village hall wake) we were saying goodbye to Ronald Travers OBE, my ex-husband’s step-father, who worked tirelessly for the disabled, through the famous Leonard Cheshire Foundation.

Back in the early 1970s he’d swapped a senior role in BBC Drama for this international work. A merry spirit as well as a man of faith, he and I were close — and he was greatly loved, all the more so when left bereft after my mother-in-law died.

In the extended family no importance was ever attached to the prefix ‘step-’ or to the notion of a ‘half-sister’ — or for that matter, to separation and divorce. At least three important mourners were there with second families, while their first wives, partners and adult children played a part.

The village in South Devon was where my first husband and I spent a three-day honeymoon in February 1968, and aching nostalgia can make visits poignant. But my son and daughter now holiday there with their own kids.

And some of the next generation were in the ancient church, smelling incense, singing hymns and becoming a part of a whole. Yes, that is how it can be.


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