"Dear Thelma" is a relationship advice column that appears in The Star, a publication that is part of the Asia News Network.
I am 44 years old and have three sons from my 20-year marriage. I suspected my hubby was having an affair with a colleague, R, who is married with two daughters. When I confronted my husband, he denied it. That was 17 years ago, and we were living in Johor at that time.
Then my husband got transferred to Penang. I came across more proof that they were indeed having an affair. There were love messages, birthday gifts, and the endless phone calls.
When I confronted him with proof, he admitted to the affair. He begged for forgiveness. I told R's husband what happened. He said he was aware of it, and would try to stop his wife from seeing my husband.
Years passed and I began to believe that my hubby had regretted his actions and repented.
In between, I delivered my third son (he is nine years old now) and we moved to Kuala Lumpur. However, my hubby broke my trust again. I was aghast to learn that he is still in touch with R. He even gave her a phone, for her to call him. They share words of endearment daily. I confronted him, and he owned up to it. I was so distraught that I attempted suicide. He promised to end the affair. I soldiered on for the children's sake.
Recently, I found out that they are still carrying on the affair. It's very painful for me to see the love messages which they exchange on a daily basis. Throughout my 20 years of marriage, he has never once used any terms of endearment on me. He is madly in love with R, who has betrayed her husband.
I was heartbroken. I consoled myself that I could not force him to love me. I filed for divorced. My husband was shocked, and he cried. He begged me to give him one last chance. He promised to end the affair, and asked me to consider our children's future.
I have lost faith in him as he has cheated on me repeatedly. We hardly make love. He has neglected me emotionally and sexually. It is obvious that he has no desire for me, and I see no point in carrying on with this marriage.
No doubt the kids will be affected but I cannot tolerate this wretched situation anymore. My marriage is over. I have stopped communicating with him. What is there left for me? - Tormented wife
Dear Tormented wife
Infidelity deals a very damaging blow to a marriage. It is one of the worst types of betrayal and leads to intense emotional pain. It often results in divorce because most of the time, the trust can never be rebuilt. Children, financial dependency and cultural factors are among the reasons why some couples do not dissolve their marriages. Sometimes it is also the belief or assurance that infidelity will not happen again.
Some people, however, are serial adulterers whose behaviour shows a pattern of repeated cheating with one person or many others. Studies suggest that about two-thirds of cheats become serial adulterers, depending on several factors.
Maturity plays a role. Younger people tend to use cheating as a way to avoid commitment. This may have been the case early on in your relationship or even 17 years ago, but obviously your husband has not outgrown this habit. If his close friends are the type to engage in some form of unfaithfulness towards their spouse, it will also raise the probability of him cheating again.
Try and recall, though it may be difficult, the times you caught him cheating. Did he show sincere remorse or regret? Or was he just upset that you found out and worried that he mighty lose some rights or privileges, or said things like "it was an accident" or "it was her fault"? These are very different responses. The former usually means he took full responsibility and probably took the necessary steps to ensure cheating does not repeat itself. The latter, however, indicates the opposite.
It is also believed that a serial adulterer keeps on cheating due to the lack of severe penalty when caught. Look back and consider: did he have to work hard to make amends for his mistakes? Was he made to feel embarrassed about his misdeeds or learnt something about himself through counselling or speaking to a respected family member, for example? Cheats who get away without punishment or new insight into themselves are likely to continue cheating.
You are taking a long hard look at your marriage to see if it functions the way marriages should. There should be love, support, security and companionship in a marriage. About half of adulterers cheat because they feel neglected, but this also works vice versa, as evident in the lack of sexual intimacy between you and your husband. Does he often withdraw from family life, look for reasons to distance himself from you, and seem detached most of the time?
Look at all the above factors and answer the questions as honestly as you can. See to what extent they play a role in your relationship, and you will have an answer to your question on whether he will cheat again.
You may have to consider your financial health, lifestyle, children's and family members' sadness and anger, and whether you still love your husband. Think about these and ask yourself if you are ready for a divorce.
If you decide to divorce your hubby, be prepared: divorce is highly stressful. The range of motions you feel will widen as you go through this testing time. It is important to start developing good coping skills. Learn to relax (try deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, use of imagery and visualization) and manage stress (control negative thoughts, exercise, eat right, seek professional counselling). This is very important as you have threatened to self-harm yourself in the past.
Identify your support network and trusted places and individuals you can go to in times of need. Promise you will not harm yourself. If a strong urge to self-harm happens again and there is no one to turn to, go to the nearest emergency room of a hospital, where they can keep you safe.
Obviously you have placed the needs of your children and family first for a very long time. There are lots of material available on the Web which can help you find ways to explain to your children, what is happening with you and your husband.
It is best that you and your husband handle this yourself, rather than leave it to a third party. The children will notice that something is amiss - especially now that you are no longer communicating with your husband - and may have a lot of questions. Keeping them in the dark will only fuel feelings of insecurity, especially for the youngest child who is too young to deal with such complex issues on his own.
Reassure the children of your love so that they do not end up blaming themselves for the unhappy situation at home. Take comfort in the fact that you are only 44 years old and able to do many things yourself. You deserve happiness just as much as anyone else. - Thelma