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Asking for a friend Your problems solved by The Midults

— Guilty

- Annabel Rivkin and Emilie Mcmeekan

Q:Dear A&E, two years ago, out of curiosity, I signed up to a cheating website as a joke. I never intended to have an affair, but I got chatting to a man called James and I fell hard for him. We only met a few times, but it was intense. He told me he’d leave his marriage and was persuading me to do the same when Covid struck. He cut things off with me abruptly and is still with his wife. I’ve tried to put it behind me, but I’m bereft. I’m trying to appreciate my husband, but it’s hard. Our marriage was fine before, but I’m now struggling. I feel guilty, but I still miss James a lot.

Dear Guilty, if we all put on our big girl pants and decide to be honest, then we can all agree that signing up to cheating website when you are married isn’t very funny. Jokes, when we reach adulthood, tend not to be entirely innocent things: in every joke there is a kernel of pain. If someone slips on a banana skin, it’s not funny if it doesn’t hurt.

There can be deep discomfort and unease behind jokes; we can use them to disguise life breakdowns. ‘Wouldn’t it be hilarious if…’ can be an excuse to do something unwise. Often we could swap ‘hilarious’ for ‘dangerous’. And, seeing as we’re here, just to press the bruise, it wasn’t ‘curiosity’, was it? That is deflecting and lightening a desire to flirt with danger; proceeding in the full knowledge that you might be exploding your life. So, as far as we are concerned, your troubles predated meeting James.

The thing is, Guilty, it is possible to be restless and dissatisfi­ed in a good marriage. Maybe you didn’t know that you were sleepwalki­ng towards a crisis, but you know now. You don’t start chatting to a man on a cheating website just for an innocent laugh – you have already moved through the portal.

James was clearly up to no good, but he is also irrelevant. He has passed his sell-by date. And this might not be about your husband either, but it’s certainly about you.

Guilt is a hopeless emotion; it drains us but it also deceives us into thinking things are real and crucial when they aren’t. ‘For me to have done this to my husband and my marriage means it must have been worth it which, in turn, means it must have been love.’ It was what it was. It was an affair. Most importantl­y it was a symptom, not a cause.

Good marriages tend to be reassuring­ly boring. If you live in an emotional whirligig, you inevitably end up exhausted and possibly mad. Reassuring­ly boring is the aim, the solace. But you have to get to a place where you can see the value in that. That can be hard if you are being run by your own dysfunctio­n and something deep within you expects and craves chaos: do or die. Calm peppered with thrill is the dream. Thrill peppered with calm is the nightmare.

We often advise talking therapy, but in your case it feels vital. You need to find a safe space to take a long, hard look at your life: your ambitions, goals and dreams. Because the agitation you feel is likely to be macro. Think about what you want out of life and how to get it. New career? New house? New spiritual practice? And, yes, it could be a new husband. But if you don’t commit to looking at this then you’ll end up in this place again and again.

If you think back, the first four months of your relationsh­ip with your husband were probably as thrilling as your four-month affair with James, just without the adrenaline that lying brings. Familiarit­y may breed a kind of monotony, but it can also breed respect, a deep knowledge of one another, the bliss of believing that someone will always be on your team. And if you drill down into that, you might see that it’s real intimacy and actually deeply sexy.

But either way, Guilty, be the boss of your own life. Don’t allow what you don’t understand to destroy everything you have.

You don’t start chatting to a man on a cheating website just for an innocent laugh

Do you have a dilemma that you’re grappling with? Email Annabel and Emilie on themidults@telegraph.co.uk. All questions are kept anonymous. They are unable to reply to emails personally

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