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‘My partner will not give up meeting people for sex. I feel enormous rejection’

Tell Me About It: I found history on my partner’s laptop that tells me she has been having sex with other people and organising meet-ups online. I’m traumatised by this discovery

Question

I am heartbroken, but I’m not sure I have a right to be.

I am with my partner, who is the love of my life, for 10 years now. We both have children from previous relationships and found each other in the workplace, where we discovered that same-sex attraction was real for both of us. It was a beautiful beginning, with huge romance and the type of sharing and connection that I never thought I’d find with anyone.

We are both in our 50s now and everyone in our lives has been supportive, including our adult children, who treat us like a cute role model for older love. We had a great sexual connection, and this was something that gave me not just pleasure but also felt as if it glued us together – and I thought nothing would ever disrupt it.

However, sex has now become the thing that might break us up. My partner has a degenerative disease, and her mobility and flexibility have become increasingly disrupted to the point where she struggles with many everyday activities. I have become more of a carer, and am doing this willingly, but there is no doubt that this has impacted on our romantic relationship. We struggle to talk about this as it is such a sensitive area for us, and I do not want to create more upset by talking about my needs in the face of what my partner is facing in her future.

I found history on her laptop (honestly I must add, by accident) that tells me she has been having sex with other people and organising meet-ups online. I’m actually traumatised by this discovery. I did confront her, and she said it is the only time that she is met as a sexual being first, rather than as someone with a disease. She was very defensive and said she would not give this activity up – that her life was sad enough and that it was only going downhill.

I am torn between trying to understand her position and the anger I feel at the enormous rejection and lack of love I feel from her at this time. Also, I feel that I give so much of myself to her care, and that this is not only not acknowledged but is abused.

Our children do not know of this discovery, and I have been pretending that everything is fine, but I don’t think I can contain it any longer. I am bursting into tears in all the wrong places and at all the wrong times.

Answer

The two of you are dealing with so much in your lives that it must feel you are almost at breaking point.

Your own sense of rejection and lack of acknowledgment, together with your partner’s illness and deteriorating physical capacity, is a huge burden on you both, and it may be that the two of you could do with more support than you currently have. Everything is very sensitive, and your resources seem very fragile, so before making any life decisions it might be a good idea to take a breath and give yourself some time to recover.

Telling your children might be something you consider only when you have decided on a course of action, and on what your joint story will be

Your partner’s view on finding it possible to be seen as a sexual being is understandable in the light of her physical condition, but her behaviour is not happening in isolation to your couple relationship, and you must find a way of discussing this where you can both be heard. Have you tried couple counselling? It would allow someone to manage the conversation in a way that allows for listening and for ongoing reflection and engagement.

Before the illness, it sounds as though yours was a relationship full of love and possibilities and was one where talking and sharing was the norm. This needs to be leant into now so that each of you can have a sense of honouring the importance of what you had, before considering the future. You also need some personal support, as does your partner.

Could you both agree that you choose one person each that you can tell this story to?

This would mean that you are not adding to the sense of betrayal, but are instead acknowledging the enormity of what is happening and are open about the support that is needed. Choose someone who you trust and tell them you need a listening ear rather than advice at this stage. The person should be informed that your partner has agreed to their knowing, and that they will be acting as a support to you as a couple.

Telling your children might be something you consider only when you have decided on a course of action, and on what your joint story will be. They are very involved with you and might struggle with neutrality, but putting on a false pretence that everything is okay might also not be sustainable for you. You might tell them that you are having some relationship difficulties and that you are both engaging with a professional to help you, and that you will update them when the time is right.

Even if the relationship cannot be salvaged, you will both have given a sense of importance and serious consideration to it, and perhaps this might ease some of the later suffering if that has to happen.

For accredited relationship counselling, see familytherapyireland.com

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