My mistress has cancer and I want to support her. Should I tell my wife?  

A reader finds himself caught in the middle and isn't sure which side he should devote his time and his heart to. He turns to The Midults

The woman I’ve been having an affair with for eight years has ovarian cancer. What do I do?  
The woman I’ve been having an affair with for eight years has ovarian cancer. What do I do?   Credit: MARTIN TOGNOLA

Dear A&E,

I’ve been having an affair for eight years with my co-worker. I’m not ashamed. I love her very much. I also love my wife (we married at 19) and our three children. My affair has never affected my family as I often travel on business with this woman. Last year, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The prognosis is not good. Lockdown was maddening and I want to spend as much time as I can with her before the end. But I don’t want to hurt my wife, nor (selfishly) can I cope with losing her and dealing with the fallout if she found out at the same time.— Floored

Dear Floored,

Good lord, this sounds like one of those bookclub novels that’s about to be made into an emotionally fraught film starring Kristin Scott Thomas and Ralph Fiennes. The kind that makes you howl when you watch it and howl again when you tell your friends about it.

This is heartbreaking for everyone and as there isn’t a right or wrong answer, we are going to defer judgment. Given the proper, grown-up mess you’ve got yourself into, it feels unhelpful to say ‘you shouldn’t have had an affair in the first place’. But you can’t really get compassionate leave from a marriage. This is going to hurt.

You are quick to say you married young, and yes, people change, and yes, it is a lot to expect marriage to run in a straight line for ever, till death do us part. (No one vows ‘till the death of my mistress do us part’ – sorry, that’s nervous humour as we’re a bit nervous because your situation is, well, difficult.) Work affairs are so awful, so insidious because it is easy to pretend that the affair is happening in a different life. Your travelling-for-business life. Your light on-board baggage life. Well, now it’s turned into heavy baggage. And it needs to be handled. It doesn’t usually take much to emotionally infect everything, but you have been caught in some big headliner stuff at once: infidelity, cancer, pandemic, lockdown.

Floored, we will say this – so many lovers, husbands, partners, run for the hills when loved ones become ill, so we salute you for having the courage to take a proper look at your predicament, rather than shutting down that side of your life. But you know that if you face up to the feelings, you are going to have to face up to all of them.

Two quick things to think about, though. Does your lover want you to tell your wife? Before you launch into a whole swashbuckling scene, it’s worth asking. We’d also, deep breath, be surprised if your wife doesn’t know. Just because you’ve been reinvigorating yourself in a new relationship, don’t assume she hasn’t worked things out and made her own decision about it.

So this is what we think. You want to stand up for everybody you love. This means coming clean to your wife, your lover (about what she can expect from you over this next period) and yourself. It means lining up family therapy to deal with the fallout (and then some if you decide to tell the children) and therapy for yourself to manage all the griefs that are coming your way – there is going to be a lot of loss, some temporary, some permanent. Psychology Today has a good online directory of experts to help you navigate. Because at this point in your narrative, the truth, painful as it is, is going to be the only real solution. Everything else is just sticking plaster.

It might all go wrong, but it’s an opportunity to surrender to honesty. We don’t believe you are going to be able to just accept your lover is about to die, gently close that door and give yourself a life sentence of regret, with the thought that at least you will be there for one of the women you love.

Everyone needs compassion now. Your hand has been forced and presumably, through lockdown, you had to double down on the lies. It’s probably enough now. Not to get all woowoo on you, but the universe is definitely telling you something. You need to speak to a professional, quick sharp, about what you really want. Who you really are. Because although you’ve been trying on all these different roles, now you need to play your part.

Do you have a dilemma that you’re grappling with? Email Annabel and Emilie on [email protected] All questions are kept anonymous. They are unable to reply to emails personally.

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