“If you had the opportunity, would you?”
A smart, attractive lady in her mid 40s came to see me recently. She is a lawyer by profession. Our meeting began very calmly and her problem soon became clear.
She is married to a chartered accountant. He is a partner in a multinational firm. They have three children, aged between eight and 14. They enjoy an affluent lifestyle. They have no particular worries and life proceeds smoothly. On the surface, all is well and they are the perfect family.
She certainly hadn’t been looking for romance outside her marriage. Unfortunately, it arrived in the guise of an old university friend.
He is the MD of a successful family business. They hadn’t met for 20 years, but bumped into one another on opposite sides of a commercial transaction. He has a family, but has long since divorced his own wife. They “clicked” and have now embarked on a passionate affair.
Her husband has noticed she has become withdrawn and is worried about her. However, he suspects nothing. Listening to her, I was reminded of the film Unfaithful, which starred Richard Gere and Diane Lane as a “perfect” couple torn apart by the wife’s affair.
This lady wanted advice on the likely outcome of a divorce. When I asked how she thought divorce would impact upon her family, she burst into tears and her control slipped. All her guilt came tumbling out, and she said it was a relief to cry. She used up a lot of the tissues I keep in my desk. She said quite simply that it would devastate them all.
I answered her questions and explained that from a practical perspective, a divorce would not be a problem. Financially, the family would be fine. I advised her about the divorce process, the process for a financial settlement, the law about children, the likely costs and how it all worked in practice.
Then I gave her the advice I thought she really sought.
I told her not to do it.
I drew upon my experience gained from years of listening to clients’ problems and told her I thought that,
as long as her husband did not know about the affair, she still had the chance to salvage her marriage. Once he did know, the truth would be out and that chance would become remote. I advised her to ditch the other man and, if necessary, change her job or even initiate a career move. Although the pain of saying goodbye to the other man would be very, very tough, it would be nothing like the pain she could bring upon her family if the affair continued. She said she had “taken the lid off Pandora’s box”. I told her she could – and should – put it back on again.
Personally, I don’t think she will. Time will tell which part of my advice she will take.