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"Dear Thelma" is a relationship advice column that appears in The Star, a publication that is part of the Asia News Network.
My husband is sexting other women. This has been going on for the past 10 years. I have been stupid enough to tolerate this situation.
Even my children know what is going on and they are also miserable. They have asked me to take action and get their father to leave the house.
I have tolerated his sexting for so long because I do not want a broken family. I also do not want his parents and mine to know about it.
A few years back, he bought a smartphone and the sexting turned graphic with the women sending him nude pictures of themselves. I believe there are more than 10 women that he has been sexting.
My husband and I are in our late fifties. My son is working and my daughter is in college. I am the breadwinner because my husband is an OKU. He gets a monthly pension which is enough for his basic needs.
My husband attributed his sexting to loneliness. I reminded him that his sexting started when he was still working. Instead of whining about loneliness, there are many things he could do to occupy his time.
At my age, my priority is stability and I am looking forward to retirement.
Since our last confrontation, my son who is very sensitive, almost had a breakdown. My parents-in-law have come to know of our situation.
I really want him out of the house this time. I made him delete all the text messages and contact numbers in front of me. He said he cannot survive outside the house. He agreed to see a psychiatrist.
His parents are sympathetic towards him because they believe he is lonely. So my children and I have reluctantly given him one last chance. But I can’t trust him anymore.
I feel like we are living a lie. It is difficult for me to be nice to him. I don’t know how we can tolerate this any longer.
Shall we continue with this facade or get him to leave so that we can have peace at home? – So Hurt
Dear So Hurt,
This sounds awfully painful for everyone involved. My immediate thought is that, no, you can’t carry on like this. The situation is damaging your happiness and that of people close to you. However, what you should do, depends on several issues.
From your letter, several points stand out. First, you view your husband’s sexting as hurtful and you have asked him to stop. However, he continues to sext with various women.
Some couples see sexting as an acceptable form of flirting or fantasy. This is because the people don’t actually meet. Some lay down ground rules to limit what is shared and what kind of contact is allowed; it’s different for every couple.
You, however, don’t belong to this group. As you have asked him to see a psychiatrist, you appear to see sexting as a mental illness – or is it that you see his continued sexting as a form of compulsion?
Whatever your thoughts on this issue are, you find the behaviour hurtful. The question is, what is a reasonable way to approach this subject?
I believe that couples should not try to control each other. Forcing people into unwanted behaviour inevitably leads to resentment and this will poison the relationship. Having said that, loving couples have to recognise each other’s personal hard limits and make reasonable compromises in order to protect their relationship.
In your case, I would say that sexting is your hard limit. You cannot trust a partner who sexts, and it pains you. As such, your partner should recognise that this is a deal breaker. If he doesn’t stop, your relationship is effectively ended.
Suppose he says he wants you more than his sexting, and that he gets help changing this behaviour. Would it be enough for you to get back together again?
From your letter, it appears that you and your husband haven’t connected in a long time. Normally the first step to solving relationship issues is to rekindle old feelings.
While I’m not ruling it out, I am hesitant because you have been unhappy for 10 long years. You say he “whines” that he’s lonely, and you want him out of the house. The words you use show a very high level of frustration.
It looks like you may have gone beyond a stage where you can become friends again.
Also, while you were worried in the past about breaking up your family unit, and you didn’t want your in-laws and parents to know, this has now changed. Your adult children think it’s time you called it a day, and your husband’s family are also aware of what’s going on.
I think you need to talk this over with a therapist, someone sensible who is focussed on helping you discover what you need and whether your marriage can be viable again.
Consider this: if he gives up sexting, can you be happy together? If you think so, you would need an experienced marriage counsellor or family therapist for this. It would be hard work, and you’d both need to be committed. You would need family support too.
If you think this is the end of the road, you need to ask yourself, suppose I were to walk out now and be single again:
> How would I feel about myself? What would my emotions be?
> How would I feel about my husband? What would my emotions be towards him?
> How would I feel about my family? What would they say to me, and what would I think and feel about that?
Understand that separation with or without divorce will be painful too. It will mean lots of changes for everyone involved. Working with a professional will help you understand your emotions, and offer a safe space where you can plan for change.
Then you need to look at all the options in terms of practicality, and for this I recommend you talk to a financial advisor.
You need to be brutally honest about what you would need to do for all of you to be comfortable. Because if you don’t plan this, and someone becomes destitute, you might feel dreadfully guilty – and that would be awful.
With a proper financial advisor to help, you should ask these questions:
> What would your personal finances look like?
> What would your responsibilities be towards your husband?
> If something happens to your health or his, who would be responsible for what?
This will be a challenge because of your husband’s disability. You need to factor in if his condition is likely to become worse. And what happens when he becomes elderly and frail.
Discuss this with experts on the basis of yourself first, and once you have your plan together, bring in your family. For this, you can expect all kinds of hard emotions, so take it step by step, and make sure you have emotional backup to help you through it. Your son who is sensitive may need extra help too.
Finally, although we are talking about you here, I feel very strongly that your husband is miserable too. From your description it sounds as if he may be suffering from depression. It would be a tremendous kindness in you to arrange for immediate assessment and support for him. As he is disabled, a telephone support system would be the best way.
There are several government and charity support services, each with their strengths and weaknesses. I suggest you start with the directory at the Malaysia Mental Health Association at http://mmha.org.my.
It takes tremendous courage to change your life but I am convinced that whatever you do, you are on the path to positive change. – Thelma