My ex and I want to be together. Should we both break up with our partners? | Family

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I was married to a wonderful man for 30 years. We had a great relationship, and shared many interests and a sense of humour. I had been sterilised before we met, so he understood we would never have children, which was not a problem.

In the last six years of our marriage we were no longer having sex as I had lost interest, but he assured me it really wasn’t a problem at all. However, an opportunity arose with a woman he met through work, and they ended up having sex. They met when he was helping with some personal issues while working on her house. She became pregnant. He felt he had to do the honourable thing, and left me to live with her and the baby.

They had two children. Before long he realised she was mentally unstable, so he moved out. Meanwhile, after he left, I met a man 16 years younger than me and we have been living together for three years. He is kind and loving, and we don’t argue, but we don’t do anything together – we don’t eat together, watch TV together, share interests, and English is his second language so banter isn’t easy.

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My ex-husband and I always kept in touch, and recently have been speaking every day. He’s made it clear he wants to be back with me. We still love each other very much. I’m in such a quandary about what to do. My current partner has done nothing wrong, but I can’t say I really enjoy our relationship.

I would love to be back with my ex and I think he’s really learned his lesson, but I’m worried about how it would work with his two children. They still live with their unstable mother, and even though he has access, she could make it very difficult for him. I also feel very guilty about asking my current partner to move out of my house, because he’s done nothing wrong.

My initial, and main, concern is for the two children, left with a woman who your ex found so mentally unstable he had to leave. What’s happening with them? Are they safe? Does he see them? They should be his priority and I hope they are.

I took your problem to psychotherapist Jane Hetherington. We both felt you sounded rather detached. As Hetherington explained, sometimes people do this “when it’s more comfortable to detach yourself [from exploring difficult feelings]”.

I wonder if you ever allowed yourself to explore how you really felt after the end of your marriage? As Hetherington says: “You state that you and your husband didn’t mind about not having children together or the lack of sex in the last six years. I wonder if there was any real examination of these two important issues in the light of your husband’s subsequent behaviour. There appears to have been an absence of discussion or emotional exploration [from] both of you.”

What lesson do you think your husband has learned, and do you think you need to learn one, too? As Hetherington says: “You’ve idealised your relationship with your ex-husband and as you are now both unhappy you’re seeking one another, but how realistic is this for future happiness?”

Then there’s your current partner, someone with whom you seem to share very little. “The big plus point here seems to be that you don’t argue,” says Hetherington. “Yet you don’t seem to do anything together. I do wonder if you are frightened of being alone.”

It’s completely understandable to be afraid of being on your own, but as a justification for being with the wrong person it’s a short road to a long stretch of unhappiness. “It would be helpful,” says Hetherington, “for you to develop more of a sense of self.” I think you’re right to be worried – if your marriage foundered the first time without these challenges, I do wonder how it would cope second time round.

Hetherington also points out: “If you were sterilised because you didn’t want children, how will you feel having two [what sound like fairly young] children come to stay with you when they spend time with their father?” You would also play a part in these children’s lives. Is that something you’re ready for?

Sometimes going back is the answer, and maybe it will be the right thing for you eventually – but first, it’s only fair that you finish with the man you’re living with, spend some time on your own and go to couples counselling with your ex-husband to really work out if you could make a go of it again. Only then should you consider getting back together.

And remember: there are five other people in this scenario and, as I said, really the priority should be the children.

  • Every week Annalisa Barbieri addresses a family-related problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Annalisa on a family matter, please send your problem to [email protected]. Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions.

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