COULD having an affair save your marriage? Michelle, a 38-year-old married legal secretary, thinks so. She met her lover from Bolton through an online extra-marital dating service, and talks frankly to Irma Heger about her double-life. We also ask marriage guidance experts what they think.
“I’VE been married for 10 years and have no children — I’m as happily married as one can be without a sex life, I guess. We haven't had a regular sex life for about two years now. It was last year when things got too much.
“My husband was working very late and doesn’t pay a lot of attention to me. I work as a legal secretary, and therefore our hours should be similar, but he throws himself into his work like nobody else. Around that time he was coming home at nine every night and would just roll into bed on his return.
“I was on my own a lot and it all just came to a head. I had seen an article in a women’s magazine and decided to join a dating website that specialises in marital dating, Illicit Encounters, because I knew I didn’t want to lie any more than I had to.
“It was a slow process. I joined and then I filled out my profile and after a few weeks I was chatting to people. There is a lot of chat on the site. Everyone is very honest . . . if you’re not interested, you have to say so.
“I was apprehensive until I found that there were so many people in my situation. Then I started to feel comforted by the site. I still do.
“After about a month I got a message from James. He is different to my husband. He has more of a sense of adventure and is less intellectual — in a positive way.
“I had spoken to a lot of guys but it was just friendly chat — nothing progressive. When I started talking to James, I knew I wanted to meet up with him straight away. We just clicked.
“Things just went from there. I knew when I met him that something was going to happen. We went into the city and had a drink downstairs in a fancy hotel. It was fantastic. It had been such a long time since I had been on a date — the preamble was enough! Sparks were flying — though nothing significant happened until our third or fourth date, I can’t remember exactly when.
“James is in a very similar situation, you see. He has a wife who loves him but they haven't had sex for over a year. I know he has addressed it with her, and suggested that they go to counselling, but she doesn’t want to know.
“My husband and I have talked about counselling, but my husband thinks it is for people who don’t have real problems. He doesn't regard marital stress with much importance.
“James and I have been seeing each other on and off since then. We meet almost every week, and we email and text between meetings.
“We aren’t ‘in love’ per se. Our relationship is mutually beneficial. He fills me with passion and lust, but that’s it.
“I have already met my soul mate. We are just ‘friends with benefits’. He gives me what I need to be happy and to make my marriage work.
“I miss James when he is away from me, but he is not my husband and I would never leave my husband for him. Our regular meet-ups act as a bolster for my marriage, which I put the majority of my energy in.
“I have a separate SIM card to keep everything away from hubby. It can be difficult to keep things secret but I have enough excuses to roll out now. None of my friends know, although I have online buddies, and my husband and I have quite separate lives and he doesn’t feel the need to ask a lot of questions .
“I do genuinely believe that, were it not for Illicit Encounters, I would have left my husband by now. This way, I can keep things together. I don’t want to throw it all away for the sake of a fling.
“Hopefully James and I will keep things going steadily as they are for as long as we can. Although, should the relationship start to become a burden, it would be curtains. We both know that.
“The other thing I must say is, I think people are more shocked when it’s a woman having an affair. For men it's easier, for women, we're always seen as hussies. But I am doing this to keep my marriage together.
“My husband has definitely noticed a difference. I am less stressed now, much more comfortable with the lack of sex, and able to deal with the everyday issues like bills and the mortgage without getting unnecessarily het up — he just doesn’t know why!
“If my husband decided to cheat, I would understand.
“I think if he found out, he would be shocked, but hopefully he would also acknowledge that there were a lot of warning signs he openly ignored. He has openly refused to work on the relationship, so hopefully he could at least see where I was coming from, even if he did not fully understand.”
Rosie Freeman-Jones, from Illicit Encounters, said: “Michelle’s situation is a very common one. She feels she has tried to articulate her problems to her husband, and they have remained unsolved.
“In finding a like-minded lover, she has been able to diffuse her frustrations, and is therefore better equipped to manage her current relationship. As a result, she is much calmer and happier than before.
“Although having an affair may not be the antidote to every unhappy marriage, it is hard to ignore the fact that this woman’s situation has greatly improved since she decide to pursue an extra-marital relationship.”
Catherine Ivatts, sexual therapist and Relate councillor, said: “This is one person’s experience.
“In an affair, there are three people — from the point of view of the person having the affair, it’s working.
“But an affair only works for as long as the other partner doesn’t find out, or the lover doesn’t change the terms and conditions. Usually, after a period of time, something shifts.
“Either the partner who’s not having the affair becomes concerned and suspicious, or the lover’s partner becomes suspicious, or the lover wants to change things and perhaps talks about marriage, or the person having the affair beings the question: ‘Is this what I want?’ “You do get long term affairs that go on for years and years, but usually, in the end, something comes apart.
“Each person will go through different stages in that process. It starts off being desirable, exciting and pleasurable.
“It all works up to a point — it’s like a three-legged stool, if one leg is taken away, it falls down.
“From a therapist’s point of view, we would recommend to have open communication between two partners.
“I haven’t heard of this particular website, but relationships that have started up on the internet, and internet pornography, are a huge part of our work now.
“The internet facilitates a sort of intimacy, but it’s not a long term intimacy — a lot of it is imaginary, you just see an aspect of a person.
“With an affair, you see a bit of a person — the challenge of marriage is you have to love a person, warts and all.”
* Michelle and James’ names have been changed.