By Bunmi Sofola

AFFAIRS used to sound the death-knell to an otherwise stable marriage—especially if it was the wife that was the culprit. Kelechi met her husband, Sunny, over 20 years ago at the university and they eventually fell in love.

“He was a very shy man and I pursued him,” she confessed. “He was really good-looking and I had friends in the house he rented with other undergraduates, so I was always hanging around him because I felt he needed to be loved. He didn’t have much of a relationship with his father and was raised by his mum along with his two siblings. As a result of this, his self-esteem was low, but I knew he could be a really nice guy underneath that reserve of his, so we became an item.

“Eventually, we got married and decided to go abroad to test fresh waters. We’d both been a couple of times on holidays and it was easy reconnecting with old friends who were already residing in Britain. We had two boys inside five years and they were looked after by staff in the pre-school play-school they attended.

While I had a job I augmented my wages by some trading on the side. Sunny had no problems starting jobs, but he’d soon lose interest and his job instability soon became a source of friction. We didn’t save and there were times we bounced cheques or couldn’t pay the rent. On top of which I’d put on weight after I’d had our second child. I wasn’t that much interested in sex, but if Sunny wanted it, I’d do it to make him happy though I didn’t feel good about myself.

‘Then I found a well-paid job in a fairly big company after I’d retrained and my life changed. In no time at all, I became friends with Tom, a most unhappy man who was going through the trauma of a divorce. A Sierra Leonean, the wife from whom he was separated was set to take him to the cleaners. He’d moved into a bedsit and Sunny now worked outside London . It was easy for Tom and I to start an affair.

I was lonely and wanted a break from thinking about our financial problems. Instead of talking about how I felt with my husband, I took the coward’s way out. It was painful for me to hurt him like this. I didn’t like myself much while I was with Tom.

I remember thinking; he isn’t like Sunny. He isn’t for me.

“Unfortunately, I have a group of friends I shared my problems with. Sunny was hurt that I preferred to confide in my friends, rather than talk through our problems with him. He was hurt about my affair when he eventually found out from a ‘friend’ and left us to live with a relative.

He wasn’t bitter, just hurt but throughout our separation, he was there for me and the kids. It was inevitable he met a ‘comforter’ who gave him the female attention he’d missed. I was furious. But what right did I have to stop the affairs? I started it and now I didn’t like the dose of my own medicine.

“Sunny and I had resolved to give our boys what we didn’t have as children—to feel loved, to know we would always be there for them and be close to each other. Our various affairs now threatened this resolution. By this time, I was the breadwinner of the family and this seemed to trouble Sunny more.

“When he found a better job, he was over the moon. He showered us with gifts and I started seeing the old Sunny and liking what I saw. In the end, I asked if he’d want to move back home and he readily agreed. It was then he confessed he didn’t know how he’d function without his family. As for me, I used to believe that all you had to do was meet somebody you love and get married and the rest would take care of itself, which shows how naive I was. I never realised how difficult it is to make a marriage work. Love alone will not do it.

Marriage requires respect, thoughtfulness, openness, give-and-take-all of it. It took us a while to learn to trust each other again, but we did it. I’m grateful that we persevered. Our love has grown as we have grown up.

“Would our marriage have survived both affairs if they’d happened here in Nigeria? I honestly don’t know. I was grateful that we were back together when we finally decided to come home six years ago. Looking back, our relationship isn’t defined in one big gesture but in lots of different little ones.

“The communication amongst the family is relaxed and we’ve both discovered it’s not worth getting upset over little things. We might have had some rough start, but we’re proud of where we are today. And maybe we had to go through all that trauma to be where we are. Our house makes us happy. Our friends and family give us joy and who knows, in another few years we might even be grandparents….”

So how do you get on with your marriage after an affair? Infidelity may seem like the ultimate love breaker, but most marriages in which one partner strays do not end in divorce, says a social worker. In the aftermath of an affair, she advises the following:

Seek professional help. A couple have to understand how they got off track with each other. A counsellor will keep the conversation fair and productive. Each partner should talk about his or her own needs, without getting defensive or accusatory.

Don’t put the children in the middle—making children choose sides is unfair, whether they’re seven or 27. Because they want to love you both, it can be extremely damaging when one parent starts speaking negatively about the other. Talk to the children together, emphasizing that you’re getting help from a third part, if you don’t tell them someone else is helping, they’ll think it’s their job.

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