Dear Counsellor,

I met my wife in 2015 and we became friends. She told me that she broke up with her fiancé because he decided to remain in the United States to seek a better life. She said his time and presence were more important to her than material possessions. We started dating in 2018. While we were dating she went to meet her ex and when I found out, she told me she went to settle things between them and to move on without any bad blood.

We got married in 2019 and everything seems to be going great. Recently I saw her hiding to take a phone call. I asked who it was and she broke down in tears and told me it was her ex. She said he has finally apologised for the hurt he caused her, and that is all she wanted to hear. She said she loves me but she is not in love with me, and her heart won’t allow her to stop loving her ex. She said she is still in love with him and she’s wondering if she is making a mistake by not pursuing a relationship with him. She said a day cannot go by without her reaching out to him and she doesn’t have to use words because he can complete all her sentences and thoughts and vice-versa. I found letters where her ex was explaining everything that was happening in the army and that he will be travelling to all her favourite countries soon. She expressed her disappointment at not being able to be with him as he travels to where they both had dreamed of travelling. She told him everything about our marriage, even thoughts she has never expressed to me. She admitted that if her ex was brave enough to turn up and apologise, she would have run off with him without thinking.

She has spoken to her mother and has since had a change of heart, saying she is going to commit to her vows.

I love her and I am in love with her, but I am conflicted about what to do. She has admitted that she only got married because of the way I treated her, and continue to treat her. She said she will try to love me but it will never be the same as how she loves him, and she is not sure she will ever fall in love with anyone else. She said I treat her better than him and would make a better father, but she just can’t stop loving him. She has decided to focus on what she has and stop dreaming about what might not be possible.

What is your take on this?

You might be surprised to hear that many people are living with this sort of reality. It may not be as overt as your situation, but some marriages exist with partners being double-minded about the choice they made. Your letter exposes a reality that often silently exists between spouses. Yet, we need to understand what real love actually is to manage these situations better.
Love is not the “butterflies in the belly” feeling that most of us think it is. Love is actually a commitment we make to stand by a person through thick and thin. That’s love! A daily determination, that’s the reality of loving someone.

If your partner determines to be with you and to be there for you, they are showing practically that they love you. They always have the choice to leave at any point. I say that to indicate to you that your wife does love you. The “in love” that she mentioned is the fickle feeling that comes and goes. The presence is what matters most. She has feelings for her ex, but I believe she loves you. And you are demonstrating that you love her too by being there daily. Love is practical!

My advice:

Keep loving her: It can be hard to hear and bear what she’s said but try to stand by her. Know that just as if she was ill, you’d want to be there for her. She’s facing a conflict that she needs some support to get through. Your genuine love requires your presence.

Make memories: Here is the great secret to a great life! Purpose to make a “good memory” once a month. This will solidify the relationship. What your wife is tussling with is memories made with her ex. Be creative and make dynamic memories of your own. Try to do so naturally and not as if you’re trying to convince her to stay.

Remain practical: No matter what happens in the future, remember the truth. If things break down, remember you loved her and did so to the best of your ability. That’s important. And as is said, “It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all”.

Some people might say that you should flee this relational quagmire. However, true love is vulnerable anyway. We are never really risk-free when we choose to love someone. If you do love her, work with her and walk with her. Make the best of the moments you have together.

C. Brodber