In a new twist on Lalalaletmeexplain's hit column, readers ask for her expert advice on their own love, sex and relationship problems.

Here, she offers advice to a woman who has made a shocking discovery about her partner. Sign up below – for free! – to see what Lala has to say…

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One reader writes…

Last summer I discovered my partner had been having an affair with a girl from work. He had been very distant, and rude for a while. At a party he got very drunk and so I looked at his phone when he passed out. They had been talking for months, sexting and sending explicit photos to each other. She is a decade younger than me (I’m mid-thirties, we have two children and have been married a couple of years). I confronted him and he was remorseful, and assured me nothing physical ever happened, and it was just chat and so he had convinced himself it wasn’t cheating (I disagree).

I decided to take him back – but around Christmas time felt the same neglect and niggling doubts. I found an email he sent her saying he was bored and missed her, and an explicit nude hidden away in his emails. He said it was an old image he had saved but couldn’t explain why. Again, I let him back in.

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He works away during the week and when we are together, he is constantly on his phone – which he now never lets out of his sight and even puts face down when we sit together. I just feel like he isn’t finished with her. But I feel so trapped – we have two kids, a lovely house and I don’t want to uproot them, but similarly can’t afford to stay without him. I don’t know how to love or trust him again.

Our relationship is amiable, pleasant but not romantic. Is it over?

Lala says…

I am so sorry that you are going through this. I found pictures and texts on my ex’s phone under very similar circumstances, so, I know the stomach sinking, gut wrenching, visceral pain that you must have felt when you discovered the affair. It’s truly horrible to go through.

I agree with you that even if nothing physical happened it is still cheating. He crossed the boundaries of your agreed commitment to each other by communicating intimately with another woman. Even without physical cheating, the intent behind virtual cheating and the harm it causes is equally as bad. Talking for months, sexting, and sending nudes is not just chat. If you were doing the same with his best friend or brother, I’m pretty sure that he wouldn’t say it was OK because it’s just over the phone.

Your gut told you he was cheating in the summer, and then it told you in December that he was still cheating, and it sounds like your gut is telling you again now. His suspicious phone activity makes me think that you should strongly listen to your gut.

To be brutally honest, everything you have told me makes me think that the affair never ended, that it is a physical affair, and I would be very surprised if he isn’t staying with her when he is working away from home. Of course, I don’t know him, and I could be wrong, but from what you have described, I would put money on this being an ongoing full-blown affair.

He is wholly responsible for cheating. However, he has been shown that there are no ramifications for having an affair. He has been able to cheat without consequence. He got away with minimising the affair and expressing a bit of remorse the first time, and so he knew that he could do it a second time.

He knows that you are stuck between a rock and a hard place, and he knows that the only punishment for cheating is you being a bit angry for a few days. He has no reason to stop. He gets a loving home environment and the thrill of an affair.

This is not meant in any way to make you feel that you are responsible for him cheating – you are not – you are also not to blame or at fault for taking the action that you did. You are trying to hold your family together, you did what felt right at the time, but he has essentially learnt which of your boundaries he can cross, and he appears to be enthusiastically crossing them.

I don’t believe that cheating always means the end of a relationship. Couples can overcome affairs, the cheater is not always an evil terrible person, and the cheatee is not always an innocent victim. It can often be far more complex than that.

I would recommend following the work of therapist Esther Perel and listening to her podcasts on the subject, as she helps couples to work through the things that led to affairs. But couples who overcome affairs BOTH have put in a lot of work in order to do so. I would highly recommend couple’s counselling for anyone who wishes to remain in a relationship after cheating, but it will only work if you both commit to it for the right reasons.

It is vital in helping you to figure out where things went wrong, on improving communication, and in helping you to trust each other again. That involves the truth being laid out bare. You cannot get over cheating if there are any skeletons left in the closet. Uncomfortable questions must be asked and answered. Remorse is not enough if honesty is missing. To rebuild trust, you have to be able to start again from a place of knowing that you can rely on the other person to be truthful. He has not shown you that thus far.

For some people, cheating is a boundary that they will never tolerate being crossed, for other’s it is something that can be worked on. If you are in the staying and working on it camp, then you need to be clear about the reasons why you are staying.

Sometimes it is because we cannot bear the thought of knowing that if we end it, they will run into the open arms of the person they cheated with. Sometimes it’s because we don’t know our own value and we blame ourselves for not being enough to keep them satisfied. Sometimes we feel trapped because of finances and children. And sometimes it’s a combination of several things.

Only you will know the factors that are keeping you there, and only you will know if the love is gone, and the marriage is over, but it sounds to me like you are both unhappy and that unless he is committed to ending the affair and working on your marriage then nothing will change.

I know that you feel trapped because of the house, and you are right, there is no easy solution. If you have a joint mortgage, then you would have to continue to pay your part even if you left. However, he would also have to do the same, so asking him to leave would not necessarily mean that you are left to foot the entire monthly bills. I think it is important to speak to Citizen’s Advice to establish what your options are for your personal situation. I don’t know enough about your income to know what your options are. But there are always options, even if that means living with him civilly whilst you both make plans for how to live separately.

You need to ask yourself how long you can go on like this. Are you really prepared to remain in a loveless marriage where you are constantly suspicious of a husband you don’t trust because you don’t want to uproot your children?

Children can adapt very easily to moves and changes within the family so long as they have guidance, honest communication, and a lot of love. Children do less well when they are stuck being raised by unhappy parents. So long as you know that you prioritise their welfare and their emotional needs in every decision you make, then this decision needs to be made based on what is best for you. What outcome do you want from this? Can the love come back? Can you trust him again? Will he commit to couple’s counselling? Or has it all gone too far?

You need to think about what you want, and be very clear with him that this cannot continue. You need an honest discussion about what the f*** is going on. If he turns it back on you and suggests that you are crazy, and paranoid then take that as a huge red flag. If he understands why you feel so paranoid and commits to working together to make changes then there may be hope.

Think about what you would advise one of your children or a best friend to do if they found themselves in a similar situation. I highly doubt that you would advise them that they have no options and so they should just put up with it.

Talk to friends and family about this, sometimes we don’t talk to our mates about cheating because it can feel embarrassing and shameful, especially if we take them back – but sod that – you have nothing to be ashamed of and your real friends will fully understand. They may be able to support you with some options too.

You are an equal partner in this marriage, and you deserve so much better than this. Take back your power and trust your gut. It’s time for change.

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