A new relationship will long outlive – and swiftly obscure – the heartache you’ve been through, says Mariella Frostrup

The dilemma Eighteen months ago, my husband left me and our children, who were both under five. We had been through a rocky period, drifting apart a little. I put this down in part to the demands of our jobs and my second pregnancy (severe morning sickness meant I lost my sex drive). But to him the spark was gone. There was already strong evidence of affairs and he was in an official relationship with one of those women within months of our split. They moved in together and she now sees my children during my ex’s contact time. I thought the shock would kill me, but I have coped through the hell of my heartbreak and have come to the conclusion I am better off without him. But I’m still in so much pain. Seeing families at the school gates literally hurts me. My ex’s family accept his new partner (they also still see me and are supportive, which I’m grateful for).I can’t contemplate a new relationship. I’ve had some casual dates and even sex, but it all meant nothing to me. I feel my trust has been damaged forever. If my own husband can’t stay with me, then who will?

Mariella replies A better man. It sounds like you are well rid of your ex, who I hope will learn how lucky he was to have married such a reasonable woman in the first place. Reading your letter, the first thing that occurred to me was how balanced and clear-headed your description of your marriage breakdown is. Despite the pain you have endured. There’s no indication of the histrionics and bartering over children that are all too often the staples of such a separation. It sounds, too, as though you’ve accepted the children maintaining a close relationship with their father, including seeing him in the company of his new partner. That will have increased your own suffering in the short-term, so it’s yet another reason why you should be extremely proud of yourself.

It’s hard to go through the seismically elevated emotions of separation, but it sounds as though you’re a prime example of magnanimity. Occupying the high ground may not reap immediate rewards, but sleeping soundly at night, knowing your behaviour has been exemplary and your conscience is clear, should be the pleasurable position you find yourself in. It’s certainly not the tranquil place your husband’s subconscious should be taking him in the dark hours.

Love, by its very nature, is unreliable and yet we invest all our hopes and dreams in this entirely subjective state that ebbs and flows as naturally as the ocean. You describe the wear and tear on your marriage through two children and it’s a picture many will recognise. It’s a constant struggle to keep the connection between two lovers strong and resilient, and all too easy to opt for co-existing in resignation rather than keeping fundamental communication alive. It’s probably why so many second marriages work better than first ones – learning how important it is to maintain a degree of union when the forces of daily life seem set to push you apart is something most of us understand too late.

If one of you chooses the easy option of seeking solace outside the relationship, there’s little that can be done to pull them back. Falling in love, and the ecstasies of discovering each other, is matched in emotional intensity only by its opposite – the torturous tumble we take when that same emotion becomes a negative force. Rejection is the most painful of experiences, bringing to the fore all our insecurities and compounding our tendency toward low self-worth.

You have taken a big knock and it will certainly take further time to restore your confidence and re-instil the trust you need to embark on your next romantic excursion. I’m glad you’re making attempts at re-entry into the dating game, but forcing yourself into intimacy before you are strong enough can be detrimental. That numbness after a sexual encounter can simply serve to confirm your sense that nothing will be as it was again. That’s where you are wrong and the law of averages and accrued experience can be relied upon.

There’s no crystal ball required when I say you will meet someone and fall in love again. You’ll even, eventually, be delighted that you have been given the opportunity for this better relationship and there’s every reason to presume that it will long outlive (and pretty swiftly obscure) the heartache you’ve been through. It’s a waiting game, but one where keeping focused on all the other ingredients for a healthy life will mean you’re better prepared when you’re again knocked off solid ground and up into the elevated heights of love.

You need to remember how transporting it is to love and be loved and look forward to the day that becomes a reality. Meanwhile, keep in mind that all any of us have is transitory, so envying those who appear to have what is absent in your life doesn’t deserve to be lingered on. The most important thing to keep focused on when life is at it’s most challenging is the knowledge that in the depths of winter, it’s sunny days that lie ahead.