Dear Thelma: I'm stuck in an arranged marriage and drawn to colleague

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Dear Thelma,

I am a working woman in my 40s with three children. My husband is a salesman. I married in 1998. It was an arranged marriage.

From the start, we have not been close. We lived more like housemates. After six months of marriage, we had children. We did not have an opportunity to know each other better. Probably there was no effort from both of us. There was hardly any intimacy. I was so engrossed with work and daily chores.

Of course frustration started to set in. But I just did not have anyone to pour my heart out to. My husband just brushed off my problems saying I am pampered, childish or immature, and to act grown up. I swallowed it all and soldiered on.

In 2013, I got promoted with more challenges and responsibility. My children were bigger so I accepted the promotion.

The new place really gave me a hard time. Everything I did was scrutinised. Things were not easy.

In 2015, a new assistant manager joined us. Life changed for me. He made things look easy and achievable. My working life and personal life improved. I was looking forward to each day.

Though I did not reveal anything about my personal life to him, somehow he always had an ear for me. I truly appreciated that. Sadly, he had to leave for another branch in 2017. My world fell apart. I was devastated and took time to recover.

I kept writing to him. Till today, I keep in touch with him. I share my thoughts, fears and ideas with him. It keeps me going. Otherwise, I would have gone cuckoo.

I have been seriously contemplating leaving my husband.

I have spoken out to my colleague of my intention. The problem is, he is a married man of a different race and religion. All I know is I can't be without him.

I have also requested for separation from my husband. He just kept silent.

Please advise.


Dear Unhappy,

Let me condense this a little: you are not happy in your marriage, you have kids, and you've been crushing on or having an emotional affair with a married man. You are thinking of leaving your marriage and hope to be with the other man.

OK, when a marriage doesn't work, and there are kids in the mix, the first obligation is to the children. From your letter, I gather that your kids are in their teens, possibly with the eldest in their late teens.

I think your first thought has to be what happens to them if you and your husband separate.

There is no magic formula. Some teens are extremely upset and find themselves severely impacted, while others prefer their parents being open that their relationship isn't working. It depends on the atmosphere in the home, the relationships you all have, the support network and more.

To get to an answer that works best for your family, talk this through with your spouse. If he remains silent, talk to a trusted friend or engage a mental health professional so you can talk it over in a safe space.

Next, examine your expectations of what will happen if you end your marriage. In your letter, your focus is all about the other man. But there are some things that worry me.

It is very clear that you were overwhelmed by the manager's support. Your feelings also turned from professional to romantic. However, you never spoke about your personal life.

Although you were invested while he was working in your company, and you kept in touch afterwards, you do not say how he felt.

Has he said anything to you about love? Specifically, when you spoke of your intention to leave your marriage, did you tell him your expectations? And if you did state explicitly that you expected to have a relationship with him, what did he say?

My concern is that he sees himself as a colleague, perhaps as a mentor, and that he doesn't know that you have romantic feelings for him. If this is so, then your crush and attachment may be leading you astray in terms of what you may expect from the future.

But supposing you just left that bit out, and he does return your interest, I would still urge caution.

People who have affairs, emotional or otherwise, often talk about how lovely it would be to be a couple. But reality can be rather different.

Divorce is rarely easy, especially when the union has been longstanding and when there are children. Adjusting to the new normal can take several years.

For parents who are separated with non-adult kids, it can be a challenge to communicate and cooperate, especially when kids are going through important life stages like moving into secondary school, puberty, big exams, going to college, and so on.

So, until the kids are grown up, divorced parents aren't completely separated. And in some families, celebrations like births, marriages, and other important events remain a blended occasion for life.

Also, after being married for years, being single again is a challenge. We often become used to seeing ourselves as one half of a partnership. This is true even for marriages that aren't very happy. It can be quite a shock to live alone, socialise alone, and even cook for one, and make new friends.

Many new singles take a year or two to rediscover themselves. It's a journey, and it can take you to unexpected places. Therefore, if you do this, you or your love interest may decide after a year or so that you prefer to stay single. Or to end the relationship and move on.

So if you divorce, I would strongly suggest that you plan for building a life where you support yourself and are fully independent, just in case things don't work out.

I hope this helps you think things through, and that you are able to come to a decision that works for all of you.

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