He has confessed to going to sex parties to meet other partners. Am I nuts to stay with him? Annalisa Barbieri advises a reader.
My partner and I are in our 60s and got together after long-term marriages. Although we are not married, we live together, share children and grandchildren and have built a very nice life together. He has always travelled a lot for work and exuded a sense of mystery.
A year ago, he lent me his phone and I bumped into risque naked photos of him and a woman taken when he was supposedly at a work do. I was devastated and confused. When I confronted him, he said he was tired of lying and wanted to come clean. He confessed to having led a secret life while we have been together: attending sex parties and finding partners, often couples, with whom he would have sexual relationships. Suddenly, so much made sense. I realised that my intuition had been warning me that something was amiss, yet I kept telling myself not to be paranoid, to trust him.
My immediate response was to end the relationship, but I have wavered about it and am still with him. He says that, now I know the full truth, we can finally have a totally open and honest relationship, something that we never had before (I thought we did).
I have compassion for him and some understanding of what a difficult situation he put himself in. Some weeks I have thought, OK, I can live with this. Things will be different now. He has brought so much into my life that is good and I still find him adorable most days. I love our grandchildren. I am eager to do the travelling that we have been planning. I am not eager to start over with another man I don’t know, and who may deceive me as well (as my first husband also did).
This week, I am thinking that I am nuts to stay with him. I have always been faithful in my relationships and have assumed that the other person was as well. I am dubious that I can find the perfect relationship.
He has really been trying in the past year. He says he will not engage in any sexual activities without my knowledge and permission. He wants to introduce me to his sexual partners, as he has now told them I exist – he had lied to them, too. I have avoided this so far as I am uncomfortable with the idea.
If someone were asking my advice in a situation like this, I think I would say “dump him”, so why do I find that so difficult to do?

To answer the question about why you find it so hard to dump him, if we imagine ourselves in this scenario, it is easy to think we know what we would do, but when we are in it, that other person is not so easily cast in the role of ogre. Because you know and love them and they bring something to your life, it is much harder.
What you can’t do is stay out of fear that you won’t meet anyone else, or that another relationship would end up the same. You can’t put up with things you find intolerable or don’t keep you safe (presumably, he practises safe sex? Otherwise, this takes it to a whole other level of selfishness). You also should not leave this relationship if, actually, you are happy in it and want to stay in it, but feel other people will judge you.
I consulted Dana Braithwaite, a sexual and relationship psychotherapist (Cosrt.org.uk), who thinks you are “really brave to evaluate the relationship over a year”. She also thinks: “He lent you the phone because he wanted you to find out, so he’s dumping this issue on you. He may be tired of his complicated life [despite what he says].”
Braithwaite also wonders why, “when you had doubts, you didn’t have questions?” And I do think this is really worth looking at. What inner voice made you shut out your instincts and tell yourself you were paranoid?
Braithwaite says that now you know: “You’re in it now for different reasons. You’re grieving the ‘perfect’ relationship you thought you had; there’s no more delusion, now you are faced with the reality. Now it’s down to: ‘What’s in it for me?’”
And this is the crux, isn’t it? What’s in it for you?
Both of us are very uneasy (as you are) about him introducing you to his other partners. What for? So you can validate his other life? So he can make himself feel better. Listen to your inner voice this time.
I think the “what do you want?” may make you a bit uncomfortable,because I wonder if you have thought about that before. It would be interesting to see how he would react if you said you wanted multiple partners (although you don’t, from what you have said).
“You set the terms now,” says Braithwaite. “You’re in the driving seat, you set the boundaries. It’s about your needs now.”
And I would say, remember that you can change your mind. You can say: “How things are for now suits me and I can re-evaluate in a year.”
While partners such as yours can cause a knee-jerk reaction, I hope you can see past the headlines (sex, multiple partners, sex parties) to the man behind all this and see if he is someone you want. You mention a lot of good things in your longer letter and I hope that is not you just glossing over things. Some people are sexually faithful but awful in other ways. However, behind those headlines is a person who has been deceitful and selfish on a quite epic level. I suspect you will find the sex part easier to forgive.