What's it really like to see your family unravel before your eyes?

A marriage in meltdown: What’s it really like to see your family unravel before your eyes? With unflinching honesty, one wife describes how her husband’s affair sparked a year of fury, heartache, divorce… but ultimately hope

Coming home from work late one evening last September, my husband Tim stormed straight upstairs to the spare room without so much as a hello.

I followed to ask what was wrong. Our relationship had been fractious for months, but there was no specific cause for fury that I knew of. He said we’d talk tomorrow. With an ominous sense of dread, I said I needed to know now. And so it was that he told me he didn’t love me any more.

Horrified, I couldn’t sleep. Yet that awful night was only the start of one of the most stressful years of my life, as the process of disassembling our seven-year marriage began.

I was prepared to run a gamut of emotions, from heartache and fury to relief — and, more recently, hope.

But, perhaps naively, I had no idea of the huge financial ramifications. Since I filed for divorce this March, the legal bills have added up faster than our arguments ever did.

£25 for an email. £100 for a 38-minute phone call. £550 for court fees. £300 for a financial consent order to protect any future assets. So far, I’ve paid £3,800 — but there’s hundreds more still to fork out.

And this, I should stress, is for a straightforward divorce, with no rows over custody of our six-year-old daughter or financial assets. Were the situation more acrimonious — and, given the circumstances surrounding our marriage breakdown, it could easily be — those legal fees may well be trebled.

A happier time: Natasha Smith with Tim on their wedding day in August 2012

The anxiety I feel every time an invoice turns up from a solicitor is at stark odds to the joy I felt when Tim and I married in the beautiful ballroom of a stately home in August 2012.

Then, I was adamant marriage would bring security with the man I loved. Now, aged 42, I believe it to be an expensive irrelevance, providing nothing but a piece of paper that costs a fortune to extricate yourself from. It holds no bearing on a couple’s love for each other.

Nor can it stop seething resentment creeping in, or serve as an impediment to infidelity.

I should know. A year before he announced he’d fallen out of love with me, Tim, now 44, had an affair. I took him back, only for him to cheat again with the same woman.

Of course, I was furious, but our relationship must remain civil for the sake of our daughter. Not only that, but we’re still living together while we finish renovating our five-bedroom home in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, before we can put it on the market. Harbouring a constant grudge would only add to the misery.

And as painful as it is for me to accept my husband cheated twice, hindsight has taught me his infidelity was the symptom, rather than the cause, of our marriage breakdown.

We met in January 2009 when Tim, a plasterer, came to renovate my hallway. As we talked I learned he had moved back home to Chesterfield to look after his widowed father, who had terminal cancer.

I was struck by his obvious compassion, and thrilled when he asked me to dinner.

We had lots in common, including a love of dogs, renovating houses and Sunday pub lunches. That October, I left my home in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, and moved in with Tim and his dad.

Tim proposed on Christmas Day 2010 with a diamond solitaire ring I’d spotted while on holiday in Yorkshire. He’d driven there especially to collect it.

It wasn’t only Tim’s doting personality I coveted, but the sanctity of marriage.

A toddler when my parents split up, I craved stability — especially as we planned to start a family.

After our idyllic wedding, newlywed life offered simple pleasures, such as enjoying ten-mile walks on a Sunday. Of course, that all changed with a baby.

After our daughter was born in January 2014 she had reflux that stopped her settling for weeks. I was shattered, but Tim was brilliant, holding the baby until 1am every night to let me sleep.

But as months passed, we slipped into ‘parent roles’ and ceased to act like a couple. Tim would ask why we couldn’t get a babysitter and go for dinner; I didn’t want to leave my daughter with anyone else.

Perhaps he felt neglected. He started going out alone, stopping at the pub after work every night. I worked four days a week as a personal assistant and would pick our daughter up from nursery, put her to bed and make dinner before he was home.

Pictured:  Natasha Smith

Later in the evening he’d run me a conciliatory bath, but the following day he’d come home late again. Asking him to stop made no difference — he’d accuse me of nagging — so I put up with it.

As our daughter grew up we drifted further apart. He’d criticise the house for being messy, or infuriate me by asking if I’d enjoyed my ‘day off’ on a Friday, when I’d been on my feet with the baby for 12 exhausting hours.

Our house renovations (we started a two-storey extension before the baby was born) were taking longer than expected, compounding our irritation and exhaustion.

There were no wild arguments, but a tacit resentment grew. By 2018 Tim seemed permanently glued to his mobile. He used it a lot anyway, so I wasn’t suspicious, but he showed no interest in helping me plan my 40th birthday party that April.

On the day of the party itself, he didn’t help prepare the chicken goujon strips for the buffet or blow up balloons. By then, I think I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t want to admit it.

Two days later, he was out getting his Barbour jacket re-waxed when the postman arrived with his phone bill. It was addressed to me — I had taken a phone contract out for Tim when he had given up work while caring for his father.

I’d never examined his itemised bill before but, perhaps because of his behaviour, this time I did — and saw pages of calls and texts to the same number.

Heart pounding, I called Tim and asked if I should call the number. When he said he was driving home to see me I felt physically sick.

I instinctively knew he’d been having an affair. Standing in the kitchen that afternoon, he said he’d never meant to hurt me but it had been going on for ten weeks.

The woman was a married mother who lived nearby, worked for a bank and, like me, met Tim when he was plastering her house, I later learned.

I was too angry to speak before he walked out to stay with a friend. Yet perversely the revelation reminded me how much I still loved Tim and couldn’t stand to lose him. So when, five days later, he told me he’d made a big mistake and asked if we could try again, I agreed.

This time, we didn’t take each other for granted. We had date nights once a month. We spoke openly about Tim’s affair and I thought we’d put it behind us.

But within a year, he had started coming home late again. Last June, he said he needed to stay overnight on a plastering job nearby, and I asked if it was necessary.

He told me not to be paranoid, but the distrust and distance grew. Last August, writing Tim’s anniversary card felt weird. Over dinner a couple of days later he said, seemingly out of nowhere, that if I fell out of love with him I should leave.

Somewhere in my subconscious I admitted I was unhappy, but couldn’t bring myself to say so. It wasn’t until two days later that he finally admitted he didn’t love me any more. He agreed to move in with a friend.

I couldn’t eat or sleep for days, telling our daughter Daddy had moved out because he didn’t love Mummy any more. I put off filing for divorce, realising it would be expensive.

But last December, I received a Facebook message from a stranger saying I should know that Tim had resumed his affair that summer. On confronting him he admitted it and said sorry.

He said the affair was over this time, and I didn’t push for specifics. He has to live with the guilt, not me. I felt furious but conflicted. At first, I wanted to not only file for divorce, but fight Tim in court for more than 50 per cent of the house — which I’ve been told, given the circumstances, I could be entitled to.

But he was also the father of my daughter. Arguing about money would lead to bigger bills and, more importantly, more rows that would upset our little girl.

I filed on the grounds of adultery because my solicitor said proving irreconcilable differences would be harder.

Tim agreed — he didn’t have a choice. His solicitor’s fees have come to £900 so far. Perhaps unfairly, the person filing for divorce has to foot the bigger bill.

Days after initiating proceedings the country went into lockdown and Tim, no longer able to live with his friend, came to live with us — something I agreed to for our daughter’s sake.

She knows her daddy doesn’t have anywhere else to stay. He’s at the other end of the house in the spare room, with his own bathroom. We take it in turns to cook meals.

There are still heated moments, not least as our legal fees rise, but deciding to divorce has taken away some of the tension.

I think we’re both too shattered to be angry any more. Screaming and shouting would make me ill and upset our daughter. She knows that when our house goes on the market — next month, hopefully — she’s moving with me to her new home, although Tim and I have agreed to split custody.

Some days I can forgive him for his affair. Other days I struggle. But I’ll always care for him as my daughter’s father, and as someone I’ve shared nearly 12 largely happy years with.

I hope that our decree absolute, expected this autumn, brings us both a fresh start. And if nothing else, the heartache and expense of divorce has made me sure of this much: I’ll never marry again.

  • Tim gave Natasha his blessing to write about their marriage, but declined to comment.

Interview by ANTONIA HOYLE

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