My husband doesn’t want this marriage to end

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I've been married for 19 years. I've been feeling pretty unhappy for at least five years, probably longer when I really think about it. When COVID-19 hit, it made things worse. My husband and I have had a decent marriage overall but I feel like we are growing apart. I finally said something late last year and my husband fell apart. Told me he'd rather die than live without me. Or tells me that if I leave him, he'll never have any contact with me again and that our marriage meant nothing. We're in counseling, have been for months, but I'm still not feeling a good connection.

On top of that, last September, I made a really bad decision and got in touch with an old flame. We dated 20-plus years ago, and it came to a choice between him and my current husband. I didn't break up with the old flame for any bad reasons; we were just in two different places in life and I had to choose. I didn't know if he was really serious about a life together and I knew my husband was, so I made my choice.

Fast forward to now, we connect again online, and we began an affair a few months after that initial contact. I told my husband about the affair and he agreed to forgive me if I cut off all contact. I did for a while but I missed this man so much, I went back. I think I'm in love with this man. And he loves me. I'm sure of it. But I'm terrified of leaving my marriage. I don't want my husband to feel like his life means nothing. My husband is not a bad person and I know he deserves better than what I've done. But I'm really not happy here. What should I do?

– Staying

At this point, you're already gone. Leaving. Literally moving on with someone else.

You can't stay because you’re worried about your husband. Instead, you need more help. Talk to that counselor – on your own – about how to end this marriage safely. Let this professional know you're no longer there to fix what you have, but to create a space where you can exit. Come up with next steps.

Also, call on your community. I don't mean that you should tell everyone you want to leave your husband, but just … make plans with people who remind your husband he's part of something bigger. Show him the life he has without you, the friends that stick around – and maybe would show up more if you weren't there. It's possible these people don't exist, but if they do, see them.

If you're asking for forgiveness for the affair, I can't give it to you. If you're asking for permission to continue to live this way, I can't condone it. All I can say is that yes, it's OK to leave, even if your partner is desperate for you to stay. You can't live a lie forever. Also, he doesn't know that there is so much beyond you. You might be stopping him from learning what a better, less tense life could look like.

You just need to find out how to do this in a healthy way, so ask. Change the path and get the help you both need.

– Meredith

Readers? Should the LW stay any longer? How do you end this in a healthy way?