When Lucy Connor heard her husband’s phone beep in the early hours, a knot of dread formed in her stomach. She immediately suspected her beloved Malcolm had strayed, and with good reason – she’d already forgiven him for an affair.
She sobbed as she read the text message over the serial cheat’s shoulder. It was from a woman, declaring her love for him.
But Malcolm didn’t beg for forgiveness. He admitted straying again and said he couldn’t choose between wife and lover .
It was Lucy, 29, who grovelled, repeatedly begging the college student not to leave her. And when Malcolm chose to be with the other woman, Lucy was so distraught she took a near-fatal overdose.
Yet when his affair crumbled she agreed to take him back. And Lucy even claims: “His cheating has made us stronger.”
She adds: “I know how it looks but the affairs have been a blessing in disguise. We’re much more open and honest with each other now. In a funny way, we have a better relationship than we’ve ever had because of Malcolm’s cheating.
“I’ll never be able to fully trust Malcolm again, and I suppose I can’t say for sure that there haven’t been even more affairs, but trust isn’t the most important thing in a relationship. Chemistry is what is really important and I can’t deny my feelings.
“People who claim they wouldn’t take back a cheating partner have obviously never had a love like ours.” Lucy first met Malcolm, 35, when she returned to work at a call centre near their home in Billingham, Co Durham, after giving birth to eldest son Jay, who is now eight.
Her relationship with the father had just broken down and she wasn’t looking for love, until she saw Malcolm. “It was just so natural,” she recalls. “He’d started when I was on maternity leave. I completely fell for him. It wasn’t just physical. We had the same sense of humour and could laugh for hours over silly little things.”
In late 2007, the couple had their first date. Two weeks later, Malcolm proposed. “The relationship got very serious, very quickly,” Lucy admits. “My mum told me to be careful but I was head over heels.”
Three months later, Lucy became pregnant with daughter Paris, now seven. But after her 12-week scan, a friend told her Malcolm was having an affair with an ex.
“My heart sank,” she recalls. “I was devastated. By the time Malcolm came home I was in floods of tears. He denied everything. I didn’t want to believe it was true, so I told myself he wouldn’t lie.
“A week later, his phone bill came in and I couldn’t resist having a look. He’d been sending over 100 texts a day to a number I didn’t recognise. He admitted it was his ex’s, claiming they were now just friends.
“I didn’t really believe him but I wanted our relationship to work so much that I told myself I’d have to put it behind me.”
She continues: “I convinced myself he wouldn’t have asked me to marry him if he didn’t love me and I went ahead with the wedding. If I’m being honest, calling it off wasn’t really an option. I loved Malcolm too much, even though I sensed he was lying about the girl.”
The couple married in front of 30 guests in July 2008. A few weeks later, Paris was born. “It was lovely,” Lucy says. “We had our ups and downs because we both suffer from depression but, on the whole, we were happy. I don’t think Malcolm was cheating again, although I guess you can never be 100% sure about anything.”
Three years later, the family seemed complete when Lucy gave birth to Harry, now four. But in summer 2013, Malcolm suggested they move close to where he’d grown up, in Bognor Regis, West Sussex.
Lucy agreed but cracks soon appeared. She dropped from size 22 to 14 from stress. “Malcolm got up one morning and said he didn’t love me any more,” she says.
“I was still madly in love with him, so I was distraught. He couldn’t afford to move out, so he slept on the couch while he saved to rent somewhere. Every couple of days I’d beg him to reconsider. I couldn’t sleep and I stopped eating. I lost six stone.
“I was working in a care home and I collapsed several times, through a combination of hunger and stress.” She goes on: “Malcolm didn’t really notice how heartbroken I was. He spent most of his time at the pub, drinking on his own or out for walks. One night he came home drunk and told me about the first affair.
“I was upset but even though he’d lied about it for so long I still wanted him back. Deep down, I knew he’d cheated the first time. He was really apologetic, so I let it go.” But in October that year, Lucy moved back to Billingham to be closer to her family. Yet within weeks, Malcolm asked if they could give the marriage another go.
“I went straight back down,” she says. “I was over the moon. But around a week after I’d returned, we were lying in bed when his phone went off and I read the message from the other woman.
“She’d written, ‘I don’t care if Lucy sees this. I love you’. This time he was honest about sleeping with her but I didn’t pack my bags. I wanted to talk through it.
“The next few weeks were hell. One minute he was saying he wanted to be with me, the next he told me he loved her. I tried so hard to convince him to pick me.”
Malcolm eventually chose his mistress. Lucy tried to take her own life. “When I woke up in hospital, I felt guilty and devastated at what I’d done,” she admits. “I couldn’t believe I’d almost left my children without a mum.”
But she started to speak to Malcolm again and on Christmas Day he admitted his new romance had floundered after just weeks. “A few days later, I agreed he could come up for a visit,” Lucy says. “I felt sorry for him. When he walked through the door I got butterflies and we had a huge hug.
“Within a few days we’d agreed to give our marriage another go but to take things slowly. He started visiting regularly and soon I couldn’t bear to let him go.”
Although initially furious at Malcolm, Lucy’s mum Jane, 59, has decided to support the relationship. Other members of the family have shunned her.
Lucy says: “If a man was to cheat on Paris when she was older, I’d want to kill him. I would tell her not to take him back. But it’s different with my relationship. Some friends have told me I’m a stronger woman than they could ever be because we’ve worked through our problems.
“I think the second woman got inside his head and took advantage of the fact he was vulnerable. Now everything is out in the open, our relationship is brilliant.”