For Martha Hancock, the pain and hurt caused by her husband’s infidelity can only be compounded by its very public nature. Matt Hancock, who resigned as Health Secretary after the exposure last week of his affair with aide and old friend Gina Coladangelo, reportedly told his wife he was leaving her on Thursday evening – shortly before pictures emerged of him appearing to cheat on her in his ministerial office.
Mrs Hancock, a 44-year-old osteopath and mother of the Tory politician’s three children, has kept a low profile so far. What will she be going through and what should she do now?
‘Gather your friends around you and make sure they are a positive influence’
Rosie Green, whose recent book How to Heal a Broken Heart offers a guide to surviving a relationship breakdown, says many of the women who contact her to share their own experiences describe feeling numb when they first find out about their partner’s infidelity. “It’s like an out of body experience,” she says. “Like it’s happening to someone else. If she’s anything like the women I talk to, you go into that numb stage and then try to frantically assimilate all the information: how far has it gone? How long has it been going on? Is it an emotional or just a physical affair? You scrabble through all this and your brain is trying to get on top of it all. However bad it is, you want to know what you’re dealing with.”
Green, whose own husband walked out after 26 years together, says it is “confusing and discombobulating” if the person you trust has been lying to you.
“In the immediate aftermath I would say gather your friends around you, make sure they are friends who are a positive influence, that they’re going to listen to what you say but aren’t going to stoke the fire.”
She also advises Mrs Hancock hunkers down for the moment. “Make your own world small. Don’t try and go out to a party the next day,” she says.
Avoiding social media and other sources of information is also helpful. “Shutting down those outside influences is really useful,” she says, adding that alcohol is best avoided as a coping strategy.
‘You have to try to keep the same routines and keep everything much the same as you can’
There are two key things you must do in a situation like this, says Linda Blair, a clinical psychologist. Both are extremely difficult.
“One is not to speak to the children about the details of what happened,” she says. Telling them “we’re splitting up” is enough. “Children may ask, but what they’re really asking is ‘do you still love me? Does he still love me?’”
The Hancocks’ children are aged 14, 13 and eight. Blair says the other important thing for Mrs Hancock to remember is the need to minimise the disruption and change for the children as much as possible now. “You have to try to keep the same routines and keep everything much the same as you can,” she says.
Seeking professional help is advisable. “People tend to polarise their friends because they think ‘they’ll be on my side,’ and they regret that later. You need a place to clarify what’s going on, remote from your children.”
It is also good to avoid criticising the estranged partner to the children, as tempting as it can be, warns Blair. “The children’s self-esteem can drop if one parent runs the other one down. You’ve got to remember the child is half of each of you and if you slur the partner you’re slurring the child.”
Mrs Hancock might also do well to avoid starting a new relationship any time soon. “If one or both partners runs to another partnership before they’ve sorted out their contribution to the mistakes that led to the break-up - and it’s never all one person – they will repeat the same mistakes,” says Blair. “The new relationship won’t be the new start they want it to be because they haven’t taken that time.”
‘She’s in complete control of her decisions and has absolutely nothing to be ashamed of’
Ayesha Vardag, president of Vardags divorce lawyers
There’s a lot of talk about Matt Hancock’s “humiliated” wife walking about wearing her wedding ring. But I’m completely bemused by this. In what way has she been humiliated? Hurt, yes, I imagine, but what shame or humiliation is there for her?
I suppose the idea, insinuated by the coarse and the callous, may be that by having an affair with another woman her husband is signalling that she’s not good enough, he’s upgrading, he’s discarding her. Because in some way she failed.
But that’s not what’s usually going on when people have affairs with their co-workers. It’s very little to do with age, looks, or the like, within reason. It’s much more today with shared projects, common interests, the in-jokes and remembered experiences that flow from that and create a connection. Then you throw in opportunity and, often, alcohol to remove inhibition and there you are. Caught in a clinch.
We’re humans – we’re built to be attracted to those close to us. It’s in our pheromones, in our psychology. It’s very hard to resist.
So for the Hancocks, as for so many of the couples that I speak to at Vardags, there is no humiliation in the equation for the partner that has been betrayed. Mrs Hancock could look like a cross between Grace Kelly and Kendall Jenner and it wouldn’t have made any difference. In fact it seems the new amour is the same age as she is, belying the usual stereotypes. It may have pretty much nothing to do with her.
What we need, perhaps, is a recognition that long hours of intense work draw people away from the home and into a new circle of intimacy. We either embrace that with a liberal sense of tolerance, let affairs flare up and more often than not burn out to nothing, and just shake it off, or we fight it by trying to keep the connection in the marriage alive and keep building shared stories – easier said than done.
One way or another, when the wife is the cheater she’s seen as a scarlet woman, when she’s cheated on she’s seen as a humiliated reject. Somehow the woman always comes out, as Marilyn Monroe put it in Some Like it Hot, with the fuzzy end of the lollipop. Mrs Hancock should hold her head up high – she’s in complete control of her decisions and has absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. This is her time to think about what she really wants for herself - the power is all with her.
‘It will be a raw, emotional time and she will be feeling very exposed’
What Mrs Hancock is dealing with right now is a public humiliation, says Simon Shattock, a family and couples psychotherapist at Clinical Partners. “It’s not like something she’s found out in private and can work out. It’s been done in the context of humiliation to herself. I imagine she might be in a state of shock.”
She will now need to go about unpicking her husband’s alleged betrayal and considering what life is going to look like after this, says Shattock.
“It needs a process of careful management of her own mind. I imagine she’ll be feeling very angry,” he says. “For her it will be a raw, emotional time and she will be feeling very exposed.”
He likens the fallout to a period of mourning. “You have to mourn what’s happened and try to move past the anger. Often people find it very difficult to move on at the beginning so it will be a process of [taking] time and thinking.”
Talking things over with people she trusts will be crucial to working through it, Shattock advises. Given the circumstances of the Hancocks’ split – Mrs Hancock had reportedly considered their relationship happy and stable – she is also likely to start questioning their whole history, he suggests. “That’s really difficult to process, [that idea that] the person you married is not who you thought.”
‘An affair is never about the other person – it is about vanity’
Karen Krizanovich, multiple divorcee and former agony aunt
The difficult thing is to manage your own feelings about what other people are saying. Of course, Martha is in the public eye where people can make all sorts of comments knowing nothing about her life. Ignore all bad comments. They only make a terrible situation worse.
Mostly, she is going to want to protect her children, which is a grave concern. Whether they as a couple decide to divorce or not, there is always a public situation to be handled as well as a financial and emotional one. As per friendships, people will feel they have to take sides. It is now she will find out who her friends really are, and who loves her for herself and not her husband.
She should take some consolation that an affair is generally short lived: two years usually, before it becomes something less exciting, and it is not about her as a wife. An affair is never about the other person. It is about the one having the affair. It is about vanity.
Affairs are the ultimate decoration, they are there to make the person having the affair feel godlike and wonderful. It’s like a drug. It’s something that a real spouse or partner cannot create. It is fuelled by novelty and excitement. She must remember that that doesn’t last, but having a family in the long term does.
Finding out that you’ve been cheated on is a mortifying, humiliating situation. It makes you feel less of a person, shakes your confidence and makes you feel as if you don’t want to leave the house or be seen. It’s essential to understand that this emotional betrayal is a wipeout that can lead to invincible strength and understanding. Also forgiveness, even if it’s from no longer caring about them at all.