Coping with Infidelity is a four-part series that aims to remove the culture of silence and shame around adultery. The author has chosen to remain anonymous to protect the privacy of her children. Read Part 1 and Part 2 here.
“Fake it till you make it” is a common piece of advice but never in a million years did I think it would apply to my marriage.
It’s been nine months since I discovered my husband’s affair with his co-worker, a woman I’d met, befriended and introduced my children to. He and I decided to stay together and rebuild our relationship, a process that has been long, sad, exhausting and occasionally hopeful.
When I first heard “fake it till you make it” I thought it was ridiculous because I was young enough to believe life was black and white. I was horrified by the idea of faking it and thought, “if I can’t do the job I shouldn’t apply” or, “if I don’t know what I’m doing I should admit it.”
But eventually I understood it wasn’t about lying or being disingenuous, it was about buying time until I figured things out.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this prepared me to handle the current state of my marriage.
We are trying to work through the pain his affair has caused, to rebuild our marriage. We are no longer in therapy and the opportunities for meaningful conversation about it have dwindled. He’s remorseful and he knows I’m in pain, but he doesn’t want to talk about it. So I stay silent, swallowing my tears and my words instead of reaching out and asking for the assurances and information I so desperately need. Things are good, I think. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t bring it up. Just deal with it on your own.
In this way, we are carrying on as though nothing has happened, when in reality I’m still in recovery mode and hurting deeply.
One of the problems is that I’m still looking for logic and reason despite knowing I will never truly understand his infidelity. I’ll never understand how he could love me and our children the way he says he does and still cheat on us. So I spend a lot of time wondering when the other shoe is going to drop. When is he going to wake up and admit it’s over, or ask himself why he’s bothering to stay and work it out?
In my mind he cheated because he no longer loved me and/or found me attractive. He found someone he liked better and decided to test drive a relationship with her hoping I wouldn’t find out. He insists it was none of those things but my brain can’t process what it perceives as the inconsistency between his words and his actions.
This is what they mean when they say it takes months, even years, to recover from an affair: no matter how good things seem on the surface, the betrayed party never feels totally out of the woods. Finding out you were cheated on by someone you love and trust is such a shocking, disorienting experience that you no longer trust your judgement. Your shame and hurt are compounded by the fact that you didn’t know what was happening in your own marriage and, if you’ve decided to stay, by the fact that you feel weak and pathetic for letting him back into your life; for even wanting him to stay.
My current fake it till you make it status is also coming from a place of regret for the way I handled the immediate aftermath.
I wish I’d made him leave right at the start because I think we both would have benefited from some time apart to think through what happened and why. Maybe if he experienced life without me and decided to come back, I wouldn’t be living in constant fear that I’m going to go through this all over again when he decides he really does want a divorce or when he cheats on me again.
I rushed headlong into fixing my marriage and righting the family ship to minimize the affair’s disruption on my and my children’s lives. But did this leave me blind to the bigger picture? Was it like rearranging deck chairs as the orchestra played and the Titanic sank?
Discovering a partner’s affair and deciding to stay together is like pressing Control-Alt-Delete on your relationship. Going right to the quick fix before unplugging it, before sitting with it and contemplating the real problem(s) feels, in hindsight, like taking a short cut that will cost much more in the end.
Nine months later I feel like I’m supposed to be getting better, getting “over it”, but I’m stuck in quicksand. I can’t move, can’t get out, can’t decide what to do. My uncertainty is swallowing me whole.
It’s hard to move forward when something is still present for you every day. I have the same fear and doubt I had nine months ago. Its not as raw and panicky or as acute, but it’s very much there.
At family events we play happy couple and put on a show for people who know nothing of our troubles. I pretend to be happy and in love and to have fun. I smile and laugh and genuinely enjoy our time together. My husband relaxes when he sees me happy but he has no idea how close I am to breaking. Realizing we may never be that truly happy couple again, that I’m faking it, makes my head spin.
After several months away from work, my husband will soon return to the office where he’s in close proximity to his lover every day. As my anxiety ramps up (again), I think about insisting he find a new job, or refuse to continue reconciling until he does. I could confront her, create drama, threaten and deliver ultimatums. I could expose her to their coworkers and her husband. Truthfully I’ve fantasized about all of this. A lot. But my dignity is important to me and truly, what will any of that solve? She could have been anyone, just as she could be anyone again. It’s not a “her” problem. It’s a “him” problem, an “us” problem.
I know there won’t be a lighting bolt, a sign, or a sudden moment of clarity that releases me from the prison of my anxieties. I won’t wake up and all of a sudden feel better and more certain of the future.
And yet I can’t stop yearning for something to show me which path to take, something that helps me figure this out so I can stop “faking” and start living.
Next up: read the final post, Part 4, here.