It’s been 16 months since I discovered my husband’s affair with a co-worker. In that time, I’ve learned a lot about him, our marriage, and infidelity in general. But mostly, even though my husband cheated, I’ve learned about myself.
I’m not going to lie, these months have been hell. We’re still married but that doesn’t mean all is forgiven or forgotten. Far from it. After the initial haze, the days spent crying on the bathroom floor, raging at him, her and myself, we entered a period of deep uncertainty about our marriage. He was remorseful and wanted to stay together but I remained in limbo, with one and a half feet out the door, for several months.
The key to forward motion, I’ve learned, is continued patience with myself and accepting that emotions aren’t always rational. Until this happened I’d always been able to hold my emotions in check, to control them. But after, all bets were off. No matter what I was seeing and hearing, and regardless of what I knew to be true intellectually, I could still spiral out of control when my emotions got the better of me, when I became too tired or too sorry for myself to fight them off. If he was late, he was cheating again. If we didn’t make love that night, he was cheating again. If he didn’t apologize one hundred times a day, he was cheating again. Lack of evidence was irrelevant. It was like being smothered by a weighted blanket, or sat on by an elephant: I knew what was happening, I understood the reasons for my distress, but I couldn’t escape.
Eventually I learned to sit with my feelings, to examine them and even accept them, instead of being held hostage by them. Now, when my paranoia bubbles and my rage threatens to ruin our day or weekend (which still happens, though less frequently), I can accept my emotions for what they are. I can let them breathe and exist. Not letting them overtake me is a huge victory – one that has made me feel strong and more in control.
Early on, I lashed out every chance I got. I took pride in wounding my husband, especially when he least expected it. If we’d gone a day or two without any major blow-ups or outbursts I would start looking for ways to knock him down a peg, to remind him how hurt I was, of the chaos he caused. But dragging him down the rabbit hole with me didn’t make me feel any better. Misery didn’t love company, it just became more miserable.
I also learned that affairs are about loss. Yes, I was/am angry (furious, actually) that he was intimate with another woman and lying to me for months but what I couldn’t get over, what kept reaching up from the deep and dragging me down by the ankles was the threat he posed to our family. I felt like I’d lost everything that was important to me including trust, intimacy, security, my self-esteem and my joy at being special to him. But the fears over what we could lose (our marriage, our home, our family unit, our children’s sense of security) were worse. It would be an awful thing to have an outsider threaten your happiness and security, but having that come from someone you love and trust creates an altogether different kind of anguish, a whole new level of confusion.
Eventually, taking back control became an all-consuming desire. My husband wanted to reconcile, to prove he was worthy of another chance and this gave me power, which I abused often. I never missed an opportunity to hurt and scare him as I had been hurt and scared. But it didn’t take long to realize that this wasn’t the kind of power I wanted. For me, healing would only come from the passage of time and understanding what had happened between us.
Early on I refused to entertain any narrative other than, he cheated, he lied, he’s a bastard, end of story. But time gave way to an almost pathological quest to uncover the true “why” and the “how” of his affair. Eventually I was able to consider my role, and I learned that while he was 100 per cent responsible for his own actions, somehow the two of us had made room in our marriage for a third person. This is not the story behind all affairs. Some are “crimes of opportunity”, some are serial offences made by partners who never intended to be faithful in the first place. Deep down I knew that neither scenario applied to us. My husband sought validation and connection with someone else because he wasn’t getting it from me. I don’t excuse this and I don’t forgive it, but I understand it. Trust me, understanding did not come overnight. It is still a work in progress.
The problems in our relationship (resentment, poor communication, a lack of physical intimacy) had created a chasm between us. I didn’t realize how unhappy I was until our relationship had been obliterated and we started rebuilding. To use a construction analogy, this wasn’t a renovation but a full on new build. New foundation, new paint, new walls, new fixtures, new everything.
To be clear, I do NOT blame myself for my husband’s affair. But in order to heal, I needed to understand what the hell had just happened. In order to trust him again I had to believe he wouldn’t cheat again, which meant understanding and eliminating the circumstances that allowed for it in the first place.
Applying logic and problem-solving methods to infidelity isn’t foolproof but it was what I needed. It allowed me to consider that there might be a path forward for us, and to find it.
Only time will tell if we made the right decision. But I do know that today we are stronger than ever, largely because of what I learned in the aftermath of his affair. Would I have preferred to learn another way? Absolutely. But everything we’ve been through has highlighted my own inner strength, which is perhaps the best lesson of all.
I stop well short of saying it was worth it but for the first time in a long time, I can see the light.