When I discovered my husband had been having an affair, I wanted to curl up, hide, and die.
I was ashamed. Was this my fault? Would people judge me? Fuck that, I was judging myself! Had I really become the kind of wife that my husband would discard to be with someone else? Had we become strangers to each other, suffering in silence, battling just to keep our heads above water with the demands of three small children?
My husband’s affair began when our third baby was just 8 weeks old. Meanwhile, I was juggling a newborn, a 4-year old, and a 5-year old. I’d had complications that left me in hospital for almost two weeks after my baby’s birth. And even when I came home, I couldn’t fully stand upright and depended on powerful painkillers to get me through the day.
My husband’s excuse for cheating was that he felt I had no time for him. That I had become short with him, and overly critical. Sleep deprivation, insane and relentless demands from small children, excruciating pain with every step, and no time to even have a shower most days will do that to you.
In the hours following the sickening discovery that pulled the floor out from under me, I was in complete shock. My brain could not compute my reality. Therapists will tell you that you’re actually experiencing a type of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), something you may only equate with war veterans – that was definitely the case for me! So in my mind, how the fuck could discovering your husband having an affair possibly have the same effect as living through the horror of war? It didn’t make any sense to me. My brain refused to understand it, or even acknowledge it.
It’s easy to see that in this frame of mind, you are not thinking clearly. Your brain is being bombarded by hundreds of questions while at the same time not believing what has actually happened. Infidelity? In OUR marriage? NO WAY!
One of my first reactions (after shock) was shame. Surely I had caused this, or at least contributed to the environment that caused my husband to seek affection and intimacy elsewhere.
It took weeks, maybe months, of therapy to truly understand that the DECISION to cheat was not mine. Sure, I thought our marriage was stronger than average, and it was by no means perfect at that time, but I did not make the decision to cheat. My husband had the choice of coming to me and talking about our relationship honestly, or taking the coward’s way out and finding some whore to make him feel better. I hope he regrets that stupid decision for the rest of his fucking life.
The best advice I read in the hours following the discovery of the affair was BE CAREFUL WHO YOU TELL.
You might not want to tell anyone (that was me), or you might want tell everyone so they can see for themselves that he ain’t the stand-up guy everyone thinks he is (also me).
I decided to keep quiet until I could at least make some sense out of my situation.
The thing is, once you tell someone, you can never take it back. And if you two reconcile and decide to stay together, anyone you told will still harbor feelings of resentment towards your spouse. Relationships will change. The elephant in the room never shrinks. There is no un-telling.
A few weeks after D-Day, my mother-in-law asked if she could come over and spend the day with me and the baby while the other kids were at school and my husband was at work. I hesitated, then said yes. I didn’t know how the fuck I would get through something like that, but I didn’t want to keep her from seeing her grandchild. She is a lovely woman and I enjoy her company. But I was fragile, constantly breaking down and crying at random intervals.
That morning, I was watching the clock, counting down the minutes to her expected arrival. I was nervous, my eyes were red and swollen from crying, my hands were shaking. When the doorbell rang, my heart stopped.
I remember opening the door and inviting her to come inside. I remember walking over to the kettle and asking her if she’d like a coffee. I remember her asking me how I was. And then the floodgates opened. I burst into tears while blurting out that my husband (her son) had been having an affair with a married woman with two young kids of her own. She had her arm around me and I will never forget that look on her face for as long as I live. It was shock, mixed with complete disbelief, that her son could cheat on his wife like her husband had cheated on her.
My husband grew up in a home where his father was cheating with a fellow mother at their kids’ school for TWO YEARS. My mother-in-law took the children (my husband and his sister) and moved from Queensland to Sydney. My husband grew up in a home hundreds of kilometres from his dad. He knew the pain of not having his father around at critical periods of his life. He knew the way his mother suffered and sacrificed to take care of all three of them. And yet here he was, ready and willing to do the same bastardly thing to his own wife and children. It defied belief.
My mother-in-law would later tell me that she didn’t sleep that night. In fact, she didn’t sleep for many nights. The shock had rocked her and I feared she was going through her own post-traumatic stress disorder, let alone the horrible memories this must have raked up. What had I done? I told my husband. He was not angry – just hurt and embarrassed. I told him he had to talk to his mother. He nodded. And he spoke to her a few days later.
Since then, besides our therapist, I have told one friend about the affair (as well as all of you fellow betrayed spouses, of course). My husband has also told one friend. I have no regrets about who I told.
We all need to grieve the loss of our marriage as we knew it. We need to grieve our future dreams, such as growing old together sitting on the porch holding hands, because, you know, FUCK THAT. We need time to accept, to process, to repair. Often, we need a friend to help us through it because fuck knows how we’d make it otherwise.
So tell me about you. Who did you tell? What was their reaction? If you could have your time over, would you tell fewer people? More people? Different people? No-one? I’m especially interested in the reactions of mutual friends and whether they “took sides”. I’d like to hear of your experience and if you have any advice for betrayed spouses curled up in a corner wondering what to do.