My husband came home from work one evening and lost his temper on our oldest son because he wasn’t getting his pajamas on fast enough. I had never seen him, the man I’d known for over 12 years, lose his temper the way he did that night.
I looked at him knowing I was seeing a version of him that wasn’t really him. A feeling slid down my throat, into my chest, and pooled in my stomach. I sat with that for the rest of the evening, long after I had put our three kids to bed by myself.
Tears kept bubbling up, and they weren’t gentle tears either. They were fighting to get out of me and I kept forcing them back down — they felt violent, and I tried hard to hold them back for my kids, but my body was winning and I couldn’t keep the gasps silent.
We didn’t speak for the rest of the night, and as he got undressed before getting into bed that night while I pretended to be asleep, I slowly opened my eyes and squinted at him in the darkness. I looked at my husband — really looked at him. He was skinnier than I’d ever seen him. His eyes were weary. I’d heard him moving around in bed every night for past few weeks as I tried to sleep. But I ignored him lest he think I was awake and want to have sex. There was no way I could bring myself to be intimate with the man he was turning into.
A few evenings later we went out to dinner for our 9th wedding anniversary. It was quiet and felt forced, and neither of us wanted to go, but I kept thinking, Maybe this is what we need, to spend actual time together — just us. After we ordered a glass of wine, he looked over at me and said, “The other night while I was having a beer, I wanted to drink forever. I felt like I could have had 12, easy.”
Not only was my husband a very rare drinker who only enjoyed an occasional beer or glass of wine, the tone in his voice was distant — angry, almost desperate. I looked at him and said, “What is wrong with you lately? It’s like I don’t even know you.”
And I honestly didn’t. I had no idea who this man sitting in front of me was. I’d never met him before, and I was scared.
He didn’t respond until a few weeks later when he confessed his affair. He told me he had ended it and was in a deep depression the whole time. He said he wasn’t thinking, had no excuse, and didn’t know what was going on with him. A woman in her 20s who knew he was married made a pass at him, and he said he “didn’t know how to stop it.”
While he was having this affair, while he was having sex with a woman over ten years younger than him when I thought he was at work, his behavior had told me something was going on — but I ignored it. I always thought women found lipstick their man’s collar, or they would smell like perfume when they got home if they were having an affair. I thought they would lie and it would be so transparent any woman would be able to crack the code.
But his behavior didn’t do any of that. And sometimes I wonder if that’s what scared me the most — that he would allow himself to do something that was harming him and his family so deeply, something that was changing him, and “not be able to stop it.”
I was scared because I knew I was losing my husband and the relationship we used to share. I was scared because I didn’t know how to fix it. And I was scared because, deep down, I had known he was having an affair even though I wouldn’t let it register. It had been a thought I kept pushing away because he wasn’t working late, or on his phone all the time. There was no evidence of another woman, and he wasn’t being sneaky; he was just vastly different.
And it broke us.
Why didn’t my husband “know” how to stop it? That was the comment that made me flinch every time I played it over in my mind — which I did a lot — for the next six years while I was still married to him.
That he didn’t know how to stop it meant he didn’t care enough about me to stop it. It meant he didn’t value our family the way I did. It meant I wasn’t “his person.” It meant he had given up on us. It meant he wouldn’t be able to stop it if it happened again. It meant he didn’t care that it turned him into a man with a short fuse who would take his frustrations out on his kids.
And I didn’t know how to be married to him anymore. We tried — for several years — but, ultimately, that was the beginning of the end for me. This new person — a man who “didn’t know how to stop it” and was perpetually angry — wasn’t the man I had married.
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