I have witnessed infidelity in real life which resulted in both divorce and reconciliation. I have watched affairs play out on television, almost to the point of desensitization. I have had long talks with girlfriends about what we would do if our partner strayed, and about men who cheat and women who stay. Never, I thought. That will never be me. Not only would I never marry a man with wandering eyes, I would also never stay with a cheater — not in a relationship and especially not in a marriage.
When I met my husband 20 years ago, he felt like home. I was his first serious girlfriend, the first woman he introduced to his mother. He had never cheated. He adored me, and everyone could tell. I felt safe, maybe too safe.
We got married and had kids right away, three of them in three short years, and I grew tired. We both stopped investing in each other and put so much time and attention toward our kids and his career that our marriage sank to the bottom of our priority list. Dates nights never happened. We would tuck the kids in bed and spend the rest of the evening in separate corners because we were too drained to function. I denied him again and again. We didn’t kiss or touch for over six months. I just couldn’t stand the thought of it after being alone with the kids for hours and hours while he worked. I was too exhausted and had enough hands all over me all day.
We were a cliché.
He came home one day with a few paintings and hung them in his office — paintings that I would later smash all over his pool table after he told me about the woman he was having an affair with.
I knew we were broken, but I never thought he would step outside of our marriage. In fact, I would have bet money my husband would never fuck another woman, but he did. And he told me about it one October evening as he sobbed next to me on the sofa.
I threw up, and then called my best friend even though it was midnight. She lives five hours away and told me to hang tight, that she would be there the next day, and she was. I made my husband leave, and she was there to help me keep it together in front of my kids.
He was a wreck but I didn’t care. He said it was a very short fling. He had no feelings for her. He just liked feeling needed. There was nothing he could have said to make it right. Nothing. I didn’t care about her. I have never been curious about the woman who fucked my husband while knowing full well he had a wife and kids at home. He is the one who broke his vows to me. I had so much anger and hurt because of what he did, I couldn’t register those feeling towards another woman. I have never Googled her or asked what she looks like. She is not worth my energy. I only had the energy to be sad for our marriage. I only had the energy to care for my children. I only had the energy to worry about myself and how I was going to move forward.
Some days, that looked like me hardly speaking and barely functioning. I would mutter small words to my children who were 4, 5, and 7 at the time, but that was all I had. I was doing my best.
Some days, I had the energy to really dig in and be a fantastic mother, but it was just a distraction. My feelings of anger and resentment of my husband and his infidelity would always resurface. I would find myself getting angry at him for forgetting to pick up paper towels, and before I knew it, I was telling him to go fuck somebody else again since he didn’t know how to be a good husband.
And he let me. He would hang his head in shame, never yell back at me. He scheduled date nights, took me to my favorite restaurants, and never said anything about the amount of money I started to spend on myself to try and fill the deep hole. A void had replaced our happy life.
I told him to go, to walk out that door and be with her. I would be fine. I would make it. I would rather be alone than with someone who felt they had to stay. I deserve more, and so does he. Those were the moments he seemed most hurt, when he seemed the most shocked at himself for what he had done. He said he felt haunted, and I was glad.
Very slowly I was able to get behind it, and be all in for our marriage, but honestly, that feeling comes and goes, even now.
Our children have no idea about my husband’s infidelity. We never spoke of it when they were around. Their opinion of their father is sacred to me. They adore him, and I never want them to know. It does not define him and it does not define our marriage. Some days, when I feel sliced open by his infidelity, I take it out on him by picking fights about petty stuff in from of them — because I am a human being who is still trying to deal with the hurt. They always side with him and tell me I am being mean to Daddy. It takes all my strength not to say, “If you only knew! I am not the bad guy here. He hurt me. Daddy hurt me.” But I won’t. And that’s not because I think it is a horrible decision, but because I can’t see it helping anything for our family right now.
It is such a delicate situation and every family unit is different, and whether you decide to tell your kids, your mother, or your friends about your marriage problems, it is all up to you.
I decided to tell my best friend and sisters. That is it. Not because I didn’t want anyone to know, but because I knew I couldn’t deal with some people’s reactions about what my husband did. I needed clarity and energy to rebuild my family. I knew I would be clouded and swayed by the opinions of others.
I have thought I was going to leave, then I knew I was going to stay forever, then I wanted to get as far away from him as possible. It ebbs and flows and it doesn’t go away.
And here I am — five years later, still married, still in the dark about my husband’s mistress.
I stayed because my family is worth fighting for. I stayed because I love the man I exchanged vows with, even though we have both broken some vows. I stayed because my husband loves me. I stayed because the thought of him walking out that door or meeting him at the local McDonald’s to pass off the kids every weekend brings me to my knees. I stayed because I believe in my marriage. I stayed because I now understand what it means to accept the choice he made, forgive him, and love him anyway. That’s something I was unable to do before it actually happened.
That’s something I was unable to do before it actually happened to me, back when I would sit in judgment of the women who did stay. It is very easy to sit alongside someone and judge the way they handle things.
My husband’s affair does not define our marriage. Even more importantly, it does not define me. I know that I could live a happy life being a single mother. (I didn’t say “easy.” I said “happy.”) I know I could choose to end our marriage anytime I want. And right now, I still want to be his wife. I had to decide to put my energy into this new relationship of ours, because we can never really go back to the way things were. It is different now. I can’t lie and tell you that it’s okay. It stings, sometimes so badly I can’t breathe. But this doesn’t hurt as much as it would hurt to end our relationship.
I stayed because it is my choice, my life, and my marriage. I chose to do what was best for me — not what was best for my kids and not what was best for my husband but what was best for me.
And I have decided to write about it, because if you can relate (God, I hope you can’t relate), I want to you know it’s your business, your life, your choice to stay or go, or to go and then come back. It’s your choice to tell the kids, the neighbors, or your friends. It is yours and yours alone. You can take control, handle it, and still have a happy ending, no matter what decision you make.