I’m concerned that someone following my blog to this point may get a false impression as to how methodical and lucid I was in response to my wife’s affair. I started this blog almost two years after it ended, and I wanted to focus on what I learned from the experience. It’s easy sound logical and coherent when you’re talking in hindsight, but I wasn’t close to that when it was actually happening.
I’ll claim some credit for keeping my priorities straight and for maintaining my composure, but I was exactly like every other affair victim just trying to get through each day. I was confused and vulnerable, having regular panic attacks and periods of serious depression. There were several times that I was completely convinced my marriage was over, and there was nothing I could possibly do to keep my family intact.
As an example, my last two posts talked about how significant gathering the details of the affair were to my recovery. At the time, I had no idea what approach would best satisfy my anxiety. Multiple times I tried to follow the cliché of putting the past behind me only to find that the ugly thoughts would continue to haunt me. Over time I slowly came to realize the strategy that worked for me, and it’s only looking back that I can describe that with any coherence. I certainly don’t think that I’ve identified some profound answer that will work for everyone going through a similar experience, but I do hope that I can provide them with some useful thoughts from someone who has the benefit of hindsight.
I have several other thoughts that I’m planning on sharing about our recovery, but in the next few posts, I’m going to take a detour into darker topics. I need to share some details of the turmoil that I went through and the anger and confusion I experienced. Some of this is just to vent, but I also hope that it will help others who might be in the middle of the hell that I experienced. At the very least I’m hoping it can provide some confidence that it is possible for a marriage to be saved even after sinking to the depths that we experienced.
Regaining trust in my wife after her affair required more than logistics such as ensuring that she was no longer lying about where she was going or watching the phone bills to make sure she wasn’t in contact with the other guy. What I needed was the confidence that she wasn’t just behaving herself out of fear of being caught, but that she had instead lost her feelings for that guy and was truly recommitted to our long term marriage.
I had no expectation this would happen immediately. Issues that had been steadily developing in our marriage for years weren’t going to be solved overnight. Regardless whether she was justified in developing feelings for the other guy, she couldn’t simply choose to absolve herself of them. I understood that it would take time for us to repair our relationship, but I also knew that we would never achieve that point if we didn’t have complete honesty with one another.
She initially downplayed the seriousness of the affair saying that it was just a good friend with no sex, and she had never considered leaving our marriage for the other guy. That was difficult for me to believe though since she had risked her entire family multiple times over that relationship. Just a couple of months after it ended, she said that she was essentially over the relationship and rarely thought about him. But phone bills had shown me that right up until the end of the affair she was in contact with him constantly through the day from the moment she woke up. No one could just casually walk away like that from someone who had so consumed their everyday life. While I wanted her claims to be true, they simply didn’t seem to fit with reality.
One evening we were talking about our day, and she told that she had a realization that afternoon that she hadn’t thought about the other guy all morning. She considered that a positive since she was successfully moving him out of her thoughts and becoming more engaged with our relationship. While I also agreed that it was positive, it confirmed my doubts by completely nullifying her previous claim that she rarely thought about him. By this time, she had been saying for months that her feelings for him had been dwindling, but that comment told me that our recovery wasn’t nearly as far along as I was led to believe. It damaged my confidence in her honesty since she had apparently just been telling me what I wanted to hear. While it may have also been what she wanted to be true, my confidence depended on what actually was true.
I was working to build a story of the affair in my mind that went beyond dates and events. If I was going to be confident that she was truly committed to the marriage, I needed to understand how she reached that point after being so far away from it. I needed to be able trace a path from our marriage slowly deteriorating, to her developing feelings for the other guy, and finally to her working through those feelings and recommitting herself to me.
My confidence in that story would be based on how well it matched with her behavior and the details about the affair that I had been able to confirm. I knew my information was imperfect with plenty of loose ends, but it at least had to make logical sense so I could be reasonably confident that I had the truth. The challenge was that we were still discussing the affair and uncovering new details. If new information didn’t fit into my story, then it must mean that my understanding of events wasn’t correct.
Multiple times we followed a similar pattern. We would have a conversation where some new piece of information would come out, and I would spend two or three days analyzing it. It could be a completely casual conversation where we only touched for a brief moment on the affair, and the new information could be a seemingly innocuous detail. Even a minor detail though could contradict something significant, which could ultimately destroy my entire story. It was as if every time I learned something new, the story of the affair became tentative until I could verify that new piece of information logically fit.
On one occasion we were talking about the other guy and how his dating life might be going. She initially claimed to have no knowledge whatsoever, but then a couple of days later she admitted that she had heard from a mutual friend that he was in a relationship that had gotten quite serious. That detail itself wasn’t particularly consequential, and it certainly didn’t bother me that she was discussing him with a mutual friend. Of course she was going to be interested in his relationship status, and I knew that the mutual friend was still in contact with him. What I realized from that simple interchange though was that she still couldn’t just speak openly with me. She still had a guard up and had to consciously think of what she could say and what she should hold back. It didn’t necessarily contradict any part of my story, but it did tell me that I couldn’t yet have complete confidence in it.
As time progressed though, my doubts did steadily diminish. Each time a new detail fit, it gave me an additional bit of confidence that I wasn’t going to eventually find a significant contradiction. Each time she shared something new, it was another step closer to complete and open honesty. I chose to focus on our positive progress as opposed to dwell on suspicions. If she revealed something now that she had previously held back, for example, I focused on her current honesty as opposed to her past obfuscation.
While my confidence in the present is dependent on my understanding of the past, I know my story of the affair will never be entirely complete. I’ve reached the point though where I’ve lost interested in filling in any remaining details. At some point you need to let the doubts go and focus on moving forward with your marriage. It took time and a hell of a lot of work, but I think we’re finally there.