Rethinking Infidelity

I stumbled across this TED talk completely by accident, and the title obviously interested me.  It couldn’t possibly better sum up everything I’ve learned over the past couple of years, in only 20 minutes.  After seeing this, I started reading her book Mating in Captivity.  In only the first chapter, I made some significant realizations that I had been contemplating since I originally found out about my wife’s affair.

I won’t bother trying to summarize since you can watch for yourself, and I strongly suggest that you do.


A Crappy Apology

After I sent the other guy a mail telling him that I discovered his porn site where he bragged to the world about all the sex he was having with my wife, he promised me a response.  I did get one from him a few days later, and I assume that he meant it as a sincere apology.

I am at a loss of word as to what to say to you that might make you feel better, or mend the rift, or bind the wounds. All I can say to you is that I am very, very sorry about my actions and what happened.

Neither of us ever knew or thought what happened would ever happen from the beginning. We were strictly friends and that’s all I’m sure we ever intended it to be. I can’t tell you what day or hour or action changed everything between us.

I can’t change the past and the actions that occurred in the past. I can only say I am sorry.

I do have one question though, why didn’t you say something if you knew?

I know my apology isn’t much to offer, but it’s all I have.

I admit that my first reaction to this was that it did sound sincere. He seemed to be honestly apologizing, and as he says, there’s really nothing more he could have offered me. But the more I thought about it and after I went back to read it again, I wasn’t impressed.  His claim of only intending to be friends was just a continuation of his inability to accept responsibility.  Apparently, he had the best of intentions, but something beyond his control turned that innocent friendship into an affair.

What really angered me though was that question that he posed to me, which I read that as him challenging my claim that I knew about the sex before I discovered his site.  Regardless of his intention with the question, I took the chance to respond.

I’m not sure what compels you to ask that question, or any question of me for that matter.  You know infinitely more than I do about what happened over the last couple of years, while I’ve had to work for almost a year just to scrape together the bits of information that I do have.  Considering that you were instrumental in actively keeping that information from me, it’s quite ironic that you would send me a message that provides me with no additional insight or personal perspective, but then ask me to satisfy your curiosity.  I hope you won’t be offended when I say that I don’t feel any obligation to answer.  Everything that I have done over the past year has been with the very specific goal of protecting my family, and [Wife] is the only person who has any right to evaluate my actions.

Still, I feel compelled to answer if for no other reason than to have you finally hear my perspective.   I’m sure that I was the topic of various discussions of yours over the past couple of years, and perhaps it’s time that you actually heard something from me instead of about me.  Giving a complete explanation would take far too long.  But this is also not an answer that I could adequately provide in just a few lines since there were multiple times where I knew more than I let on.  So, you’ll have to excuse the length of this mail.

Suffice it to say that from the time that I found out about the affair last July, I have focused on the clear goals of saving my marriage and my family and keeping as much of the drama from our children as possible.  My personal well-being, my dignity, and even my sanity have been secondary to the needs of my family.  The entire month of August, I kept quiet about what I knew because our children were home from school, and [Wife] and I had little time to be alone. I had no idea how she was going to react, and  I was determined to protect our children from such traumatic experiences as volatile arguments between their parents or one of us leaving the home unexpectedly. Those weeks waiting for school to start was the most difficult period of my entire life, but I would repeat it again a countless number of times if I thought that was in the best interest of my children.

I’ll admit to being completely naïve from September to November.  I believed that the relationship was nothing more than a friendship and was in the process of winding down.  I had to perform a significant amount of self-delusion in order to do that though and had to explicitly ignore a variety of obvious signs.  But I was so exhausted from the summer that I chose to believe what I wanted to be true.  You were able to take advantage of that and continue the relationship with little change.  Thanks to your blog, I now not only have some specific dates but even specific sex acts that were going on while I was performing such mundane acts as cooking dinner for my family or picking up my children from school.  If I didn’t already feel humiliated enough at my gullibility, then I certainly do now.

But even under my delusion, it bothered me significantly that you two were still in contact.  I had every right to demand that [Wife] cease communication with you based on nothing more than the excessive texting and the history of meetings without my knowledge.  But I was focused on the long term health of my wife and my marriage, not on my short term pride.  I needed to give [Wife] her space to work things out according to her own time schedule, and we needed to coherently make mutual decisions in the best interest of our marriage and our family.  I don’t shy away one bit from my portion of responsibility for the problems in our marriage, and I needed time to make appropriate amends there as well.  Demands and ultimatums might have given me some perceived short term power over the situation, but it would do little for the long term health of our marriage.

It was the events of late November that forced me to face reality.  When I looked at the phone bills and found that virtually nothing had changed in your relationship, it was obvious that it could no longer continue if [Wife] and I were going to retain any kind of a marriage.  I had to risk the resentment of making the demands that I had been avoiding.  During those volatile couple of weeks, it became very clear that this was a romantic relationship involving sex.  I chose to consciously overlook each of the signs pointing to that though because we had enough to focus on without having to deal with that issue.  Whether or not sex was involved, the marriage had clearly been violated, and we had significant work to do in order to restore our trust in one another and the foundation of our marriage.  Taking on every issue at once would have been more than either of us could handle.  I had every intent of addressing the issue of sex at some point, but only after I felt enough confidence that our relationship had sufficiently progressed in order to confront such a sensitive topic.

You may note that the attitude I’m describing here is the antithesis of the simplistic husband with antiquated views of marriage who wants to own and control his wife, as you portrayed me in your mail in December.  But you may be surprised that my actual views about marriage are significantly more complex than those of the caricature that you painted.  Considering the other spurious arguments in that mail though, I probably shouldn’t assume that accusation was entirely truthful.

Of course, when I discovered your blog, it was obvious that the issue had to finally be confronted.  I thought that I was prepared for the discussion, but in addition to accelerating our timeline, you added an entirely new level of ugliness to it that we’ve been forced to deal with.  It’s difficult enough to mentally process the idea of your wife having a sexual affair without your knowledge, but it is another matter entirely to see her portrayed as little more than a prop in support of someone else’s displays of sexual prowess.  I’m only glad that I didn’t stumble on your site sooner when we would have been far less prepared to deal with it.  I wonder if you ever considered the additional risk that you were putting on our already fragile marriage while you fulfilled your apparent need to publically boast about your sexual conquests.  It certainly appears that the fact that [Wife] was a married woman with two daughters and a husband at home desperately trying to work through the complexities of saving his family was secondary in your mind compared to her role as your “FWB”.

I admit that it’s not easy for me to accept your apology.  You say that you had no intention of moving beyond a friendship yet your post on [date of the post about the “session” with his “FWB”] portrays someone quite proud of their accomplishment.  You’ve had plenty of time over the last several months to consider your actions, yet the photo and posts remained on your blog for more than a year.  You only thought to remove them after I discovered the site.  It might appear to some that rather than having remorse for your actions, you simply regret your mistakes that led to me finding out about them.

Over the last several months, I’ve built up a level of animosity that I didn’t think I was capable of, only to have it increase further at this latest revelation.  But that’s something that I simply don’t want to carry any more.  My family needs me to focus on my progression of becoming a better husband and father, and I can’t do that while continuing to expend energy on all that anger.  As you stated, there is nothing else that I can reasonably ask from you, so a simple apology will have to suffice.

I doubt that my opinion carries much weight with you so I am under no false impression that it will affect your life much whether I choose to accept your apology or not.  For what it’s worth though, I do believe that you are being sincere, and I do accept it.  You could have simply chosen not to respond at all, and I respect your integrity for doing so.  It will take me time to get over that animosity, but I am committed to doing exactly that.

Assuming that there aren’t any other surprises out there waiting for me, I consider this entire drama closed and am committed to focusing my full attention on moving forward with my wife and my family.  I honestly
hope that you are well and ultimately find whatever it is that you’re looking for in life.

I actually lied in that mail. I didn’t think his apology was sincere, and I didn’t accept it. As I stated in the mail, his only real regret was over getting caught. If he had true remorse for his actions, then those posts would have been removed far sooner.  If he actually had integrity, he wouldn’t have found pleasure posting photos of a married woman along with condescending comments about her in the first place.  But I didn’t need to dwell on that anger.  I told him what I wanted to be true, that I was focusing on the positive aspects of rebuilding my marriage as opposed to clinging to the negative aspects of the affair.  I needed to put it all in the past.


The Other Guy

If you’ve been following my blog, you may have noticed that I’ve barely said anything about the guy my wife had an affair with. I’ve mentioned him several times but have provided almost no details about who he is or how they met, and I certainly haven’t communicated any of the anger that I’ve felt towards him. Now that I’ve decided to do a few blog posts on the detailed story of our affair though, I’ve reached the point that I can’t really continue unless I start to give details about the other guy and my interaction with him.

They met through a mutual friend, a woman who shared his same profession and he had known for a long time.  He’s seven years older than my wife, in his early 50s when they first met, but he has no kids because of infertility issues in his longtime marriage.  He was still married when he and my wife started texting each other regularly but was separated when the physical affair started and divorced by the time I found out about everything.  He had at least one affair with a married woman before my wife, but that’s a fact I didn’t learn until later.

He had been out of work a considerable amount of the last few years of their marriage.  In his defense, he does work in an industry that was significantly effected by the downturn in the economy, although he did curiously find work almost immediately after he could no longer rely on his wife for financial support.  After his separation, he moved to an apartment just one town over from ours.  That gave him plenty of time and opportunity to conduct an affair and put him close enough proximity to be readily available for my wife.

To this day, my wife and I disagree on one point.  By the time the affair ended I had obviously generated a considerable amount of animosity toward this guy (although not nearly as much animosity as I would generate a few months later), and I considered him more guilty than her in the affair.  I absolutely respect her desire to take full responsibility for her own actions, and I’ll admit that I was probably deflecting a considerable amount of anger and blame toward my wife on to him.  I still stand by my rationale though that she risked everything in this affair while he risked nothing.  She had a family and children who’s lives were on the verge of complete devastation. She was the one who had to consistently lie and work out logistics anytime they wanted to meet. Her life, and the lives of so many other people around her, had the potential to be forever altered as a result of this affair, while he had absolutely nothing to lose.

I often wondered how he felt when she left for home after one of their dates. Did he feel guilt that he sat there worry free while she was dealing with the stress of the lies that she would have to tell when she arrived home? Did he ever think about the anxiety that she was enduring to lead her double life? This affair was not an equitable arrangement between the two parties. She undertook most of the work and assumed all of the risk, while he simply enjoyed the benefits.  She willingly agreed to that arrangement, but that didn’t justify his apparent eagerness to take selfishly take advantage of it.

You could certainly argue that I shouldn’t have been worrying about him at all but should instead have been focused solely on my wife who obviously had the power to completely eliminate him from our lives. Affair partners rely on that cliché to help justify their actions and escape their consequences. She and I had months in front of us confronting the pain that we caused each other, and she would not be able to escape the impact of any of her actions. He also needed to answer for his transgressions though.  It was time that he heard from me.

I assumed that he had long ago written me off as any concern, choosing to view me as a simplistic caricature defined my nothing more than the negative traits I’m sure my wife had been focusing on.  He needed to see me as an actual person, a husband and father who had spent years supporting his family and who was now desperately working to save it. Of course, he couldn’t act without the cooperation of my wife, but she was steadily taking responsibility for her actions and working with me to atone for the pain that she had caused. He needed to understand that he was not committing a victimless crime, but that his actions had direct and inalterable consequences on others.

My first communication with him was a text message I sent after intercepting their e-mail exchange.  Rather than remaining content playing the passive role that I had been until this point, I was now actively working to save my marriage and my family.  He needed to understand that he was a direct enemy in that effort.

It’s time for you to get out of my family’s life. Please do not contact [Wife] in any way, whether it be text, email, phone, Facebook, or in person. My wife is going to focus on her family now.

I didn’t receive a response to that message, and I didn’t expect one.  But I wasn’t content being completely ignored, and I followed up with an e-mail that provided some more detail.

I sent you a text message a few days ago but didn’t receive a response.  That doesn’t surprise me since I acknowledge that’s a rather awkward message to respond to.  I wanted to make absolutely sure that you received my message though so I’m following up with this mail.  I’d appreciate at least an acknowledgement that you’ve received it and an agreement to my request, but I admit that I won’t lose any sleep waiting for that.

[Wife] and I are facing some significant issues in our lives and in our marriage.  If we’re going to achieve the life that we want both for ourselves and for our children, we need to confront those issues with honesty and integrity.  Your presence in our life in even the slightest way is detrimental to [wife]’s ability to focus on the healthy relationships that will help her achieve the long term happiness that she deserves.

As I said in my text, please do not contact [Wife] in any way.  I understand that you will be back in [our state] before leaving to [his new state], and I hope that you will be completely nonexistent to my family during that time.  I assume that you’ll be back here at some point in the future, and I’m under no false illusion that there aren’t a multitude of ways for people to communicate remotely.  But I hope that you will show respect toward [Wife], me, and our children by refraining from any kind of contact with her at any time in the future.

I understand that you’re dealing with your own personal life issues, and I sincerely hope that you are able to solve those issues and find your own happiness.  While you may feel that your relationship with [Wife] is in your best interest, it put her long term personal well-being and that of her entire family at significant risk.  That’s a risk that we can longer afford, so I ask you to have the integrity to deal with your issues and live your life completely independent of my family.

I did receive a response to this one, but it was a little underwhelming.

Got your message.  Will reply sometime tomorrow as I’m traveling.

I wasn’t the slightest bit surprised when I didn’t received that promised reply the next day. In fact, it was a couple days later that they met each other at the coffee house.  The mail that I sent him in response to that incident clearly showed that I was no longer interested in being polite.

It may be that you forgot about that reply, but it appears obvious now that you are simply continuing your cowardly pattern of avoiding personal responsibility for the consequences of your actions and a complete disregard for those who get hurt by them.  Throughout this relationship with [Wife], you have continued to selfishly allow her to risk everything important in her life for you, while you risk absolutely nothing.  You have threatened my future and the future of our children, while you risk absolutely nothing.  As long as your desires are met, it doesn’t matter whose lives gets destroyed.  If you have the slightest respect toward [Wife] and her relationship with her family, then it’s now time for you to finally show some integrity and go away, completely and for good.

While it was an entire month before I received a response to this mail, that response had even a greater impact that he probably intended. It appeared that he was trying to argue that the relationship was appropriate, his actions were completely altruistic, and my suspicions were a result of my simplistic views of marriage and relationships (at this point he still thought that I was naïve enough to believe that sex wasn’t involved). If that was his intent, then he failed miserably. If his goal was to anger and confuse me as much as possible though, then he achieved it quite well.  It took over a year before I understood that mail and his motivations behind the affair.  That mail and its analysis though is going to need its own post.


The Affair Finally Ends….but not without a fight

My goal of  trying to avoid a traumatic and abrupt ending to my wife’s affair turned out to be naïve.  While I had been hoping to avoid making the demand that she completely cease communication with the other guy, that was exactly what I had to do in order to end the charade we had been playing for the previous three months.

I was on the web site for our cell provider upgrading the family’s phones when I happened to notice the summary of text messages for each of our numbers.  This is information that I had been actively avoiding for three months.  The volume on my wife’s phone, which far exceeded the others, made it apparent she had been lying about reducing her amount of texting. I clicked on the details and saw exactly what I had seen months earlier, messages continuously throughout every day with distinct gaps at times they were together. The affair hadn’t changed one bit. The only thing that had changed was her ability to hide her actions from me.

The detail that hurt me the most were the texts on a particular evening that my wife and I had spent together. We went for dinner and drinks and stayed in a hotel room just a few miles from home, a much deserved evening to ourselves with no kids. Instead of that time being between just the two of us though, she used any moment when I may have gone to the restroom or simply looked the other way to text the other guy. I couldn’t even spend an evening alone with my wife without the presence of this unwelcome third party.

It was obvious that I couldn’t just wait for the relationship to wind down. I wasn’t angry as much as I was sad and frustrated.  When the kids went to bed, we sat downstairs in the dark while I confronted her with what I had found. I told her I had tried to allow her to manage the ending of this relationship on her terms, but now there was no way I could be expected to stay in this marriage if she was going to have any more contact with this guy.  We both finally agreed that all communication between them would end immediately.  She was so serious about that commitment that she actually encouraged me to monitor her activities to give me piece of mind that they were no longer in contact.  She was essentially telling me to spy on her.

Unfortunately, her commitment lasted less than a week when I intercepted several e-mails between them, including one he sent to her asking to get together in a few days. It was obvious that they had no intention of ending communications or scaling back the relationship at all.  They were just looking for a means of communication that I couldn’t detect.  The composure that I had maintained over all those months finally reached breaking point.

The kids were at school, so I was free to start yelling the moment she walked in the door. She told me that he had messaged her, and she made the mistake of responding instead of informing him that his contact was no longer welcome. She claimed that she didn’t understand his message about meeting because she had been clear with him that the relationship was over.  It was the first time that I called bullshit on her and accused her of knowingly lying to me when she said she was ending the relationship.  She stood firm to her ignorance of his intentions and reiterated her commitment to our marriage and family.

That commitment didn’t last much longer than the previous one.  A week later, she met the other guy at a coffee house giving me an excuse of an excessive wait at a doctor’s appointment. This time I found out by tracking the physical location of her phone. She had coordinated the meeting by texting a mutual friend who texted the other guy on her behalf. Her justification this time was that she had some things to return to him. Of course, that was a logistical issue she could have just told me about, but I yet again let her have the excuse.

I was strangely calm in response to this incident as opposed to my anger at the e-mails because subconsciously I knew it was coming.  By now I had made a critical realization.  Her behavior over the previous couple of weeks wasn’t devious as much as it was desperate and irrational. She knew that I had full access to her e-mail account, and she was the one who told me to spy on her. She had to know that I would be suspicious about her excuse at the doctor, and I had already told her about the ability to track her phone. If her intent was to leave, then she had multiple chances to do that, but she instead continuously reiterated her commitment to her family. If she was actually trying to continue the affair without my knowledge, then she was doing a comically bad job of it.

I realized that I had been waiting for my wife to make the conscious decision to commit herself to her family over this guy. I thought of her in complete control of the situation, but now I realized that no one was in control. She had been in daily contact with this guy for two years. He was her primary confidante during the most emotionally difficult time of her life. He was her source of comfort when she was feeling scared and confused. Is it really reasonable to assume that she would be able to just abruptly end something that had been such an integral part of her life for so long?

It was irrelevant by this point whether she was justified in building that relationship. If I was trying to argue a legal case against her, then she had no defense. If I was going to choose to continue to work on our marriage though, then I had to accept the complexities of human emotion. The reality was that she had built that relationship, and she couldn’t easily walk away from it regardless of her desire to.  While this realization tempered my anger though, it did little calm my anxiety.  The situation in front of us now seemed more random than ever.

You could certainly argue that I was naïve for not demanding that she cease all communication with the other guy once I had discovered the affair. You could also  say that I should have walked away after any of the multiple times that she reneged on her agreement to end it. I have no idea what the outcome would have been had I chosen those actions. It’s entirely possible that I would be sitting in exactly the same place reminiscing about how my firm stance had been the right strategy for saving our marriage. I suspect though that the more likely outcome would be me lamenting about the end of our marriage.  As I said in a previous post, the people who we are now would still be suffering from the impetuous actions of the people we used to be.

The story of the actual affair ends here. I suspect there was further interaction between my wife and the other guy over the next month but nothing that I detected and certainly nothing that I’m concerned about now. He moved to another state for work which obviously helped the situation, although communication between two people in today’s connected world doesn’t worry much about distances. It’s not as if his physical location meant that I could rest easy, and we had considerable work in front of us to recover from the damage of the previous two years.

The charade we were still maintaining though was that the affair didn’t involve sex. I realize how absurd that sounds, and by this point I didn’t honestly believe that sex wasn’t a component of a two year affair as serious as this one. We had so many other issues to confront though I that wasn’t ready to challenge that topic yet. I had minor bits of evidence that refuted her claim but nothing definitive. That evidence did exist though, and I ultimately discovered in one of the worst ways you can imagine. As much I despise teasers, that part of the story deserves its own post.

I also had some things I needed to resolve with the other guy. I certainly hold my wife accountable for her actions, but it’s not as if he was an innocent party. I have specific reasons for hardly mentioning him by this point, but that’s about to change.


The Confrontation

Unlike most people who discovered their spouse’s affair, I had about a month to prepare for my confrontation with my wife. That was obviously my choice as I could have addressed it with her at any point, but nonetheless it was a significant amount of time.  My primary goal over that span was just keeping the family together while maintaining some semblance of my sanity.

My other focus during that time was gathering evidence in preparation for confronting her.  I already had the clear pattern in the phone records that indicated when they together, and I could now line up those periods with specific lies that she was telling me about her whereabouts.  But I wanted evidence that was more definitive to ensure that she couldn’t rationally deny that this was at the very least and inappropriate relationship.  I had no intention of trying to berate her or overwhelm her with her lies, but I was determined to get her to admit the truth so we could start immediately down a path either to recovery or amicable divorce.  I needed to have information she couldn’t possibly refute so we didn’t waste any more time playing this charade.

I watched the credit card records noting transactions she made at suspicious times and locations.  The GPS in the car tracked where it had driven over the previous couple of days, so  I took photos of the screen tracking her path to other guy’s place or the absence of any tracking on days that she had claimed to have gone other places. Of course I had my self imposed limits on what information I would access, but what I did gather was absolutely definitive.  Once the date arrived, there was no question that she would have to admit the affair.  The only question was how much of that information I would have to use.

I made the decision to talk to her as soon as she got back from taking the kids to their first day of school, and I even setup that time with her a couple of weeks in advance.  I didn’t say what we were doing, and she later told me that she thought we were just going to have a nice lunch. I had no idea how she would react, and I was mentally prepared for a variety of possibilities.  My experience from a quarter of a century with her told me that we would have a calm conversation, but my experience from the last couple of months told me that I could no longer no longer rely on my past assumptions. She could refuse to talk to me, storm out of the house, accuse me invading her privacy, or a host of other nonproductive reactions.

When she returned that morning from taking the kids to school, I was waiting for her. I asked her to sit on the couch while I sat across from her.  I started with the opening that I had been rehearsing for weeks, telling her how the last couple of months had been even more difficult for me than I had shown. I told her that I been aware of the affair but had held back that information because I needed to wait for this moment when the kids were out of the house. Her first reaction was to attempt to deny, but it was quickly obvious that was futile. I fortunately had to use very little of the information that I had gathered before she admitted that this was an affair and she had been untruthful with me for months.  We had the calm conversation that I was hoping for, but it was going to be some time before we uncovered the actual truth.

Through the phone records, I already knew that the relationship had been going on for about a year and a half, and it appeared that the activity increased in the past few months. She confirmed that he was actually spending most of his time out of the state for the first year and had found more local employment about six months previous. That’s when they started meeting regularly. He was technically still married when they started the relationship, but they were in the process of separating, and his divorced had just recently finalized.

While she did admit that the relationship was an affair though, she claimed that sex wasn’t involved and latched on to the title of emotional affair. She told me that she never considered ending the marriage and reiterated what she had been saying that this was just a friend who she commiserated with. Any rational person could tell that wasn’t truthful, but I was so exhausted from the previous two months and ecstatic that she showed interest in saving our marriage that I believed her and accepted her apologies. She lamented about how selfish she had been, and I reassured her that she hadn’t destroyed everything. We could still get past this.

What we didn’t do in that conversation is make any plans. I didn’t ask her to cut off contact with the other guy, and she didn’t offer. I realize the first step in virtually all guidance for affair recovery is immediate termination of any communication between the cheating spouse and affair partner, but that didn’t seem like the right approach for a couple of reasons.

My first concern was having her resent me since I had barely showed any notice of her personal activities over the previous couple of years. I felt that I hadn’t earned the right to start making demands like that now. I fully realize how absurd that sounds since I had every right to make such a demand considering the lies that she had just admitted. But that was nonetheless a very real possibility since rational thought wasn’t exactly a strength for either of us at this point.  I was still felt that I had to simply keep the marriage together until I completely understood the situation and could make critical decisions with a coherent mind.

More importantly though, the motivation to cut off communication with this guy needed to come from her if we had any chance of building a quality marriage. To use a rough analogy, have you really cured an alcoholic if you just remove all the booze from the house and tell them you’re going to track their activities? Their true recovery comes when they make the personal commitment to no longer drink. I was risking my short term gratification for the long term health of our marriage. They could communicate using a variety of means anyway, so their relationship was only going to end when she made the conscious decision to end it.

But I will admit to being more naïve than strategic at this point. I was so desperate for some normalcy that I was willing to delude myself in order to get it. I had spent weeks contemplating worst case scenarios such as telling our kids their parents were divorcing or moving off to some little apartment while working out the logistics of weekend visits. I was so ecstatic at the notion of having hope again for the first time in so long that I accepted her admittedly unbelievable insistence that there was no sex and that this was not a romantic relationship.

You could argue that my accepting her downplayed version of the relationship was the wrong decision since, as I’ll detail in my next post, the affair continued for another three months. But I could also argue that it was absolutely the right decision since almost three years after these events we have a far better marriage than ever, and the affair is steadily becoming a distant memory. There’s not telling whether we would have had a different outcome had I challenged her at this point, although we both agree that it would have more than likely led to the end of our marriage.

What is certain is that this was just the first step in our eventual recovery, and we still had considerable work in front of us. That started with three months of additional turmoil as she pretended the affair was over, and I pretended to believe her.  I’ll save that part of the story for the next post.


Mother’s Day

My last post, and the next couple of posts I’m working on, make my wife look pretty selfish and undeserving of much empathy.  I can imagine that a reader would have a difficult time understanding why I was working so hard to salvage our marriage. This is a quick post that describes an incident that occurred about four months after the end of the affair.  We still had a long way to go in our recovery, but this is a good illustration of the results of my efforts and of her appreciation of them.

It was Mother’s Day, 2013.  We planned to take a drive down to the coast, have lunch at a fish restaurant my wife went to as a kid, and wander around the tide pools.  Apparently, everyone else in our region had that same idea because we were locked in traffic for over an hour and had to search for parking in one full lot after the next.  When we finally did find a place for the car, we had to walk precariously along a busy highway only to wait almost an hour to get our food.

It was one of the days where almost everything went wrong… yet we had a wonderful time. We laughed off one minor inconvenience after another and focused on enjoying each others’ company. The sun was low in the sky by the time we hit the tide pools, and that’s when the day actually turned into the perfection that we were hoping for.

Just before going to sleep my wife and I were sitting in bed talking about what a great day we had. Then she started crying…..”I almost threw all that away”, she said through her tears. She then thanked me for not giving up on her and keeping our family together.

I always believed that my wife was hurting herself more than anyone else and that she would seriously regret her actions had they resulted in breaking up our family. If I had focused solely on my anger, that most likely would have been the outcome. I’d probably be writing a post now lamenting about how she destroyed her relationship with our children, or gloating about how I knew she would end up alienating herself from family and close friends. It’s far more gratifying to take pride in my role in helping to avoid that negative outcome for everyone.


A Shift In Tone

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.


Confidence in the Present

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.

 


Partners or Adversaries

I hear about people who, upon finding out about their spouse’s affair, take such actions as stealing their cell phone or searching through their personal belongings in order to gather evidence with the primary intent of humiliating their partner.  I can understand the desire for your guilty spouse to feel the full weight of the hurt they’ve caused in light of their betrayal.  But I was never looking for that “a-ha” moment to shove in my wife’s face since that would give me nothing more than a bit of short term satisfaction at the potential long term expense of our marriage.

I did need to do some investigative work in order to initially determine that I was indeed dealing with an affair and then to learn its details.  I  decided early on though that I needed to determine my personal boundaries.  If I was preparing for divorce, then I would have had no concerns and simply gathered everything I could.  Since I was working to save my marriage though, I had to consider the consequences of my actions.  I certainly had every right to any and all information I could obtain, and I had the technical means to access quite a bit more than your average person.  But regardless whether I had the right to that information though, it was questionable whether accessing it would be in my best interest.

I first had to think about the effect that such information would have on me.  I assumed that she was venting about me and possibly professing her love for this other guy.  There was probably some sexual conversation as well that I certainly didn’t want to hear.  It’s bad enough think about that kind of that conversation going on, but it’s quite another to actually read the words.  If our marriage was able to survive the affair, how could I profess my love and commitment to my wife with those words echoing in my head?

I also had to think about the effect on her.  She obviously couldn’t logically argue that I was invading her privacy; she gave up any right to ethical claims like that when she decided to violate the marriage.  But just because she couldn’t claim the right didn’t mean that she wouldn’t feel violated.  I was trying to save a marriage, not win a court case.  If I did uncover information that we needed to discuss, I didn’t want to give her the chance to divert the blame to me overstepping my bounds.  My desire was to eventually return to our roles as trusting partners who didn’t need to spy on one another for trust.  Privacy invasion would be a precedent that we would need to overcome for that goal had we allowed it to be established.

The basic rule I adopted for myself was that I wouldn’t access any account that wasn’t mine.  That included logging on to her e-mail or Facebook account or swiping her cell phone to read text messages.  Everything else was fair game.  If I happened across a clue as part of my maintenance of our phones and computers, then so be it.  Credit card records and the GPS in the car were of course well within bounds.  Multiple times I considered breaking those boundaries, but I had to assume that at some point I would have to admit where I got any information that I might have.  If I wanted to claim to her that I wasn’t reading her text messages for example, then I certainly couldn’t have information that could only have been achieved through that means.

Once I had confronted her with the critical incriminating information and the affair finally ended though, my investigations didn’t cease.  Now I was looking for reassurance that it was really over.  I needed to know that she was no longer in contact with the other guy.  I needed to know that when she said she was going to dinner with a friend, that’s where she was actually going.  I needed to know that when she texted me an excuse for being late, it wasn’t a cover for some other activity.  She actually encouraged me to spy on her during this time to give myself the piece of mind that I needed.  She even gave me license to exceed the boundaries that I had previously set for myself.

For several weeks I digitally watched her every move.  I would check the cell phone records and her e-mail a couple of times a day to ensure she didn’t communicate with someone I didn’t approve of.  I checked the GPS in the car and did a periodic location check on her phone to ensure that she was actually where she said she would be.  I watched her Facebook and e-mail to ensure there wasn’t any communication out of line there.  Unfortunately, none of this gave me the piece of mind that it was meant to.  Rather than assuming that no incriminating evidence meant that there was no crime, I assumed she had just figured out methods to avoid my detection.  Instead of my interest in spying gradually tapering off as I had originally intended, I was becoming more obsessed with it as it became a standard part of my daily activity.

I soon started to realize what a toll my active spying was taking on both of us.  My original intent was that I would steadily regain my trust in her to the point that it was no loner necessary.  The problem was that we were doing nothing to establish a foundation for a trust that didn’t require constant validation.  My wife was no longer my partner but had instead become my adversary as I was constantly waiting for her to make a wrong move.  She felt that pressure as well to the point that she would panic if she made an innocent put suspicious looking change to her plans.

There is a cliché that asks whether you would commit a crime if you knew for certain you wouldn’t get caught.  Is a person truly honest if they only behave themselves out of fear of repercussion?  The actions that my wife was taking were less important than why she was taking them.  If she was simply behaving herself because she thought that I might be watching, then our marriage was ultimately doomed anyway.   For it to survive, she had to be truly committed, and that’s not something that I had any control over.  If I stayed paranoid and suspicious, the only thing I could possibly accomplish would be identifying the marriage’s demise a bit sooner.  The spying was doing was not only exhausting, but it was entirely pointless.

I did my best to abruptly stop my surveillance, but even I didn’t realize what a compulsion it had become.  She would leave the house, and I would stare at my computer screen aching to click those buttons that would pinpoint the current location of her cell phone.  I might walk into a room just as she was putting her phone down and think that she was hiding a text message.  I would do my best to put the suspicion out of my head but would later break down and check our cell phone records.  It wasn’t a sense of satisfaction I would get when I determined that she was communicating with a good friend of hers; it was guilt.  I felt like an alcoholic who had broken down and taken a drink after a considerable period of sobriety.

The difference by that point though is that I had made the commitment to actually work on building proper trust with my wife.  While it was difficult to wean myself off of the surveillance, the suspicions slowly diminished.  I also steadily learned the difference between healthy awareness and paranoia.  As simple as it sounds, the key was no longer holding in any secrets.  If I felt anxious about her text messaging or  or if I saw an anomaly on the car’s GPS, I’d simply ask her about it.  That’s what partners do.