I finished my last post mentioning an e-mail that I received from my wife’s affair guy in response to my messages demanding that he cease all communications. I’m giving that mail and my analysis of it its own post here because of the significant impact it had on me. It’s essentially just a bunch of lies and excuses in an attempt to justify his relationship with my wife. While it initially did little more than further increase my animosity toward him though, I pondered the rationale behind this mail for over a year as it provided me with significant insights that I doubt he intended.
I’m not interested in just bashing or mocking him by posting this but rather trying to analyze his intentions and thoughts behind the affair. That’s not to say that my analysis isn’t derogatory because his mail has a host of inexcusable lies, lame excuses, and unjustified attacks on me. But simplistically assuming that he’s a just bad guy with no integrity and no redeeming qualities of any kind wouldn’t further my understanding of what attracted my wife to the relationship. His actions were inexcusable, but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t interested in learning what motivated them.
My apologies for not replying in length to your email but it’s not like I’ve ignored your emails requests. I acknowledged that I received it, you hopefully didn’t lose sleep waiting for my agreement to your “terms and conditions”, etc. etc. I’ve not written for the simple reason that I’ve been extremely busy working on the project in [his new city] and that includes weekly flights for meetings, trying to get organized [a bunch of meaningless information about his job including boasts about the millions of dollars related to the project].
Please don’t take my lack of a reply for assuming that I am “chicken” for not replying. That is the last thing you should think.
I am writing today to let you know that [Wife] is and will ever be an incredibly important part of my life. She has made an incalculable difference in my life and I think I’ve done the same for her AND YOUR life as well. What we had and will always have is an incredibly close friendship. No limits and no bounds to the friendship. I know that might shock you to think that two people of the opposite sex could have a relationship of that sort without sex, but deal with it, as it happens. We could talk about anything and everything and did so. Virtually no topic was off limits though if something was too personal we respected that and didn’t press. She is as good of a best friend as I’ve ever had, more so than my best male friend of 20 plus years. As it’s said “It is what it is.”
I know you’ve come down really hard on [Wife] for the texting she did and she feels like a virtual prisoner in her life now. Well if you can’t communicate with those who live in your house you communicate with those that are your friends. That time when you were out with [Wife] at dinner and she texted me? She texted to say how much fun she was having and how incredible the atmosphere was at [restaurant name]. Why? Because I care about her, and she cared enough about both me and you, to let me know that and me she was having a good time.
I know you feel hurt and betrayed by finding out we are great friends. It’s tough to think that could have a friendship with another person let alone another male. It happens. I would like to think that because of our friendship that you and might become better friends and have a stronger marriage. Marriage is a bitch at the best of times and when communication breaks down its worse. Don’t ever not communicate. But then again don’t ever beat a dead horse. By that I mean you can’t harp over the same thing day after day after day. (Funny the divorced guy giving advise to the married guy – by the way my Wife divorced me as she told me I was an “Economic Liability” as I was unemployed for some four years due to the shit economy – I was good at communication so that wasn’t the issue, but then again with women who knows . . .)
I understand your desire to cut off all communication by and between [Wife] and myself. I think it’s a huge mistake as due to our friendship. I can be a damn good “sounding board” and actually have great advise. I also think it might create a huge rift of resentment between you two. You can’t treat her like property; this isn’t the 1800’s. The more you try to trap something, the more that something wants to escape.
Enough for now. I encourage you to respond, though I doubt you will. That’s fine, as I won’t lose any sleep over not hearing from you.
I only have ever wished and your entire family the very best and know deep in my heart that for a long time now your family has been heading that direction. I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas, with much health and happiness to all.
He was obviously under the assumption that I still believed the relationship didn’t involve sex. As far as my wife was concerned I was still going along with that claim, but I had pretty much determined it wasn’t remotely believable. One irony in this mail is that his claims about an innocent and platonic relationship only served to further solidify my opinion to the contrary. He was well aware that I knew about the constant daily texting and the lies that my wife had told in order to meet him, and he even brags about what a close relationship the two had. Someone who truly felt innocent would have made more of an effort to acknowledge my perspective and at the very least admit that the relationship looked suspicious. The fact that he was completely defiant was a clear indicator to me of his guilt.
He obviously objected to my calling him a coward as evidenced by his “chicken” comment and the general macho posturing. I stand by that accusation though since he had failed multiple times to respond to me and was still cowardly avoiding any responsibility. What really struck me though was the condescending tone and illogical attack at me. He was accusing me of being an overbearing husband with antiquated views toward marriage, yet I had just spent the previous three months with full knowledge of their relationship, attempting to allow my wife to manage the situation on her own terms. My wife was able to conduct the affair without detection because I was exactly the opposite of his characterization.
I understood the anger toward me though since I had directly attacked his character in the messages he was responding to. Even though I was completely justified in that, he felt the need to strike a similar aggressive tone against me to retain his male pride. Since I had given him no legitimate ammunition to attack though, he had to create this caricature of me wanting to own my wife and making her feel like a prisoner. While it was far from the truth, he needed to portray me as the stereotypical husband acting out of sheer rage in order to assuage his own guilt.
His comments about helping our marriage and being some sort of advisor or “sounding board” initially struck me as absurd to the point of delusional. What I finally realized was that his bad marriage and affairs had left him with an immature view of relationships. He had no children and had been married to an independent woman who supported him for several years while he was out of work. The satisfaction that comes from being a contributing member of a family is something that he had never experienced, and he mistook the intimacy of an affair as the full scope of a relationship. Responsibility in his mind challenged that intimacy as opposed to acting as a foundation for a quality long term relationship.
He fantasized about acting as a sort of mentor to my wife and a proponent of our marriage not only to justify his actions but also to address his desperate need for validation. Intimacy was the area where my wife and I were struggling, and that’s where he felt an expertise. He minimized the value of our family and my role of provider because it was something that he didn’t understand, and certainly a role that he knew he couldn’t fill.
I wrote quite a long response to this mail, but I never sent it to him. I vacillated for weeks about sending it but then determined that if I did, he would feel compelled to respond. I needed to concentrate on rebuilding my marriage, and a never ending war of words with this guy distracted me from that goal. As it turns out though, it wasn’t the last communication we had, although I couldn’t possibly have predicted what came next. I keep promising the details of the definitive evidence I found to determine the affair very much involved sex, and that’s exactly what I’ll write about next.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Imagine that you woke up one day and realized that all of your memories from the past couple of years were false. Everything that you understand in your current life is based on your memories of past events, of how you got to the moment that you’re in now. How much confidence could you have in your present life and your current relationships if those memories suddenly became unreliable? Your first reaction to such an experience would most likely be to dig for answers, to reconstruct your memories according to reality. Whether or not those memories were more pleasant than the ones you previously held would be secondary to your obsession with discovering the truth, and you would most likely be willing to restructure your view of the present according to that newly discovered reality.
This is how I felt upon discovering my wife’s affair. I suddenly realized that my memories from the past two years were inaccurate, but I had no idea what reality was. Before I could focus on any attempt at moving forward, I had to reconstruct my memories of the past. I needed to know when the affair started and how I could have been so blind to it. I needed to know significant dates when my wife was with the other guy instead of with our family. I needed to hear the truth behind lies that I been told. Most of this wouldn’t be pleasant for me to hear, but at least it would be real.
The problem was that as I started to get those details, they tainted my existing memories. A family event that I used to look back on fondly now just felt like a façade masking our turmoil. An evening that I spent alone with our two kids now just represented my ignorance as I recalled the lie my wife used to get out of the house. On one particular Saturday, I took the kids to a college volleyball game. I later checked the phone records and realized that she had used our absence to spend the afternoon with the other guy. A positive memory of a great day with children was stolen from me and replaced with ugly thoughts of the affair.
I found myself confronted with conflicting goals. I needed sufficient details of the affair to reconstruct my past, yet those details consumed me and tainted my positive memories. My initial reaction was to try to suppress the negative thoughts, to be content with the information I had and put the past behind me. But that would mean that my wife and I would have to essentially pretend that those events never occurred and never discuss them. How could we build a marriage based on mutual trust when such a significant event in our lives was off limits? How could I have an honest relationship with my wife if I was forever left with lingering doubts that I had been given the full story?
Rather than trying to suppress the details of the affair, we had countless conversations about it. Those were thoughts that were going haunt me anyway, so there was no point in making a futile attempt to avoid them. I learned all about the other guy, confirmed suspicions that I had regarding specific dates and events, even asked details about the sex. While it was obviously painful, forcing myself to thoroughly confront that information addressed a variety of symptoms of the affair.
Your pride takes an enormous hit when you learn that your spouse has been having an affair without your knowledge. I felt stupid for believing lies she told me. I felt foolish as I recalled smug comments I had made over the years about our great life and solid marriage. I felt naïve that I never considered an affair the remotest of possibilities. But uncovering the details of that affair helped to restore my pride. I may have been stupid and naïve in the past, but at least I was being intelligent now. While it may have taken some time, I did discover those secrets. My wife and the other guy were now the ones who looked naïve for thinking that they could keep the affair a secret from me.
Married couples are supposed to share exclusive information with one another. They share special moments and have knowledge about one another that no one else has. One of the most difficult things for me to deal with was the knowledge that my wife and the other guy shared those things while I was an outsider to their relationship. As I learned more about affair, I took that exclusive information from them. Just like my positive memories became tainted by my knowledge of the affair, her memories now had to include the pain and embarrassment of revealing them to me. It was as if the affair could only survive as long as its details remained hidden, and I could dismantle it piece by piece as I slowly uncovered its secrets.
A person who I had never met knew intimate details about my life. The other guy had information about me and about my marriage that even I didn’t know. He was my wife’s confidante while I knew absolutely nothing about him. Having influence over my wife gave him an influence in my marriage that he didn’t deserve. As I learned more intimate details about him and the affair, I slowly diffused that power and shifted it to me. I had previously felt completely inferior to this person as my wife desired him enough to risk destroying our family. But now he became a vulnerable and flawed individual who was finally being confronted with the justified results of his actions.
I saw a news story recently where a woman’s ex-boyfriend posted risqué pictures of her on the internet. She responded by publicly posting her own nude photos in a more flattering context. Rather than play the role of victim, she took control of the situation and removed the only power that her ex-boyfriend had over her. In a similar way, by directly confronting the details of the affair, I diffused its power over me. I don’t have to avoid those ugly thoughts anymore because they don’t have the visceral effect on me that they used to. The affair has just become another chapter in our marriage, and we’re more likely to joke about it now than argue about it. It’s difficult for something to have power over you when you’ve reduced it to a punch line.
I don’t want to be divorced. I don’t want to have to sit in front of my children and tell them that their entire world is being destroyed. I don’t want to move to some shitty apartment and wake up by myself every morning. I don’t want the woman who has been my partner for over half my life to become my adversary as we divide our assets. I don’t want to join some online dating service and desperately look for another companion. I don’t want to put my children through an uncomfortable meeting with a woman who would potentially become their stepmother. I don’t want to experience the awkwardness of splintered families during major events and holidays.
I want to see my children off to school every morning and have dinner with my family every night. I want to take family vacations. I want to experience those goofy family moments where we jokingly make fun of one another and laugh hysterically over farts. When I envision my future, I see graduations and grandchildren and family holidays. I see a friendly old couple who is known around the neighborhood as regulars at the local coffee house and wine bars, a couple who talks about the entire life they spent together and boasts about the accomplishments of their grown children. I see a future with my wife.
Of course, people get divorced, and they find new companions and new lives. They may not match their original fantasies of their future, but plans change as we get older. Kids experience divorce, and they grow up with a healthy relationship with both parents and often with their parents’ new companions. But that alternate future couldn’t possibly match the potential of a future with my wife. No one has the shared history that we do with one another. Her irreplaceable role in our current family dynamic is obvious, but I’m thinking well beyond when the children are grown. No one could possibly share the pride that I will when watching one of our children graduate from college or feel the joy that I will the first time that I see one of our grandchildren. I want holidays with my entire family, where grandchildren can listen to stories about their parents when they were young. I want to pose for a family photo with a proud grandma and grandpa at the center. I want to grow old with my wife.
When I chose to try to save our marriage, I was trying to salvage the future that I had so long envisioned for myself. I described in a previous blog entry of the value of staying calm and focusing on my priority of keeping my marriage and family intact. That was often a very difficult attitude to maintain amidst the anger that I was feeling. Why should I focus on my wife’s best interests when she obviously wasn’t concerned about mine? If she wanted to ruin her life by running off with some loser and destroying her relationship with her family and friends, why should I stop her? It was during those times that I would focus on myself. Hers wasn’t the only life that would be getting ruined. I deserved that future even if she didn’t. If I got trapped in short term thinking of blame and retribution, then I was ultimately only harming myself.
In addition to me though, I had other people to worry about. When I found out about the affair, I thought that perhaps I should demand that my wife leave the home. Even if we were still willing to work on the marriage, she deserved some punishment for violating it. But our children are the ones would have really been punished. We had one child at the time in their first year of high school and another the first year of middle school. Those are major transitional points in a child’s life with all the stresses of self-identity and peer pressure. The last thing they needed piled on that was a potential break up of their family. They should be focused on homework and friends and eventually college applications, not worrying about where one of their parents was spending the night. They didn’t need to have their perception of marriage forever tainted by enduring that kind of drama at such an impressionable age. If my personal future wasn’t motivation enough to maintain my priorities, then protecting my kids was. They didn’t ask for this, and they had certainly done nothing to deserve it. I was going to do everything I possibly could to ensure that the entire situation had as little effect on them as possible.
I often hear people talk about maintaining their marriage until the kids are raised and out of the house, as if their parents’ marriage suddenly becomes irrelevant to them. Even after they’re grown with families of their own, I want my children to be able to look to my wife and me as a model of the marriage to which they aspire. I want to provide them with a point of stability in their lives, that home base that they could always count as they made their steady transition to adulthood. Wherever they go in their life, they always know that they have a safe haven where Mom and Dad will be there waiting for them. And when we grow old, they become that safe haven for us.
I actually think about that potential moment in the distant future when one of us can no longer care for themselves, when I either become the caretaker for my wife or the recipient of her care. We’ve all felt strong emotion as we’ve witnessed old couples in that position. While we look at them with pity because of their current fragile state, we also envy them because of their good fortune to have experienced a lifetime of love and devotion.
Of course the challenge would be admit when that entire dream was no longer a possibility for me. I had to be honest with myself and admit when it appeared that we reached the point that all efforts to rebuild the marriage had been exhausted, when our only chance at happiness was an alternate future. As traumatic as divorce would be, we weren’t going to become one of those miserable couples who stays together for the sake of the kids, and in turn achieve little more than giving them a jaded view of marriage. If divorce was unavoidable, then it made sense to give us as much time as possible in pursuit of our separate lives. But while I was prepared to accept that future if it was indeed inevitable, I refused to abandon the ideal while I still thought it was possible.