September 17, 2014
My wife and I were married in our early twenties (too young we would both now agree) but fortunately waited several years to have kids. We had always planned for her to stay at home, and she stopped working shortly before our first was born. That was seventeen years ago, and she only recently went back to work a year ago. I’ve worked in the technical industry since shortly out of college and have been fortunate to make enough to money that we can be a single income family yet still maintain a decent standard of living.
Once our two daughters got to school age, my wife became so involved in PTA and their after school activities that she spent more time at the school than most teachers. We didn’t lead the most exciting life, but we were busy and content and generally happy. A few years ago I started working out of the house more and more to the point that I now work at home full time. That coincided with school activities slowing down for my wife as the kids moved on to middle school and high school.
You would think that a wife with a lot of time on her hands and a husband working at home with a flexible schedule would result in plenty of daytime romance. But like so many couples after twenty years of marriage, we had grown complacent with each other. While I didn’t realize it, I was slowly becoming more and more isolated, focusing on work and my own activities. We would sit down to dinner with the kids every night, but immediately after, I would head to my office where I would work or consume myself with other independent activities, typically until about midnight when I would head upstairs to bed. My wife would head upstairs with the kids and read or text her friends. Rather than a happily married couple, we were increasingly leading parallel lives.
Other people talk about signs of an affair such as their spouse acting more distant or a decrease in sex. I noticed neither of these, but the obvious sign that I completely missed was my wife spending more time out of the house, giving stories such as meeting a friend for dinner or walking with friends on the beach on a Saturday morning. Rather than pushing for a family activity during the weekend like she used to, she was happy running off on her own or planning an activity with our kids and other friends, while I stayed home. The isolated state of mind that I had been slowly developing didn’t see any issues with that, and I was happy with my personal free time.
My first indication that something was going on was a simple check of our cell phone bill. I was blindsided by hundreds of text messages every day to the same number, for the past several months. I knew that she had a male friend who she shared some innocent (so I thought) text messages with, but I had never met him and didn’t even know his name. This was anything but occasional or innocent though, as they were obviously in constant communication every day from morning until night.
When I brought the messages to her attention she said that the guy was just a friend but they had been commiserating about their loneliness. She acknowledged the increasing isolation between us and the loss of the personal responsibilities that had previously filled her days. My behavior didn’t help matters as that isolation was slowly making me more bitter, and I was far from treating my wife and family with the love and respect that they deserved.
My feeble mind thought I could fix the situation with more time and more affection. I fumbled around like a buffoon thinking that I could remedy deep problems in our marriage with more hand holding and frequent professions of love. I slowly realized that over the next few days that I completely underestimated the situation in every possible way. As I looked closer at the electronic evidence, it was clear that the times that my wife was spending away from home were spent with this guy. It became obvious to me that this was an affair.
My wife and I had perhaps two actual arguments in over twenty years of marriage. The positive explanation for that is that we just don’t disagree much. Of course, the negative is that we avoided sensitive issues and didn’t communicate at the deep and personal level that a healthy couple should. As a result, this was a situation that I was entirely unprepared for and not even willing to accept. I also contended with significant guilt at my obvious role in the degeneration of the marriage. While I certainly hadn’t shown it over the past few years though, I was deeply in love with my wife and ready to take any actions necessary to preserve to my family.
My dilemma was that this was during the summer, and our kids were home from school. I had no idea how my wife was going to react to my accusations, and I was determined to protect them from such traumatic experiences as volatile arguments between their parents or one of us leaving the home unexpectedly. She had never been the volatile type, but the recent events had convinced me that I didn’t know her nearly as well as I had thought. I made the decision to wait two months until school started for the confrontation. The emotional toll of those months almost broke me, but I was determined to stand by my decision in the best interests of my children.
When I finally confronted her, she didn’t deny any of the information that I had, but she did downplay the situation. There was no sex, she never considered ending the marriage, this was just a friend who she commiserated with about difficult stages of life. I believed all of that even though evidence and basic logic told me otherwise. I stayed blind to the truth because the truth was too overwhelming.
The next few months were nothing short of surreal. The affair continued, although she pretended that the friendship was winding down while I pretended to believe it. I was so exhausted from those two months and so ecstatic to have my family back, that I chose to believe what I wanted to be true. There were actually positive aspects to that period as we were correcting some of the marital issues that had gotten us to this point in the first place, but we were both clearly deluding ourselves. It was when I got myself to check the phone bills again that I realized that absolutely nothing in the relationship had changed. That was the point that I finally had to risk her resentment and mandate a complete break from this guy. Those were a volatile couple of weeks, but we made it. The other guy had recently divorced and moved out of state for work, so I didn’t necessarily need to worry about his physical presence anymore. The affair appeared to finally be over, but the recovery for both of us had just started.
It was over the next few months that the truth slowly leaked out. This was a romantic affair in every sense of the word. While she had maintained that it wasn’t sexual, sex was in fact very much a part of it. But we were communicating in ways we never had, and the relationship was slowly improving. We regularly talked about the affair as she slowly divulged details, and I slowly pieced together the entire narrative. The affair itself wasn’t the sole focus though as we were also discussing and managing our marital issues that had previously existed, even working to address personal issues that we each had dealt with prior to our marriage. We were no longer living parallel lives but were instead interacting regularly throughout the day, as a healthy normal couple would. It all started out awkward as we were both self-conscious about the changes, but they slowly became more natural and part of our regular routine.
But there were still challenges we were both contending with. While she was doing everything reasonable to reestablish my trust, I had difficulties in gaining the confidence that she was now fully committed to our relationship. She was working to reengage herself in the marriage while simultaneously trying to eradicate the feelings that she had formed for the other guy. Even though she was wrong in pursuing that relationship, she still had to go through the same sense of loss that anyone would after ending a serious relationship.
Sure enough, several months later I learned that they had reestablished contact. They weren’t reigniting the affair though, as he had a new girlfriend in the city where he was now living. While we were both dealing almost daily with the fallout from the affair though, his life had apparently moved on easily. The reality of a deeply flawed individual replaced the idealistic perception that she had built up in her mind for so many months. That final contact with him actually worked as closure for her, and I found myself in the unique position of helping to console her over her loss. This time he was gone for good.
As of this writing, it’s been two years since I first confronted my wife with the affair, a year since that last contact between the her and the other guy. While I certainly won’t say that I am thankful for the affair, there is no denying its role in the increased quality of our marriage. The process of working through it forced us to confront issues that had long existed between us and even issues that we had contended with individually before we came together. The affair forced the inevitable, and fortunately for us we chose to seize that opportunity rather than become victim to it.