When you’ve been married for over twenty years, you can identify your wife’s naked body in a photo even if her face isn’t showing. It was just such an image that finally gave me the definitive evidence of my wife’s sexual affair. Finding it on a public web site accompanied by a smug comment by a guy bragging about the sex acts he was performing with her though was obviously something that I had never expected.
I’ve discussed in a few posts how I went along with my wife’s claim that her affair, while inappropriate, didn’t involve sex. Over time, I reached the conclusion that claim couldn’t possibly be true, but I was naively hoping that she would admit it without me dragging it out of her. I knew that we were going to eventually need to confront the issue though because it remained such significant dishonesty between us. My dilemma was that I had given her several opportunities for an admission, but I didn’t have definitive evidence to confront her with. We had plenty to work on in our relationship without getting into a debate.
I’ve worked in technology for my entire career, so I’m more adept than most with computers and the Internet. I won’t divulge the details of how I located the information I did, but suffice it to say that I didn’t use any methods that could be remotely considered hacking. I didn’t access anything that anyone couldn’t have found themselves using a standard Internet search engine. I did start with a critical piece of information that I stumbled on, but I used absolutely no unethical means to obtain that. In fact, the other guy accidentally handed it to me a couple of months after the affair ended.
What that information eventually led me to was a web site that was dedicated to trading of hardcore porn. There were multiple posts each day depicting a variety of sex acts, most shared from other sites but occasionally one submitted by the owner of the site. Some posts were accompanied by a comment along the lines of “Did this with her last night! Fun!” or “Did this with my GF and she absolutely loved it”. They were stock images, but the owner of the site was obviously using them to illustrate sex acts he was performing with his girlfriend.
I suspected that the other guy was the owner of the site, and my wife was the girlfriend (or GF) that he was talking about. I couldn’t confirm that though until I came across that post that I’m sure he’s now wishing he could take back. A simple naked photo of my wife with her head cut off would have been bad enough, but in this photo she was lying on her back with semen splattered across her stomach. The caption with the photo made it even worse.
Happy Birthday to me! My girlfriend this afternoon after wishing me a Happy Birthday. (and the first two spurts went over her head!)
You read that correctly, he was bragging about how far he could ejaculate. I assume that skill is a source of pride among the followers of his blog, but it also fit the theme of his other comments. They weren’t complimentary of my wife as much as they were boasting about himself. He sounded like a teenager trying to impress his buddies in the locker room.
I scrolled through the site noting any date where he described meetings with my wife and cross referenced them with text messages between us and photos that I might have taken that day. I had assumed the times that she was with him, but now I knew the specific sex acts they were performing adding to my humiliation. One post he made a couple of weeks prior to the photo of my wife corroborated part of the timeline she had given me about the affair, and it perfectly illustrates the juvenile and smug tone that permeated his comments. No photo this time, just extensive text.
Had an amazing session with my FWB this morning. It’s been a year since we first started communicating and becoming best friends before we ever got down to the love making part! Why you ask? Cause I was out of state and not physically here!
Two and a half hours later she’s cum at least 25 or more times (no I am not exaggerating), and I finally can’t stand it anymore. I cum so hard it feels like my balls are turning inside out!
All I can say is “WOW!”
I had actually become so used to holding back my suspicion of sex that my initial reaction was to not divulge to my wife what I had discovered. At the very least I wanted the control when we would confront that issue, not have it forced on me like this. It was a completely futile attempt though, and I broke the moment I saw her. I told her that while I had no idea this is how I would get confirmation, I had known for months about the sex. She admitted that she didn’t honestly believe that I had been so naïve as to actually believe the relationship was platonic, but she was also going along with the charade that we had created.
While the site added an entirely new level of ugliness to the affair, I was actually glad the information was out. The sex wasn’t a surprise to me, and now we could confront the affair without dancing around such a significant detail.
At the very least I had to contact the other guy to demand he take the site down. I considered calling him and unleashing my full anger, berating him for his lies that were now fully exposed. I even briefly considered revenge, messaging all of his friends with the address of the site or some other means of publically associating it with him. I ultimately decided though that it was in my best interest to continue to maintain my composure.
If he didn’t feel guilt by my knowledge of the site, nothing I was going to say would change that. My thought was that I could better add to his humiliation by sending him a calm and ultimately condescending message that reinforced my position as the responsible father and husband while he was the one acting with minimal maturity and integrity.
I wrote a long and detailed response to the e-mail that you sent me last December that addressed each of the points your mail included as well as my thoughts about the events that had occurred over the last couple of years. I chose not to send it though because I decided to instead focus my attention on my marriage and family and repairing all the damage that [Wife] and I had caused each other over the last few years.
Since you saw fit to include some condescending advice in your mail to me though, I hope you’ll allow me to provide some advice to you now. If you want to keep your affair with a married woman secret, then you probably shouldn’t post naked pictures of her on the Internet. That’s especially true when her husband makes his living as a computer expert and can locate such resources with minimal information. It may take some time, but information on the Internet always has a way of eventually presenting itself.
You can imagine the shock and hurt that I felt when I learned that [Wife] had a sexual affair. But nothing could have prepared me for the moment a few days ago when I found a picture of my wife’s naked body with your cum strewn across her stomach on your blog called [site name]. My anger obviously increased as I read your smug comment that accompanied the photo and then continued to walk through your blog finding the variety of messages about your “girlfriend” or “GF” or “FWB”. It’s apparent that those are references to [Wife], the woman with whom you claimed to have an innocent and platonic relationship.
I actually knew at the time that you sent me the mail in December that your claim about never having sex was a lie. I may have been blind for a long time about events in my own life and marriage, but I’m not stupid. I have tried over the last several months to confront all of the issues facing [Wife] and me in an honest but manageable fashion, and that was a topic that I wanted to wait until I was sure we were ready for it. Had I known at the time that you were publically boasting about your sexual exploits with my wife and referring to her as your girlfriend (or the more degrading “FWB”), I would have confronted it more immediately.
Be assured that [Wife] and I are the only people aside from yourself who I would think would be able to associate this blog with you, and I have absolutely no intention of sharing this information with anyone. I also don’t make any judgments whatsoever as far as the content there. My only issue is with [Wife] being included in it and having to live with the knowledge that a very private and traumatic portion of our life is being used for others’ sexual entertainment.
I think you’ll understand my request to remove the photo of [Wife] as well as any of your posts that could be construed in any way as referring to her. In case you don’t recall, you posted the picture on [date] with the caption “Happy Birthday to me! My girlfriend this afternoon after wishing me a Happy Birthday. (and the first two spurts went over her head!)”. I think it’s safe to assume that “a tribute to a very special woman” in the title of the blog refers to [Wife] as well, so I hope that you’ll remove that.
The list below details of all of the other posts that I believe were referring to [Wife]. Perhaps there was some other girlfriend (or FWB) that we don’t know about, but I think you’ll understand that we would appreciate these posts and anything else even possibly referring to her in any way removed. I think that’s the least respect that you can show to our family after being an integral part of so much anguish to us.
I followed that with a list of all the posts that appeared to refer to my wife including the date and accompanying comment. I wanted him to have to confront the embarrassment of his own words.
This time I didn’t have to wait long for his response. I got it within an hour of sending my mail.
I’ve complied with your request. All photos save one have been removed.
All photos your email listed save one, were not and should not have ever been construed to be about her.
I will reply to your email. I honestly do not know how or what to say though.
You can tell a lot about a person in how they initially respond to an unexpected traumatic event. He was so used to denying responsibility that his first reaction was to try to convince me that all those comments were about someone else, except for the one that happened to be attached to a photo of my wife. Rather than finally showing some integrity, he continued to lie and avoid responsibility. It gave me quite a bit of insight into his character, or lack thereof.
He did reply back a few days later as he promised. Just like his first mail to me though, that one deserves its own post.
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.
I explained in my last post how I didn’t demand that my wife end her contact with the other guy when I confronted her with my knowledge of the affair. My primary rationale, as I explained, was that I wanted her to take the initiative to end that relationship as opposed to me forcing her. I admit though that I was also quite naïve. She told me that while the relationship was inappropriate and she had admitting to lying about it multiple times, sex wasn’t involved. She claimed that she had never considered ending our marriage, and even if she had, it wouldn’t be with him. At best, according to her at the time, this could be considered an emotional affair, but it certainly wasn’t a romantic one.
The ensuing three months could best be described as her pretending that the affair had ended and me pretending that I believed her. In reality, it continued on with little change. They still texted each other regularly, although she claimed that the volume had decreased significantly and the topics of their conversations had substantially changed. She also told me that they never saw each other and that he had essentially returned to just being a friend. It’s not entirely accurate to say that I believed her because simple logic defied her claims. But after going through the previous two months, I needed some normalcy, even if it was just a fantasy.
I stopped looking at phone bills and did my best to act as though her texting didn’t bother me. When she went out with friends, I would do my best not to let my mind wander to suspicion that she might actually be meeting the other guy. I would avoid glancing at the GPS in our car that recorded its location over the previous few days for fear that I might notice incriminating evidence. Rather than diligently watching for evidence of the affair as I had previously been doing, I now actively avoided any information that could potentially contradict my fantasy.
I realize how strange and pathetic this sounds, and it’s difficult to explain my rationale. I obviously knew that pretending the affair was over didn’t automatically make it so, yet that’s exactly how I was acting. While I didn’t understand it at the time, I was scared that if I actually discovered something incriminating, I would be forced to act on it. I had convinced myself that I wasn’t being completely passive and that I still had some sense of personal pride. If I found definitive evidence that she was lying, I would either have to act on it before I felt prepared, or I would have to drop my façade of confidence and admit how pathetic I was. I was simply trying to hang on until some kind of solution appeared, although I obviously had no idea whatsoever what that solution might be.
There was also a part of me that felt like I didn’t have the right to demand an abrupt end to the relationship. As my wife and I talked more about her unhappiness in the marriage, I realized that she had created a life for herself that didn’t include me because I had chosen not to be a part of it. Obviously, she had no right to conduct an affair while still maintaining a marriage, and she had no legitimate excuse for lying. While the actions she had taken in response to her unhappiness couldn’t be justified though, her unhappiness was entirely legitimate. Before I completely took away the life that she had built, I felt as if I needed to first provide her with a quality alternative.
During that time, I was more focused on maintaining the illusion of a quality marriage than in actually having one. But I also felt like we were rehearsing for the long term marriage that we both wanted. That was a marriage where I wasn’t paranoid about my wife’s activities and where I could trust her without spying, so that’s exactly the pretense that I adopted. As naïve as it may sound, our relationship was actually improving. While there was obviously a considerable amount of turmoil behind the scenes, we were starting to act more like a married couple should. We spent more time together, and had regularly talks at an emotional depth that we had never before experienced. Of course, she was withholding awfully significant information, but we were nonetheless confronting the negative aspects of our marriage and communicating at an entirely new emotional depth.
But while I remained optimistic, the stress continued to take its toll on me. I still had periodic panic attacks and trouble sleeping. My weight loss continued to the point that I had to buy new clothes, something I actually embraced. While we were playing our charade of the happy couple, my physical appearance was a constant indicator of the stress that I was enduring. I could communicate that stress while I continued to play the role of the happy husband. It was my silent message to my wife that my well being came secondary to the needs of my family, and I was making it clear how much I was willing to sacrifice.
While I may have been naïve and scared though, I wasn’t completely stupid. I knew that we couldn’t continue in this manner indefinitely, and all contact with the other guy was going to eventually have to end if we were going to continue our marriage. My hope was that as our relationship steadily improved, she would lose her desire for the other guy. Rather than having to abruptly cut him loose, he would just simply fade away. In other words, my naiveté continued right up until the end.
As I’ll describe in the next post, the abrupt ending that I was trying to avoid turned out to be inevitable.
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.
Anyone who’s experienced an affair can tell the details of that traumatic moment when they first discovered it. My story is a bit different though because once I discovered the relationship, I went a month choosing to believe my wife’s insistence that the guy was just a friend. I knew that she was still in contact with him, but I assumed it was limited to friendly text messaging. I was focused on changing the issues in our marriage I had recently discovered and naively thought the relationship would steadily taper off as her need for it dwindled.
Then came the worst moment of my life.
My wife was preparing for a regular getaway that she and our kids took each summer with a friend and her kids. They were leaving on a Sunday afternoon, and that morning my wife told me that she had some errands to run in preparation. She specifically mentioned getting cash and filling the gas tank in our van. I was innocently doing some work with our bills when I noticed a withdrawal entry come through on our electronic bank statement. It wasn’t surprising because she said she was getting cash, but the branch she visited was several miles away…right down the street from where the other guy lived. There was no possible reason that she would be on that side of town, other than meeting him of course.
I hadn’t checked the phone bills in a couple of weeks, choosing to believe her when she said she was having dinner with friends or off “doing errands”. But now I forced myself to do just that and found exactly the pattern that I had feared. Continuous messaging with the other guy throughout the day but then distinct gaps during those times she was out of the house, which meant that they must have been together. I checked my phone during those times and saw a variety of messages she sent me giving false details about where she was and who she was with. All lies. Explicit, detailed lies.
The charade was over. My wife was having an affair.
They were leaving within a couple of hours, so I couldn’t confront her now. I certainly wasn’t going to ruin my kids’ week, and I wasn’t going to send them off with a bombshell like that. I made some excuse to get out of the house for a bit and then focused on some mindless tasks in the yard to kill time. When they finally did leave, I collapsed just inside the front door literally unable to stand. My family was gone. My wife not only didn’t love me anymore, but she didn’t even like me. I laid on the floor for an hour sobbing with an overwhelming sense of despair and failure.
I work at home so I was by myself the entire week, and it was the closest thing I hope I ever experience to sheer hell. The pattern for each day was similar. I woke up around 4 am after only a couple of hours of restless sleep and wandered around the house in the dark until sunrise. I tried to get some work done but couldn’t sit for more than a few minutes before getting restless and wandering away from the computer. I broke down regularly, vacillating between fits of depression and rage. I cried, I yelled, I threw things. I’m actually fortunate that the neighbors didn’t call the police in response to all the noise.
As the cliché goes, you don’t truly appreciate something until it’s gone. I didn’t show my appreciation for my family and certainly not for my marriage. I had failed at the most important goals of my life and had only myself to blame. I had always enjoyed my solitude and even fantasized about having the freedoms of someone single, but now I realized the emptiness of being truly alone. I had always been closed off with my emotions and scared to expose my inner self to the point of developing the deep emotional connection that my wife was looking for, and now she had found someone else who would provide her with that.
Regardless of any guilt that I felt though, I didn’t deserve to be lied to. I spent the last twenty years providing for my family, ensuring that my wife could realize her goal of staying home and raising our children. I made sure our mortgage was paid, the college fund was growing, and that we still had enough for a family vacation. I spent time with my children and always encouraged my wife to get away from home with friends. While I may have not shown the affection that I should have, I at least deserved to know if my wife was longer in love with me. She was just as responsible for the slow deterioration in our marriage as I was, but I didn’t look outside of our marriage for a solution. Unlike her, I never lied.
I would go through mock conversations with my wife in my head, thinking how my confrontation with her would go. One moment it would be me screaming at her and throwing her out of the house. The next I would be crying and begging her to stay. At one point, I wandered into our dining room, and one chair happened to be pulled away a bit from the table. I imagined my wife sitting there and started yelling at her how I didn’t deserve to be lied to. Then I broke down in tears and pleaded to her to not break up our family. I described to her the hell I was going through and how desperately I wanted to rescue our marriage. A week of isolation in that emotional state put me on the edge of insanity. I was yelling at a fucking chair!
But isolation can also be transformative.
I had lucid moments during that week where I was able to do some constructive thinking. I knew that I wanted to keep our family intact, although at this point I had very little hope of that. I had previously underestimated the situation in every way possible, thinking that some minor changes could return us to our old marriage. Not only was it obvious to me now that our problems were much deeper than that, but I realized that our old marriage was the wrong goal. That was tainted now anyway, and it obviously hadn’t led us to positive results. We needed some means of retaining the positive aspects of our family while building an entirely new relationship.
I clung on to the bit of hope that if she really wanted out of the marriage, she would be gone by now. It was obvious though that if I gave her an ultimatum now, I would lose. Our family would lose. I couldn’t accept us trying to tackle major life decisions while both of us were in such an irrational state of mind. I had to at least keep us intact until we could get to the point of open communication free of the influence of this invading third party. I certainly had no strategy for achieving that goal at this point, but my family needed me to at least try. I’d worry about my personal well being, my pride, and my anger later.
We obviously couldn’t continue with this façade though, and I needed to determine how I was going to confront my wife about the affair. Our kids were still home from school for the summer and gave us little privacy to discuss our issues. I knew that divorce was a very real possibility, and we would obviously need to be honest with them should that become a reality. I would not put them through any more trauma than necessary though. They were not going to witness volatile confrontations between their parents, and they weren’t going to have either of us leave the home until divorce became inevitable. I had no idea how my wife would react to my confrontation. She had never been the volatile type, but by this point I didn’t feel that I could rely on any of my past experience with her. I made the determination that I had to wait until school started in four weeks.
During the next month we both played our roles. She pretended that she wasn’t having an affair, and I pretended to believe her. She would tell me that she was meeting a friend or had some commitment for the kids’ school, and I would go along with what I knew was a complete lie. I wanted to scream that I knew exactly what was going on, that I wasn’t so stupid as to believe the bullshit she was telling me. But I had made an agreement with myself that I would wait. That’s what my family needed to me to do.
The toll on me was considerable. I was an emotional wreck having regular panic attacks and breaking down to tears with the slightest provocation. I tried to hide it as much as possible, often closing myself in our downstairs bathroom when I couldn’t maintain my composure. I couldn’t sleep and continued to wake up about 4 am every morning. I had no appetite and hardly ate. I started working out obsessively, going on long bike rides to channel my nervous energy and give myself some time alone to contemplate. I started rapidly losing weight to the point that friends were worried about my health.
As difficult as that month was though, nothing that I was going through could compare to the horror that I imagined telling my children that their parents were divorcing. I was also concerned about my wife who I obviously thought was making some very bad decisions. Perhaps I should have focused on my anger at her, but I couldn’t throw away the twenty years that we had supported each other without making every effort to save her and salvage our marriage. The anger would have to wait. My family was in crisis, and I needed to do everything I possibly could to save it.
As of this writing it’s been two and a half years since those “two months in hell”. As time passes, it gets more difficult for me to identify with that time because we have both evolved into such different people. The memory of it used evoke a significant visceral reaction, but now it just feels like a sad movie with someone else playing the lead role. While it was unquestionably the most difficult period of my life, it was also one of the most valuable. I was able to experience the loss of the most important things in my life without actually losing them. It helped me to clearly identify my priorities and to refocus on them. Too many people reach that point when it’s too late to salvage what they’ve lost. I consider a privilege that I had that awaking while I still had time.
(I’ll get to the confrontation and the ensuing months in later posts.)
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.
Shortly after I learned of the affair, I was scared to say or do anything that I thought would upset my wife. I assumed that she already had one foot out the door, and all she needed was a catalyst to get her to take that last step. I wouldn’t challenge her on lies she told me, even though I had direct evidence to the contrary. Whenever we had serious conversations, I typically started with several disclaimers about not wanting to upset her and kept the tone as non-confrontational as possible. That was obviously a pathetic situation that couldn’t survive for long. I had only just learned that we had issues in our marriage though, let alone that my wife had apparently found someone to replace me. I was completely unprepared for that situation in every way possible, and it seemed like the safest strategy was to at least work to keep our marriage together while I came to terms with what was happening.
I assumed that she had built resentment toward me by this point as I was forcing her to choose between two options that she had previously been able to share. Of course, no one could logically defend such resentment as I was simply demanding that my wife be honest with me and not conduct an affair outside of our marriage. But not even my wife defends her state of mind during that time. We were both in complete crisis mode, and neither of us were thinking rationally.
The mindset that I adopted was that I was not dealing with my wife. My wife didn’t lie, she didn’t keep secrets from me, and she certainly didn’t put her desire for some guy above her relationship with her family. It was as if someone else was inhabiting the body of my wife, and I would be damned if that person was going to make major life decisions that we would both have to suffer for. If in fact this was the new person that my wife had become, then I had to at least delay those decisions until I knew that I had no hope of getting her back. The potential of saving my marriage and my family was too valuable to act impetuously.
I’ve read stories of other couples who have seemed more intent on attacking their spouse than in rebuilding their relationship. They seem to revel in confronting them with their lies, kicking them out of the house, screaming about the hurt they’ve caused. They’re probably completely justified in those actions, but they seem counterproductive to rebuilding a marriage. We had already caused considerable damage to each other that we needed to repair, and we certainly didn’t need to pile any more on top of that.
I didn’t need to yell and attack to communicate the anger and hurt that I was feeling anyway. That would just give her the opportunity to fight back and focus us more on our ability to hurt one another when our marriage required the exact opposite. I could actually convey those emotions more clearly through calm conversation, and instead of prompting her to fight back, it created a safe environment where we could both be open and honest. I wanted to understand her thinking and get answers to my questions, and I wasn’t going to get that with angry confrontation. The style of communication that we developed during that time became our standard rapport even as I regained my pride and our relationship matured.
Of course, this calm demeanor wasn’t easy. I had just as much anger and hostility in me as anyone else in my situation. While my logical mind was determined to maintain my priorities, my emotional mind wanted to attack. I started working out regularly, almost compulsively. My runs and bike rides were moments of solitude when I could think about the situation and plan my actions. When I wasn’t exercising, I was taking long walks around the neighborhood in contemplation. In my head, I would go through mock conversations with my wife. I would try to predict different reactions she might have and what my response would be in return. I would think about how much we could expect to get through in a single conversation, and make decisions on which topics to hold until later. When I was home alone I would often yell while I had mock arguments with a wife who wasn’t there. Yelling at an empty chair may not have been quite as satisfying as yelling at my wife, but it also didn’t carry the same potential consequences.
I would constantly tell myself that there would always be time to be vent. If the marriage ended, I had plenty of ammunition that I could fire at my wife, and at the other guy as well. The facts of the past weren’t going to change, and I certainly wasn’t going forget them. If I ever had a doubt whether we were ready for a particular topic or whether I should divulge some information I had obtained, I’d typically wait. There was no risk in waiting another day. But once a statement was made, once I tipped my hand, there was no going back. That one hurtful comment that would cut right to the depth of her emotion might feel satisfying to me in the moment, but it would forever live in her memory.
There was one moment that illustrates how tentative the situation was, and it was the closest that our marriage came to ending abruptly. One evening after the kids had gone to bed, I confronted my wife with some evidence that I had uncovered. It was the one time that I made a direct confrontation out of sheer anger. She panicked, stormed out the front door, and actually ran off down the street. I was in a panic for almost an hour before she finally arrived back on our doorstep. She later confided to me that she ended up in the alley behind our house debating whether to call the other guy to pick her up. She ultimately decided against that option since she knew that if she made that call, our marriage was over.
I’ve thought about that moment many times. If she had made that call, she would have clearly established that she was choosing him over our family. Our marriage would no longer exist. One decision made in the heat of moment by someone not thinking rationally had the potential to completely alter the rest of our lives. The people who we are now would still be suffering from the impetuous actions of the people we used to be.
Fortunately, that was the only time during that volatile phase of our recovery that I allowed myself to lose my temper. Had there been others, each would have had the potential to result in that final breaking point, and it’s quite probable that one would have done exactly that. Maintaining my composure and clearly focusing my actions on my critical goals were key to navigating our recovery.
All of this may make me appear passive, someone so desperate to save his marriage that he was willing to give up his self respect and completely bury his very justified anger . But I was actually acting out of aggression as well, just in a controlled manner. I assumed that my wife had been focusing on my negative traits as a defense mechanism to help justify her indiscretions. The more that I reacted in anger, the more that would fuel her justification. She was going to have to consciously walk away from our marriage as opposed to having me drive her out. I was determined that she would have to make that decision with full guilt.
A couple of times she asked me if I wanted her to leave the house. How easy that would have been for her, run back to the other guy for comfort while I came up with some excuse for the kids. I was determined to keep her there to deal with her family. If she wanted to leave then that would be her decision, and she would be the one to explain it to the kids.
Of course, I assumed the other guy was encouraging her negative thoughts about me. The best thing that I could do for him would be to play into that, to react with anger and drive her closer to him. That would allow him to play the comforting role, protecting my wife from her irrational husband and giving her a preview of how wonderful life could be with him. The more that my wife and I became adversaries, the more that she would view him as an ally. I needed her on my side so that we could methodically push him out of our relationship.
While this patient and calculated approach was integral to saving our marriage, it didn’t come without its price. There is value in venting your anger and releasing all of that emotion. A simple but accurate analogy is a shaken can of soda. If you pop it open abruptly, the contents will explode out immediately. The alternative is to open it ever so slightly such that the contents slowly leak out. You avoid the potential damage from the blast, but it takes significantly longer for all that pressure to be released. I’m still working through painful memories and experiences, and I still regularly have fantasies of reacting in very different ways that I did. As short lived as it would have been, there would have been a sense of satisfaction and justice berating my wife and the other guy. I can internalize and delay my emotions, but I can’t avoid them forever.
But I have no regrets over the path I chose. Working through my emotions with my family and marriage intact is far more satisfying then reveling by myself over some past brief display of anger. As the cliché says, anything worth having is worth working for. I worked hard for my marriage, and I haven’t for moment doubted whether it was worth the cost.
When I first learned of my wife’s affair, I actually held myself responsible. I focused on the guilt for my role in our marriage going bad, and I barely blamed her for her actions. My therapist identified this in my first session speculating that I felt that I had wronged my wife was now trying to change into what I thought she wanted. She was absolutely right, and I now realize how unhealthy that position was. As it turns out though, it was one of the keys to our recovery.
Since that initial shock, I’ve tempered my opinion in the sense that I now hold her solely responsible for her actions. But while I don’t accept any responsibility for the affair, I share in the responsibility for the problems in our marriage that led to her seeking it out. I also contributed to the lack of communication that resulted in a marriage that actively avoided issues of deep significance. We would choose to pretend that all was normal rather than actually acknowledge any significant problems that we might need to confront. This situation certainly fit that category, and we were completely unprepared for it.
There was no distinct point where our marriage suddenly turned bad. As I outlined in Our Story, it happened so gradually that it was virtually imperceptible, at least to me. I wasn’t even conscious of any problems until the jolt of the affair made me realize what had been in front of me for so long. When the kids were younger, we would regularly have evenings where we put them to bed early and I made dinner for the two of us. Now she and the kids went upstairs immediately after dinner while I remained working in my office until well after they fell asleep. The only times I would cut my personal evening short was when I thought we might have sex. She would leave for the evening with friends, and while I would happily take care of the kids, I would barely show any interest in where she was going. I certainly didn’t spend much time asking her about her evening. She didn’t have to bother to hide the affair, because I wasn’t even bothering to pay attention.
I certainly had no appreciation for the life issues that she dealing with. I would often comment about how I couldn’t wait for the kids to be grown and out of the house so that it could just be the two of us with complete freedom. Of course, the kids had been the center of her life for years, and being a mom was her primary function in our family. Without them, how was she supposed to spend her time, let alone take any pride in her daily accomplishments? What’s the point of having freedom with a spouse who can’t be bothered to spend time with you let alone show the affection that actually makes you feel desired? She later admitted to me that any thoughts she had of her future included her on her own. I hadn’t earned a place in her mental picture.
None of these are excuses for her affair. They aren’t excuses for lying. She should have confided in me and explained how serious things had gotten for her. If she needed to give me the ultimatum to make changes in our marriage or start planning for divorce, then that’s what she should have done. I honestly don’t know whether such a confrontation would have jolted me into action the way the affair did, but I deserved the chance to at least understand the truth of the situation. I was completely ignorant while she was actively preparing for a future without me. Rather than confide in the husband who had been committed to his family for twenty years, she chose to leave him behind to address her personal needs.
Regardless of her actions in response to our marital problems though, those problems were very real, and I shared equal responsibility for them. She has since taken full responsibility for the affair and makes no excuses for her behavior. But if we didn’t work on the underlying issues that drove her to that affair, then they would still be there when the recovery was complete. In fact, with those problems still existing, what would be the point of recovery only to return to a marriage that neither of us was particularly happy with? I have no interest in being married to a wife who is acting out of guilt, constantly working to atone for past actions. At some point, I needed to fully forgive her so that we could once again be equal partners, and the only way we could achieve that is for us to take an equal role in our recovery.
This may sound as if I’m making excuses for my wife and trying to soften the seriousness of her indiscretions by assuming some of the responsibility for them. I’ve actually found this to be an empowering position for me though. Any victim of an affair will tell you that the hurt and anger will still manifest itself even years later. Many people appear to limit their recovery to simply waiting until those feelings magically disappear. They take the attitude that their spouse bears sole responsibility for recovery since they are the one who caused the situation in the first place. I’ve experienced too much anxiety and sense of powerlessness over the past couple of years to be passive now. Taking an active role provides me a means of channeling that anxiety and giving me some control in achieving the marriage that I want.
I actually don’t think I would have made it through the recovery had I not carried that initial guilt, and I doubt I would have wanted to. I would have been far less forgiving of her actions, and I’m not sure whether I would have wanted to return to a marriage that could never match its previous quality level. That marriage was forever tainted, so our only option was to work toward something entirely new. Through personal changes that we both made, we started to find a relationship with each other that neither of us had experienced. Instead of simply working to return to normal, we were working on a completely new and improved version of our marriage.
I feel for fellow victims of affairs who can’t see past their anger to accept any personal responsibility. I’m not saying that they should claim responsibility that they don’t deserve. But if they truly don’t see their role in the degeneration of the marriage and are willing to actively work on changes in their own behavior, then it probably means that they are actively refusing to acknowledge it. The only other option is that they actually are blameless, and they have a spouse who didn’t share their commitment to the marriage. In either case, I don’t see how a return to a quality marriage with mutual respect and trust by both partners would be possible.
An irony in all this is that while I am just as committed to my marriage as ever, I’m now less scared of losing it. When I found out about the affair, I assumed my only two options were to save the marriage or to be alone. I had been married since my early twenties and suffered from a lack of confidence in social situations. As a result, I dreaded the idea of dating and didn’t feel capable of finding a new companion with a similar set of qualities as my wife. As I worked through my personal issues in an effort to improve my role as a husband and father though, I gained a new confidence in my ability to relate with other people. The marriage that we have now is not just a result of two people who worked to improve their relationship but also two people who worked to improve themselves.