I stumbled across this TED talk completely by accident, and the title obviously interested me. It couldn’t possibly better sum up everything I’ve learned over the past couple of years, in only 20 minutes. After seeing this, I started reading her book Mating in Captivity. In only the first chapter, I made some significant realizations that I had been contemplating since I originally found out about my wife’s affair.
I won’t bother trying to summarize since you can watch for yourself, and I strongly suggest that you do.
After I sent the other guy a mail telling him that I discovered his porn site where he bragged to the world about all the sex he was having with my wife, he promised me a response. I did get one from him a few days later, and I assume that he meant it as a sincere apology.
I am at a loss of word as to what to say to you that might make you feel better, or mend the rift, or bind the wounds. All I can say to you is that I am very, very sorry about my actions and what happened.
Neither of us ever knew or thought what happened would ever happen from the beginning. We were strictly friends and that’s all I’m sure we ever intended it to be. I can’t tell you what day or hour or action changed everything between us.
I can’t change the past and the actions that occurred in the past. I can only say I am sorry.
I do have one question though, why didn’t you say something if you knew?
I know my apology isn’t much to offer, but it’s all I have.
I admit that my first reaction to this was that it did sound sincere. He seemed to be honestly apologizing, and as he says, there’s really nothing more he could have offered me. But the more I thought about it and after I went back to read it again, I wasn’t impressed. His claim of only intending to be friends was just a continuation of his inability to accept responsibility. Apparently, he had the best of intentions, but something beyond his control turned that innocent friendship into an affair.
What really angered me though was that question that he posed to me, which I read that as him challenging my claim that I knew about the sex before I discovered his site. Regardless of his intention with the question, I took the chance to respond.
I’m not sure what compels you to ask that question, or any question of me for that matter. You know infinitely more than I do about what happened over the last couple of years, while I’ve had to work for almost a year just to scrape together the bits of information that I do have. Considering that you were instrumental in actively keeping that information from me, it’s quite ironic that you would send me a message that provides me with no additional insight or personal perspective, but then ask me to satisfy your curiosity. I hope you won’t be offended when I say that I don’t feel any obligation to answer. Everything that I have done over the past year has been with the very specific goal of protecting my family, and [Wife] is the only person who has any right to evaluate my actions.
Still, I feel compelled to answer if for no other reason than to have you finally hear my perspective. I’m sure that I was the topic of various discussions of yours over the past couple of years, and perhaps it’s time that you actually heard something from me instead of about me. Giving a complete explanation would take far too long. But this is also not an answer that I could adequately provide in just a few lines since there were multiple times where I knew more than I let on. So, you’ll have to excuse the length of this mail.
Suffice it to say that from the time that I found out about the affair last July, I have focused on the clear goals of saving my marriage and my family and keeping as much of the drama from our children as possible. My personal well-being, my dignity, and even my sanity have been secondary to the needs of my family. The entire month of August, I kept quiet about what I knew because our children were home from school, and [Wife] and I had little time to be alone. I had no idea how she was going to react, and I was determined to protect our children from such traumatic experiences as volatile arguments between their parents or one of us leaving the home unexpectedly. Those weeks waiting for school to start was the most difficult period of my entire life, but I would repeat it again a countless number of times if I thought that was in the best interest of my children.
I’ll admit to being completely naïve from September to November. I believed that the relationship was nothing more than a friendship and was in the process of winding down. I had to perform a significant amount of self-delusion in order to do that though and had to explicitly ignore a variety of obvious signs. But I was so exhausted from the summer that I chose to believe what I wanted to be true. You were able to take advantage of that and continue the relationship with little change. Thanks to your blog, I now not only have some specific dates but even specific sex acts that were going on while I was performing such mundane acts as cooking dinner for my family or picking up my children from school. If I didn’t already feel humiliated enough at my gullibility, then I certainly do now.
But even under my delusion, it bothered me significantly that you two were still in contact. I had every right to demand that [Wife] cease communication with you based on nothing more than the excessive texting and the history of meetings without my knowledge. But I was focused on the long term health of my wife and my marriage, not on my short term pride. I needed to give [Wife] her space to work things out according to her own time schedule, and we needed to coherently make mutual decisions in the best interest of our marriage and our family. I don’t shy away one bit from my portion of responsibility for the problems in our marriage, and I needed time to make appropriate amends there as well. Demands and ultimatums might have given me some perceived short term power over the situation, but it would do little for the long term health of our marriage.
It was the events of late November that forced me to face reality. When I looked at the phone bills and found that virtually nothing had changed in your relationship, it was obvious that it could no longer continue if [Wife] and I were going to retain any kind of a marriage. I had to risk the resentment of making the demands that I had been avoiding. During those volatile couple of weeks, it became very clear that this was a romantic relationship involving sex. I chose to consciously overlook each of the signs pointing to that though because we had enough to focus on without having to deal with that issue. Whether or not sex was involved, the marriage had clearly been violated, and we had significant work to do in order to restore our trust in one another and the foundation of our marriage. Taking on every issue at once would have been more than either of us could handle. I had every intent of addressing the issue of sex at some point, but only after I felt enough confidence that our relationship had sufficiently progressed in order to confront such a sensitive topic.
You may note that the attitude I’m describing here is the antithesis of the simplistic husband with antiquated views of marriage who wants to own and control his wife, as you portrayed me in your mail in December. But you may be surprised that my actual views about marriage are significantly more complex than those of the caricature that you painted. Considering the other spurious arguments in that mail though, I probably shouldn’t assume that accusation was entirely truthful.
Of course, when I discovered your blog, it was obvious that the issue had to finally be confronted. I thought that I was prepared for the discussion, but in addition to accelerating our timeline, you added an entirely new level of ugliness to it that we’ve been forced to deal with. It’s difficult enough to mentally process the idea of your wife having a sexual affair without your knowledge, but it is another matter entirely to see her portrayed as little more than a prop in support of someone else’s displays of sexual prowess. I’m only glad that I didn’t stumble on your site sooner when we would have been far less prepared to deal with it. I wonder if you ever considered the additional risk that you were putting on our already fragile marriage while you fulfilled your apparent need to publically boast about your sexual conquests. It certainly appears that the fact that [Wife] was a married woman with two daughters and a husband at home desperately trying to work through the complexities of saving his family was secondary in your mind compared to her role as your “FWB”.
I admit that it’s not easy for me to accept your apology. You say that you had no intention of moving beyond a friendship yet your post on [date of the post about the “session” with his “FWB”] portrays someone quite proud of their accomplishment. You’ve had plenty of time over the last several months to consider your actions, yet the photo and posts remained on your blog for more than a year. You only thought to remove them after I discovered the site. It might appear to some that rather than having remorse for your actions, you simply regret your mistakes that led to me finding out about them.
Over the last several months, I’ve built up a level of animosity that I didn’t think I was capable of, only to have it increase further at this latest revelation. But that’s something that I simply don’t want to carry any more. My family needs me to focus on my progression of becoming a better husband and father, and I can’t do that while continuing to expend energy on all that anger. As you stated, there is nothing else that I can reasonably ask from you, so a simple apology will have to suffice.
I doubt that my opinion carries much weight with you so I am under no false impression that it will affect your life much whether I choose to accept your apology or not. For what it’s worth though, I do believe that you are being sincere, and I do accept it. You could have simply chosen not to respond at all, and I respect your integrity for doing so. It will take me time to get over that animosity, but I am committed to doing exactly that.
Assuming that there aren’t any other surprises out there waiting for me, I consider this entire drama closed and am committed to focusing my full attention on moving forward with my wife and my family. I honestly
hope that you are well and ultimately find whatever it is that you’re looking for in life.
I actually lied in that mail. I didn’t think his apology was sincere, and I didn’t accept it. As I stated in the mail, his only real regret was over getting caught. If he had true remorse for his actions, then those posts would have been removed far sooner. If he actually had integrity, he wouldn’t have found pleasure posting photos of a married woman along with condescending comments about her in the first place. But I didn’t need to dwell on that anger. I told him what I wanted to be true, that I was focusing on the positive aspects of rebuilding my marriage as opposed to clinging to the negative aspects of the affair. I needed to put it all in the past.
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.
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.
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.
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’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.