I write candidly about my husband’s infidelity in part because I wasn’t the first to do so. The story of his long-ago-over affair with a co-worker was fed to our local media and that does not sit well with me. So I took it from there. I write the rest of our story.
Nearly every week since I began telling our story, I’ve been emailed or messaged privately by women whose husbands have also strayed and a question that keeps coming up as regularly as the tides is, “How do you stop thinking and obsessing about HER?” The other woman. The homewrecker. The evil B. The devil. She’s been given several monikers by the women whose husbands she’s slept with, become emotionally attached to, shared a life or started another family with, and I can’t print them all here.
I answer I don’t struggle with ceasing to obsess over her because I never started. I find her wholly irrelevant and so to date, I still haven’t given her much thought. I did look her up on Facebook initially, so I knew what I was dealing with in regards to the woman my husband cheated with. I could never have let her go faceless in my mind; I needed to know every detail about my husband’s affair including specifics about who he’d conducted it with. I needed to know exactly what I was going to have to try to get over in an attempt to determine whether or not I’d be able to.
She was younger, so very pretty, and so willing to do things I was not. Of course she was. How else are we to arrive at cliché? I’m thankful for the small blessing of cliché and how it tempered the hell coming to know of my husband’s affair was because cliché was so much easier to come to terms with than an emotional or long-term affair might’ve been.
Luckily, I didn’t know the woman my husband slept with. This helped ensure she’d forever remain immaterial in my mind; a mere catalyst to catastrophe and completely inconsequential. Here’s what is material: he responded to her overtures with interest because he and I were bent, but more so because he was broken. She could have been any woman willing to meet his physical and emotional needs in ways I wasn’t and so who she was is altogether irrelevant to me.
Their affair ended quickly after it started, though I wouldn’t find out about it for a few years. Not until my husband was forced to tell me of his betrayal when his affair was discovered, or rather dug up at work and fed to our local media, which meant our two teenagers and I were about to hear reports of his infidelity on the 5 o’clock news. He didn’t want us to find out that way, or at all. But the secret was no longer his to keep.
Since ending his affair, he’d been replete with remorse and had recommitted to our family, so the shock of his revelation was a blindside that left me questioning everything I thought I knew about him. I never saw the sledgehammer coming when it descended full force and slammed into my heart. I felt its effects like a volcano feels an eruption, or how I imagine it would if it could.
My husband sought the easy route, the escape of an affair, during a lengthy bleak period in our marriage. One that looked like us brushing past each other brusquely in the hallway and sharing a bedroom more like roommates than like two people in love. During a stretch of time we spent wondering why we were married, would we stay married, was it right to have gotten married? We behaved selfishly with each other, both all about our own needs but not at all about the needs of the other. If there was a motion to go through, we still went through it, but the proverbial spark between us had long since been extinguished and neither of us was willing or able to relight it.
In an effort to cope, I abandoned my husband mentally and intimately and seldom did I return. In response, he abandoned our vows in a way that seems much worse, right? But was it? Well, I think so, I’m just not certain. And I don’t admit that to you because I’m weak, lacking in self-esteem or unable to muster self-respect for the strong, capable and deserving of committed love woman I am. Rather, because I’m fierce, courageous, intelligent and sure of who I am, what I want, who I love, how I treated him and how it affected us.
While we did flounder in our marriage and mess it up good, we never did stop loving each other. This is the only reason I was able to attempt to stay after his crushing revelation. Love isn’t a faucet; you can’t turn it on and off. Or rather maybe it is and you can. But my love was still trickling and did not run dry over my husband’s confession, nor could I get it to. The same was true for him and owing to our still present mutual love, our marriage had a chance at renewal.
The first few months after his revelation were consumed by hard learning. Where we went wrong. How to rebuild. How to trust again, if even possible. How to protect our marriage going forward. How to deal with conflict and discord in the future. The only easy learning was in coming to understand how insignificant the other woman was.
I learned firsthand husbands don’t cheat because of how their wives look or how much they weigh. At the time my husband cheated, I was in the best physical shape I’ve ever been in and that shape was pretty darn great. I’m told I’m fairly easy on the eyes as well. And while it’s true I didn’t send him nude photos, nor will I ever, I also didn’t enjoy having sex with him because he didn’t enjoy connecting with me or share a willingness to work on our issues. She did enjoy having sex with him because they had no issues to work on and that’s where relevance demands its due.
We learned ignoring the need for God in our marriage has dire consequences. God gets marriage so right, we need only to love like he does to get it right, too. And when we inevitably fall short, to own it, apologize, and do better at loving the next time. We learned doing the hard work of mending hurt is so much easier if done before even bigger hurts are hurled. And shutting down and betrayal aren’t coping methods, they’re modes of destruction.
He learned meaningless sex was not the salve he was seeking, it was his heart that needed holding and he still wanted and needed me to hold it, not her. He learned hurting me gravely would hurt him profoundly. He learned asking for forgiveness and for me to be his wife in every way again would be matched by me giving him the chance to prove his love and restore my trust.
I learned another woman, insignificant though she may be, can fit in between us and cause significant damage if I allow enough space for her. I learned I’m stronger and more capable of forgiveness than I ever knew because staying with someone who betrays you is a heavy task and while laboring at it, sometimes leaving seemed the easier thing to do. I learned I loved my husband the wrong way for too long—with conditions, regulations and fickle feelings. Without respect, action, or regularity. With little absolution, grace or mercy.
I learned staying after the unthinkable is more than just thinkable. Still loving your husband, even though, and deciding to try to keep your family together is more than just a valid choice. If that’s what’s in your heart, it’s the right choice for you.
I learned the other woman doesn’t factor into any of the most beautiful parts of our marriage story, only ever the unfortunate and unlovely. Thus, if I’m ever tempted or prompted to think about her at all, I’m immediately met with a deep sense of why bother?
So, quite simply, I just don’t.
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