It is widely known that the divorce rate sits currently somewhere between 40 and 50%, which only factors in married couples. There are far more living arrangement and relationship types that aren’t included and yet could very likely add to this number. With that being said, there are a number of reasons couples file for divorce, however, one of the main reasons is due to one or more parties having an affair.
According to an IDFA survey conducted by Certified Divorce Financial Analysts® (CDFA®), infidelity and sexual issues (28%) only fall behind basic incompatibility (43%) in the line of reasons for divorce. In a disposable world, society tells us that we shouldn’t stay. If you talk to just a few people, responses will vary from “You need to go” to “Why would you put up with this?”. Typically, not very many people will tell you to work it out. If it’s a close friend, they will many times immediately hate your spouse or significant other. But what happens if you don’t get divorced or separate? Is there any chance of keeping your proverbial ship from sinking despite a storm that leaves you battered and on the verge of capsizing? For as many reasons as there are to leave, sometimes – even if temporary – it is just as necessary to stay. Maybe the spouse or partner has left a career to stay home with children. Alternatively, maybe the cheating spouse or partner is the breadwinner and the financial support beam of the home.
I was married at a very young age – 19 to be exact and the day before my husband’s 22nd birthday. When I think back now, we were REALLY young and REALLY in love. Flash forward to a few years and a few kids, what started out as possibly entertaining the idea of an open marriage, went very much awry. We got stagnant. Our marriage became monotonous. When it came down to the nitty gritty, neither one of us were totally comfortable dating other people while still being married. We wanted the excitement but felt so taboo about it. The turning point was when my husband was laid off for the winter and began playing online games that had chat rooms. He would stay up all night playing games online, while I would go to sleep alone. Cue the crack in the foundation of our marriage that eventually lead to the San Andreas fault.
A few months went by and he had asked to go out with a group of people he had been talking to for months online. I knew we had some issues but to me, they were minor “normal” everyday issues married couples face. I never thought in a million years what would soon take place would ever come to fruition. He had gone back to work by this time and I was staying home with our 2 children. Since I knew he was going out, I went to bed early. He typically left for work before I woke up. When his job called the next day to ask why he hadn’t shown up for work, I had this feeling I couldn’t shake that the unimaginable happened; those who have gone through infidelity know what I mean. He walked in the door within an hour of his boss calling and I noticed a little shimmer of body glitter on him (yes, body glitter, I know!). I was furious. I was so mad I couldn’t even look at him. To say I was hurt was a gross understatement. I was always the woman who thought,“he would never do this”. And then he did. And he admitted he did.
We didn’t divorce.
We were very much not together.
We continued to live in the same home.
I think we had one conversation about needing space and a lot of time. Apart. He dated a few people (or just hooked up with a few more). I dated a few people. I was living my best life and I can only assume he was too. We continued to co-parent and honestly it was the only thing we did that we didn’t argue over. I hated him so much that I couldn’t even speak to him without getting infuriated. We always had the best interest of our 2 children on the forefront of our minds. They didn’t ask for this disruption. We waited until they were adults to fill them in and even then said that they were unaware of the “dark days” (as we refer to that time period as). To this day, 90% of our family never knew this ever happened. We faked being happy so good. And,for so long. But, after about a year of this back and forth we finally had a conversation. Like, THE conversation that needed to be had so badly. Like, the conversation that could only be had after a sufficient amount of time had passed so that the burning hot anger was a slow burning ember. We had said that we very much still had love for one another, but that the time period emotionally separated made it hard to be IN love. We were apologetic for not holding our marriage vows seriously. Ultimately, we decided that we wanted to really make an effort to stay together. However, a few things needed to be addressed:
- Honesty. Each person would have to “come clean” and air out all of their dirty laundry. Despite how horrible this was to listen to, it was crucial in starting over. I will add, he left out a few major details. He didn’t tell me these until nearly 5 years later, which came at the cost of a very close friendship. Should I have left him then? Maybe. But in my thought process, it was something that happened during the “dark days” and not something new. Had he told me during “the dark days”, I wouldn’t have changed my mind. I had forgiven him for his actions during that time and part of forgiveness is being able to move forward.
- Realization. Realizing that there’s a possibility that there was something unfulfilling in your marriage or partnership that pushed one or both parties out the door. Maybe there was a lapse in quality communication. Only after this complete level of distrust and disgust in our marriage did I realize the underlying cracks that allowed factors in that lead to the breakdown of our marriage. Yes, he may have opened that door but, looking back, there were certainly things that I did that pushed him off the step.
- Moving On. How do you move forward after this? Do you move forward together or apart? In my case, it made it a bit easier because after the initial incident, I engaged in the same behavior, albeit to his knowledge. I had Friday nights out and he had Saturdays. There was no guesswork involved in wondering where one or the other was. It was an agreement after his admission that we both consented to. We needed time and space apart. However, looking back and even in that moment, I didn’t find that to be the comforting blanket or best decision I had cracked it up to be. The grass wasn’t greener and a warm body didn’t fulfill me. I was still lonely and still longing for it to have never resorted to this. So, what can someone do? Everything starts with a single conversation. We had a very deep conversation about our wants and needs. What our relationship was lacking. What we both desired in a marriage and what it meant to us. Shockingly enough, it didn’t have as much to do with sex as one would think it would have.
- Time and Trust. I know what you’re thinking. “You want me to trust this SOB again?.” Just hear me out. It will take time, maybe even more than you want to invest. I was a flood of emotions for a long time, which definitely played into my reckless behavior. I teetered between extreme anger and extreme sadness. I felt like it was very hard to get a grip on my emotions. One day I couldn’t get out of bed and another night I was dancing on tables at concerts. For us, I would say we were probably a year or even more after that fateful “let’s stay together” conversation that I started even remotely feeling like we were on track. Before that, everyday was like “we survived another day”. For example, look at an island after a Category 5 hurricane blows through. It’s years before things start falling into place. Even long after, there are still signs of a time when things were decimated. I have no reason to believe my husband ever stepped out again. And I truly believe that when we decided to remain together, we were very serious and dedicated to making that happen. However, if you cannot move forward despite therapy and time, you may need to reevaluate what is best for your mental and financial health. It’s very hard to maintain a full cup when it’s being depleted by the circumstances around you. This is a very difficult, tailored decision and what may be right for one person will not work for another.
We are celebrating 22 years together on Valentine’s Day and our 21st wedding anniversary in late spring. When I look back now, this is all a memory. We still talk in depth about “the dark days”. Sometimes we even laugh about it and say “what in the universe were we thinking?”. Sometimes it makes us sad that we lost a year and a half of something that could have possibly been avoided with a little more communication. When I discuss this with friends, especially those going through this (because let’s face it, unfortunately affairs are not uncommon), they look at me in wonder of how I ever moved past this AND stayed with my husband AND love him as much as I do today. While this isn’t even a remotely positive way to get to this point, we both don’t think we would have gotten to the oasis without walking through a desert. In hindsight, our communication skills were severely lacking. We just didn’t talk about things the way we do now. I truly believe that because of this devastation, our sense of communication is heightened. We talk about every single thing on our minds. We’ve added 2 more kids to the mix. We’re prioritizing our relationship and sex more than ever. While I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone, I do know that it strengthened us as a couple and that it is possible to move past this and be in love again. I know that the possibility exists to not question everything your spouse or partner does. If you happen to be fortunate enough to survive this and find a way to move forward, I’d love to hear about it.