Two days after I found out my husband had an affair, I dropped my favourite mug. It felt like yet another kick when I was already down; things around me were now literally falling apart. When I rushed to clean up the mess, I accidentally cut my hand on one of the sharper pieces. I sat on the floor with my back against the cupboard crying with my finger bleeding and broken ceramic scattered around me.
After a few minutes, I closed my eyes and took deep breaths until I calmed down. If I had been more careful and taken my time, the mess would have been dealt with better and I wouldn’t have hurt myself in the process. My marriage wasn’t a mug, but it was definitely broken, and that was the moment I realized I needed to approach my husband’s infidelity with the same caution and planning you would when handling any damaged or broken thing.
It’s now been six months since I discovered my husband’s infidelity and my entire world turned upside down. Some days I still don’t believe it, and other days it rears its ugly head in unexpected triggers. We’re parents, which adds its own challenges when figuring out how to move forward. I have decided to stay, and while I know that’s not often a popular decision, it’s the one that I made and others have as well. It isn’t wrong to leave a cheating spouse. But it also isn’t wrong to believe infidelity doesn’t have to be the end, even if the relationship is changed forever. Here are a few of the ways we’ve been working on rebuilding our relationship and navigating parenting through it all.
Figure out the logistics
The very first decision that needed to be made after I found out was: do I kick him out, or do I let him stay at home? Because we’re parents, that meant my husband leaving would open me up to the kinds of blunt and direct questions children specialize in. I decided that it would be less disruptive for him to stay living at home for a few reasons; I wanted to keep life as normal as possible for our son, I knew if he wasn’t at home I would worry that he was with someone else, and selfishly, because as hurt as I was I still needed his support as a co-parent. Taking on all of the day-to-day responsibilities by myself while I worked through the shock and hurt would have piled even more pressure on me when I was already feeling fragile. I knew that we would be able to remain civil to each other, and we decided my husband would stay in the spare room; he goes to bed after my son is already asleep and we both wake up before we need to get him ready for school.
He’s running a trust deficit
My trust was broken by the person I least expected to ever hurt me. That isn’t the type of damage that can heal quickly, and I still have my moments when I get suspicious. My husband knows he’s lost the luxury of privacy. He’s offered me passwords to every account he has, I can check them at any time, and he also installed a GPS on his phone that I have access to. I’ll be honest—I haven’t checked any of them. I’m worried that if I do it will become a habit, and I’ll start obsessing over monitoring him, which isn’t the kind of relationship I want to rebuild on the ruins of our old one. The fact that he realizes transparency is important, and the knowledge I can check on him at any moment, unannounced, is comforting to me. I had to figure out what I needed from him, and he needed to decide that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to earn back my trust.
It really does take a village
My best friend has been there through my embarrassing teenage phases and knows my darkest secrets. I was surprised how hard it was to tell her that my husband cheated— as if it reflected more on me than it did on him. There is so much shame attached to being cheated on, and even more if you tell people you’re going to try to work it out. Before I confided in anyone I knew in real life, I had posted anonymously in an online group for advice. That was a mistake. I was blamed, and told I must not be meeting his needs, and that I was failing as a wife. I was also criticized for seeking advice on how I might work through this, told if I stayed that I deserved to have it happen again, and that our son would likely do the same thing to his future partners if I stayed. I read the replies, considered them, then decided to log off. These people didn’t know me, and they weren’t invested in my well-being or the happiness of our family. They couldn’t help me. After my best friend, I opened up to another close friend, then my husband and I told another married couple we’re close to. We found a couple’s therapist and started to attend regular sessions. We opened up to our families. We found our village, and despite their shock, they have been there to support us. I can’t get through this alone, and I hope no one else feels they need to either.
Figuring out what I needed to know
On one side were all of the things I wanted to know, and on the other side were the things I needed to know. Weighing my options, I decided that I needed to know almost nothing about the other woman. She wasn’t a part of our marriage, and my husband didn’t hesitate to tell her it was over. What mattered most to me was why he did what he did, how he kept secrets from me, the scope of his lies, and if he did this because he wanted a way out of our marriage. For me, the fact that it was physical rather than emotional made it easier to decide to stay. Our therapist helped me understand that my husband became addicted to the rush, he spiraled into a pattern of shame and depression that then pushed him to keep pursuing that validation. He dug himself a hole so deep, he didn’t know how to climb back out. In addition to our therapist, he found a therapist of his own to work through issues he had been suppressing—and in doing so and we added another member to our village.
“That would never happen to me”
When I tell people I was completely blindsided, I mean it. There were no obvious signs, no out-of-town trips, no lipstick on his collar. My biggest mistake was believing we would never face anything like this, because the fact is, all marriages are eventually tested in their own way. Health, finances, deception—building a life with someone means accepting that things may not always go according to plan. Even though we’re working on our marriage, I need to accept my husband might cheat again one day, just like he needs to accept that I may change my mind and ask for a divorce. Neither of us has any guarantees, but I know that I love my husband, despite the immense pain he’s caused me. I believe him when he tells me he still loves me, and I accept that he made a mistake and is genuinely regretful. Rebuilding our marriage is going to be a long process. I made a vow to love my husband for better or for worse; this is (I hope) him at his worst.
After a recent night out together we were headed home, enjoying the walk through our neighborhood. I told a joke, I don’t even remember what it was, but we both burst out laughing and struggled to stop. When we finally calmed down, we looked at each other, and after a moment, we kissed for the first time in six months. It felt vulnerable and strange after everything that had happened between us, but it also felt like coming home after being away for too long. He pulled me close and it just felt right. Neither of us wanted to let go.
That is what it will ultimately come down to; leaving is not the only option if you aren’t ready to walk away, and if your partner is genuinely willing to change their behaviour. Deciding to love the person who hurt you is not a sign of weakness if it’s what you both want. It will take time, your relationship will change, but one day things will slowly start coming together and you’ll start a new chapter—whatever that chapter might be.
The author of this story requested anonymity.