Infidelity Does Not Have to Mean the End of Your Marriage or Relationship but it Will Change You
I’ve been struggling with this idea that if most marriages will encounter infidelity in their lifetime then why is open discussion of infidelity taboo? Why are we not more prepared? And why do we continue to teach that affairs are unacceptable and represent the end of marriage?
I realize now that my entire life has been relatively easy. I grew up in a normal upper-middle class home, my parents are still married, my siblings are highly functional, and I was married to my husband a year after graduating from college. There were “struggles” along the way but nothing that changed my way of thinking. My family dealt with my sister going through teenage-angst and defiance which meant drug experimentation, sex, and risky behavior but she came out of it unscathed. In fact, she has become the embodiment of everything she was rebelling against. I was always the good girl and never broke the rules. I’ve never smoked a cigarette or been high. When I met my husband I bent the rules. I was completely infatuated with him. He was perfect and for the first time, a man loved me and I loved him in return. I’m certain our love story is probably more romantic in my head then on paper but because it was ours it was special.
A little over a year into our relationship I found out I was pregnant. I was twenty years old and pregnant. Prior to the affair this was what I would point to as the most difficult time in my life. I finished college, had our first child, and we were eventually married. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows before we were married either. I was scared that I might end up raising our child alone. It’s not until recently I realize that as difficult as that period in my life was and as much as I fought for our relationship and our baby – it wasn’t traumatic. It didn’t change my way of thinking or my belief system.
More importantly, my romantic idealism was never challenged by the struggles we faced at the beginning of our relationship because he chose me. He was “the one” and I was his other half, his greatest love, best friend, and lifetime companion. We were made for each other – soulmates, lovers, whatever you want to call it. I believed all of it.
My husband’s affair shattered that belief system. If he wanted, desired, craved, and (gulp) loved another woman it was not just a betrayal of our marriage but a betrayal of a sacred belief that we were special. It shattered my sense of self because my identity was so wrapped up in my marriage – how my husband felt about me was my anchor. I felt our life was like some cheesy romance song or movie where the couple can live off ramen and barely scrape by but their love is what makes it all worthwhile. But betrayal? That signified I was no different than anyone else and our marriage was no different either – maybe even less.
Yet, in the wake of D-day I didn’t want to end my marriage. In fact, my husband and I slept in the same bed every single night after D-day. Even when I was crying and upset I didn’t kick him to the couch or ask him to leave. I needed him. Maybe I needed him to see the pain he had caused or maybe I didn’t want him to go to Bat Shit. I don’t know but I knew this was not the end of us. I may have been the end of our first marriage but not us as a couple.
I keep asking myself how you can enter a marriage understanding that infidelity is probably going to be encountered. Is it possible to marry someone and accept that one or both of you may cheat in the lifetime of your marriage but it does not need to be the end? Or does the affair need to be revealed in order to salvage the marriage? For a long time I questioned whether my discovery of my husband’s affair saved our marriage. There is an intimacy we discovered in hitting rock bottom in our marriage. There’s honesty different than anything I’ve ever known revealed by his affair. And, as much as I would never want to go through that pain again – I wonder if I needed to be shaken to my core. I needed to discover my own sense of self and self-love. I needed to learn that there are things that even a good and happy relationship cannot provide.
There’s an amazing Ted Talk on infidelity that I recently watched that touches on all of this and I recommend it highly. But if you don’t have time to watch the entire video just read the closing from the video:
I look at affairs from a dual perspective: hurt and betrayal on one side, growth and self-discovery on the other — what it did to you, and what it meant for me. And so when a couple comes to me in the aftermath of an affair that has been revealed, I will often tell them this: Today in the West, most of us are going to have two or three relationships or marriages, and some of us are going to do it with the same person. Your first marriage is over. Would you like to create a second one together?