(Welcome to the blog series dedicated to affair recovery. Guest blogger Valerie is generously sharing details with us about what her life was like after she discovered her husband’s infidelity. A big thank you to Valerie! This is the third installment in the series; feel free to read the previous two as well.)
Is it over? And are you sorry?
In looking back on what I wrote last time, I see that I included many of the questions I asked my husband in those tumultuous, disorienting, incredibly painful moments immediately after learning he’d had an affair, but I forgot to mention one in particular, and it’s an important one:
“Is it over?”
You might think I was asking Tim whether our marriage was over. But I couldn’t look that far ahead yet.
What I was actually asking him was whether or not the affair was over.
He said it was, though of course I didn’t just blindly believe that. After all, she had called him. That’s why I was in this place of knowing something that part of me wished I could un-know: she rang Tim’s phone and, because he’d deceptively put her number under “Hugo” in his contacts, I actually thought it was our friend Hugo and answered because Hugo had just had major surgery and Tim was indisposed. Silly me.
I wanted to believe the affair was over; but he’d broken the trust I had in him
So the words of a man who could that blithely and manipulatively and premeditatedly play with his contact list to hide his infidelity weren’t words I was taking at face value any time soon.
To my question of “Why’d she call, then?” he responded that he had broken the affair off two weeks before (“Just two weeks?” I heard myself ask, is if I was hearing it from somewhere else) and that she’d tried to convince him to keep it going.
“Val, the guilt was awful,” he’d said. “It was eating me up inside.”
“Am I supposed to feel sorry for you?” I spat.
“No, no. Not at all. I just couldn’t imagine going on our anniversary trip and lying to you. So I ended it. But maybe it’s for the best you found out. You have to believe me, I hated keeping this from you.”
His mention of our trip—to Ireland, my dream vacation and what was to be my first time in Europe—awakened a fresh wave of sobbing in me. I’d nearly forgotten about it, I was so consumed by the news.
The trip was out of the question at that point. I couldn’t imagine going anywhere with him in two days’ time, especially not to something that was built on a milestone worth celebrating, and one that we’d have to be knee-to-knee in the close confines of an airplane for so many hours to reach.
I had so many questions: even as I cringed while awaiting answers
I felt an almost self-punishing need to get my questions answered—even as I suspected getting answers to some questions might do me more harm than good. Of course, one of the first ones was, “Who is she?” (a former client at Tim’s architectural firm, and no, I’d never met her).
And then, once I’d exhausted those questions, I wanted him out of my sight. (He complied and stayed with his brother until he found an apartment. For several months, we only saw each other when it involved parenting our kids. Not until I was ready to discuss what the future held for our marriage did we sit down for that.)
Once I was able to talk again, I said, “So if you only called it off because of the trip, does that mean that you would’ve picked it right back up afterwards?” “No,” he said. And thought for a bit, and then added, “I don’t think so.”
It was like he’d given me a gift only to snatch it away. “What do you mean I don’t think so?”
“Val, I’m not going to lie to you again. I ended the affair because I wanted to end it, and I had no intention of ever re-starting it.”
“But she did?” I sobbed.
“Yes,” he said softly.
“You would’ve caved,” I said. “Men only think about one thing.”
“That’s not true! I love you, Val, and I swear, this wasn’t about me needing something you weren’t giving me. It just—”
I held my hand up to stop him. “Don’t say ‘it just happened,’ just don’t. Or I’ll go berserk.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, seeming to fight back tears.
(Months later, when we were in marriage counseling, he told me he had forced himself not to cry right then because he didn’t think he had any right to tears. He correctly saw himself as the perpetrator and me as the victim, so he didn’t deserve the release of tears. I’d indicted him in my head for being too composed, maybe even detached, but apparently my assumptions weren’t accurate.)
“I’m so, so sorry,” Tim said that night. “I’m sorry for hurting you. But I’m also sorry I ever cheated. I wish I could undo it.”
Love means being willing to say you’re sorry…again and again and again
This was just one of the many times Tim would say those words to me—I’m sorry. This was one of the first times, but by no means the last.
I heard them, I heard his I’m sorrys, but I wasn’t yet in a place where I could believe them.
And until I could, until I could believe that Tim’s remorse over the infidelity was genuine (and that it wasn’t remorse over getting caught), I thought our marriage was over.
I needed time and space away from Tim in order to start healing (not everyone needs that; I’m just sharing what I needed), and, in order to even think about healing our marriage, I needed to know the affair was really and truly over, and I needed him to demonstrate his deep remorse and regret over the infidelity.
I don’t have all the answers; I just remember what worked—and didn’t—for me
Twice a month I meet with three friends I first met at a support group for women newly divorced or thinking about divorce. More than half of the women in the larger group of 18 had been cheated on.
One of the women in our small bi-monthly lunch group has been working like hell to save her marriage, but her husband has neither confirmed that the affair is over, nor has he said he’s sorry in a way that shows humility and remorse. She reports that he says it in more of an annoyed way, in the flavor of, “I’m sorry, okay? Happy now?” He doesn’t add those words after “I’m sorry,” of course, and he doesn’t actually roll his eyes as he speaks his apology, but she says the tone makes her think of an eye-roll.
Because Tim and I have reconciled, and at least for now (14 months post-affair), we are solid—at least from my perspective; I’ve learned never to assume what anyone else is thinking or feeling; though he does say he sees us as solid, too—this friend looks to me as some kind of expert on repairing the giant relationship wounds caused by an affair.
I keep telling her that I am no expert, that I am just willing to share details of my journey from heartbreak to hope to healing. And no two journeys are the same. I’ve only got my perspective, not any magical equation. But as I say that, I remember that panicky place of flailing, remember being desperate for someone to swoop down from the outside and fix what was broken.
“The thing is,” I told her the last time we all met for lunch, “if I hadn’t believed the affair was over, and if I hadn’t believed he was truly sorry, I probably would have filed for divorce.” Her eyes widened. “Please don’t say that!”
(I know I’d said it before, probably many times, but she wasn’t ready to hear it.)
I reached across the table and squeezed her hand. “I’m not suggesting that’s what you should do, I’m just saying where my thinking was.”
And I went on to stress that I wasn’t minimizing divorce by any means, but that maybe it isn’t always the worst thing. Maybe sometimes it’s the sanest choice. I don’t know. I have more than one friend who is thriving after divorce. I don’t think she liked hearing that, simply because she wasn’t ready to consider divorce yet, and of course I respected that and stopped talking and just listened.
However, if the partner who had the affair doesn’t end the affair and isn’t sincerely sorry for his/her infidelity, I don’t personally see how a marriage can be saved—and when I say “saved,” I mean become a whole and authentic and reciprocal union again, not just a shell or facade or hollow agreement on paper. Maybe divorce can be avoided simply if no one takes that action, but would it be a true marriage if the unfaithful partner is still cheating or, if the affair is over, if s/he doesn’t feel s/he did anything wrong by cheating? In those cases, how can the wounded partner ever see past the betrayal to a mutually-rewarding future?
Again, I don’t know the answer to that question, or even if it’s a relevant question for most people who’ve walked in my shoes. All I can say is what I needed to know with my head, and what I needed to believe with my heart.
Wishing you strength and peace,
(Image credit Zack Minor on Unsplash)