It’s been 325 days since I discovered my husband was having an affair.
My husband is a good man. I wanted that to be the first thing I wrote. He is not a “cheating w****r” or "lying b*****d" who should be kicked out and divorced, which three hundred and twenty six days ago I would probably have said to a devastated and shellshocked friend if they found themselves in the same position I did. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt, is that despite having at least three hundred and twenty five separate occasions when I felt I wanted to walk away, I truly and deeply love him and those stereotypical phrases thrown around simply demonise infidelity without much true understanding of it. Yes, he cheated and yes, he lied, but he is not a demon, a liar or a cheat. Along with you and me, he is a human, and humans are fallible. In order to find my way through the intense shock and confusion, excruciating pain and utter devastating heartbreak I had to learn to accept that and humanise his actions, not demonise them.
Cheating and lying were always my absolute, no second chances deal breaker. I grew up in a family where both were prevalent. It was hidden from me and my three sisters as children, however, I overheard an argument between my older sister and my mum when I was twelve and from then on I saw and experienced the direct effects adultery and dishonesty had on a family, most of all my mum. After seeing what those two inseparable partners in crime do to a relationship, experiencing what it feels like as a teenager to think you weren’t good enough for your dad to stay faithful and, most of all to witness what emotional upheaval my mum went through, it was the one thing I always said I would never, EVER stand for or put up with. The one thing I promised would never happen to me and I thought I had got right throughout my twelve years of marriage. That was until 325 days ago.
The books call it D-Day. Discovery day. The day that stopped time and changed my life forever, without my consent. 325 days have passed since that day and it feels like yesterday and when I say that, I don’t mean in a “oooh, I don’t know where the time goes” kind of way. I mean in a surreal, frozen in time, no sense of space or distance in my mind or body kind of way. Like no time has passed at all, let alone 325 sets of 24 hours. The books say that can happen. It’s a sign of trauma. Where your mind cannot process what’s happened into memories as it’s too painful and shocking, so it gets stuck in the present. Stagnant and still. Haunting like a nightmare that won’t go away, even when you wake up. Oh yeah, I remind myself, this is real-life. I am awake. This is actually happening.
325 days ago, as I sat there unable to breathe wondering #WTF is happening, I had a very unexpected reaction. It wasn’t the reaction you might assume from watching movies or reading magazines. You know the one; go mad, scream and shout, call them names, kick them out, smash up their car, throw out their clothes. Shame, blame and belittle them, then plot and scheme a totally justified method of satisfying revenge. Although some of that did come later, in the first instance I’m afraid my story is not quite as juicy. From that day to this, I believe that’s the first thing that saved us. None of that even entered my head.
I was sobbing then strangely calm. Facing down the enemy of unrealistic, yet extremely heightened and intense emotions created by affairs, I was very aware the odds were stacked against me. There was a voice in my head and, despite the 325 days in between, even today I distinctly remember and feel everything. I could hear the instructions clearly telling me this was very real and to sit there and be in the moment with it. Feel it. Accept it. That there was no point in fighting.
So in the most shocked, devastated and confused moment of my life, I completely and utterly surrendered. It was almost as if my whole life had prepared me for this one defining moment I had to get right, as my family depended on it. As I surrendered, I sensed myself gradually leave my body as I slowly tried to make sense of the incomprehensible. Floating, just breathing deeply, listening to the voice in my head. It was then I felt it. Underneath the shock, devastation and confusion was an undeniable instinct to save my family. I went into protection mode, like a true mumma warrior. However again, this was not as you might expect from a place of defence or desperation. There was no desire to emotionally blackmail, use the kids as ammunition, play the guilt trip card or execute any manipulative underhand tactics. I had surrendered. This was real. I was feeling into it deeply and I let go of control. I knew my husband and I knew he was in there somewhere beneath the intoxicating haze of affair fog. I took a deep breath. I told him I loved him and I loved our family. I explained I wanted to stay together and if this situation made us better in the long run, then I would be grateful. I think it shocked us both.
Now, despite my reaction, I am not going to paint a blissful picture of idillic reconciliation, deep remorse and unwavering love, because, as I have already mentioned this is not the movies. This is real life and the 325 days since D-Day have been excruciating. They have been the hardest days of both our lives. Unravelling what happened and why. Accepting both our roles and responsibilities. Navigating through the layers and layers of the most intense emotions I have ever experienced in my life. Swinging through overwhelming extremes of high and lows. Uncontrollable levels of agony, rage, disappointment and disbelief, to mention just a few. Trying to travel to the same place but on totally and utterly different paths, at different speeds, occasionally, quite by accident meeting in the middle, then drifting back to our own personal pain. For quite some time it felt that, despite our agreed desire to stay together, just the presence of each other was a slow method of torture. A constant, enduring reminder of my pain and his shame. Yet I held onto that feeling of surrender I experienced that night, to the obvious foundation of love we both recognised was still there and the 325 times that instinct to save my family returned. I’ve used each and every consecutive day to, what I’m sure will sound complete trite, heal, learn and grow in the best way I can in response to something that sideswiped me like the bus accident scene in Final Destination. I learnt what went wrong and how to own it, to fight off my own fears and desires to hurt back, to be humble and to forgive. How to feel the most agonising pain on the deepest of levels and survive, the true value of love, family and connection and what it means to honour the promise I made to stick by my chosen partner of life through good times and bad. I didn’t always get it right and I am still seeking lessons every day.
Yet even with the intensive Everest like learning curve the last 325 days has brought into my life, I am by no means an expert on this subject. Unfortunately I cannot claim to understand the intricate ins and outs of every adulterous situation. I obsessively read books, watched videos and scoured the Internet in a desperate attempt to find hope, answers and solace through my own pain. Through this I feel I gained a very good understanding of something I openly admit, 325 days ago, despite my family experiences, knew very little about. However this area of life is vast and varied. Just like childbirth and driving tests, every experience is totally different and unique, but if there is something in my story that you resonate with and can learn from, then I am truly grateful. However, just because I learnt to forgive and stay, does not mean that if you are effected by infidelity, you should too.
I also learnt this; there is always going to be unrest and unhappiness in relationships. However, there are also always plenty of options available to both parties. Options which avoid the total chaos and utter carnage an affair and its aftermath causes. Options which maintain integrity and self worth and allow the level of respect and dignity humans and their feelings deserve. Options which prevent an unimaginably huge, ugly mass of completely unnecessary and hopelessly pointless pain, shame and regret. It’s been 371 days since my husband took the wrong option, snowballing him into a series of many more and 325 days since I found out and opted to save my family. We have been married for 4638 days. That’s less than 1% of my married life and, to be brutally honest, 1% doesn’t even come close to the worth of my family. Pain is temporary, my family is for life. You’ve got to make more of a dent than 1% to break me and the longer we stay married, the smaller and more insignificant that amount will get.
I like those odds. I’ve already done 325 days.