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The Other Side of Infidelity – A Betrayed Wife’s Story
I have always loved being married. What I want is a happy family, a happy spouse. I thought after 20 years of marriage, it was true and we were happy. In our way, in a way that suits our unique idiosyncrasies. We seemed to agree on all the decisions; not hard, but easy. “What should our marriage be like?” That’s not the question I’m asking. This is our marriage; it is a joint process and the result of our twenty years together. I quickly learned that this is only true in relationships where there are no secrets.
Will the secret suddenly be revealed? When the truth emerged, it seemed sudden. Actually, the signs are there, but they remain vague. “How did you not know your husband was having an affair?” It came to my mind again and again in the days following the disclosure. Is it because I don’t want to face the obvious? No, it’s because extramarital affairs aren’t always obvious to spouses. Did not stay up all night. No lipstick on the collar. There is no uncalculated time. No cold calls. Where should I look? My husband remains conscientious about his day-to-day life and his family.
One day, the routine was broken. I walked into his office, and he was huddled in front of the phone, whispering into the microphone with a big smile on his face. He forgot that I was going to see him that morning. He looked up at me while still talking into the phone and said “I have to go”. The conversation was very friendly; my first thought was why can’t you share that I’m here with this person? When he put the receiver down, I asked, “Who are you talking to?” He replied in a daze, “Nobody.” I replied, “Looks like you’re having a good time.” Then he replied, “Yes Alice.” My heart sank. Immediately, I started thinking, Elise? Elise moved out two years ago. She is your secretary. why are you talking to her Blushing with embarrassment, I walked out of his office and into an empty office next door. He followed me and closed the door. Immediately I blurted out: “Are you having an affair with Alice?” “No” He shook his head and said “No”. I don’t trust him, but I can’t imagine him lying to me either. He never lied to me before, why now? what can I do? Accusing your spouse of having an affair may seem fundamentally wrong, but it exists and words are in the air between us. All I could do was leave to avoid discomfort.
My husband was on the phone for an hour straight. When I finally answered the phone, he said he called Alice back after I left. He told her it was wrong to maintain their friendship out of respect for me. He assured me that there was no relationship between them and that he would terminate any future contact. At that moment, I believed him. I haven’t revisited this and often wonder why. I was on the cusp of discovery and I hesitated. All I can say is hesitation is because I want to marry someone I know and trust.
Two weeks passed and I never thought about it again. Then, one night when I got home late, he opened his work email and there was a message from Elise in his inbox. As I looked closer, wait, there were several messages from Elise over the months. I had never opened his email before, but this time I did. To discover the truth? No, to make sure it was exactly what he said it was—a friendship. Instead of fiery love letters, I found messages with clues that couldn’t be ignored. One note ending with “Love” and another talking about how much fun it would be to meet at a conference.
The slow disassembly process begins. I could feel the warmth rising in my stomach spreading dizzy as the ground seemed to move. I took a few deep swallows and knew it was more than friendship. How can I ask him? what can i say I stayed up for three hours before waking him up. Those three hours were endless. I could hear the clock ticking as I tried to think about what I was going to do. I need to know. I must know. I lay next to him, repeating Alice’s name over and over while he was asleep. “Please, please, just give me a night sleep confession.” I prayed in my heart. No such luck. Obviously, there’s only one way to get the truth, and that’s from him. The transformation from trusting wife to hapless abuser happened quickly. At three in the morning, I started crying. He wakes up and asks what’s wrong, and I blurt out, “I know you’re having an affair with Elise. Tell me. Tell me now. It’s my life and I have a right to know.” He answers quickly, dizzy from waking up Say, “I did it. I did it.”
I wanted to hit him and I did. I don’t fight anymore. I didn’t stop because I felt it was wrong. I stopped because I didn’t know what type of violence I was capable of. When can you go from being a wife who thinks people who ask your husband about an affair unkind to being a devious murderer? I don’t know, but surely this act of confession provides an answer to the question. The more rational part of me took hold. I need to get answers. The storm broke out and the problems rained down. If you were one of our neighbors and you happened to be unlucky enough to be awake, you would have heard angry voices and screams. We’re that couple you hear late at night when it’s so loud you don’t know which family it’s coming from. This couple is so desperate they don’t care if you hear them fight. If you were our neighbor, you’d think only stupid and ignorant people would fight like this. We are that couple.
Suddenly, everything stops. “How long did this relationship last?” he replied “Four years.” The room started to swim and I started to falter. I fell, but I’m still standing. It’s not unlike the moment in Alice in Wonderland when she’s about to chase the white rabbit and when she falls down the rabbit hole, you’re not sure if she’s dreaming or awake. Alice screamed in horror as she fell, but she began to realize that the fall was so slow and ridiculously long that she couldn’t bear the fear. Soon, she begins to experience the event as a simple fall and wonders when she will land. Hours seemed to pass, and she kept staring at the wall as she made her way down. There are jars of jam on shelves, plates, teacups and books. She sees them all, but she keeps falling, so she can’t understand why they’re there.
You never land when you find out your spouse has been unfaithful. You believe that for days you have landed at the bottom of the well and you make your way down the hole. You tell yourself you feel so horrible, it sure can’t be any worse than this? Surely this must be the bottom? You want the bottom. You long for the bottom of the hole just to land somewhere. Like Alice, if you land, you find out where you are instead of wondering where you’re going. Once you land, can’t you plan your return trip?
Due to infidelity, you cannot land to start a journey back in time. What you knew is gone. Imagine being suddenly homeless, with no friends or purpose to help you. You’re trying to find a place to sleep, something to eat, a place to shower, but none of that is enough to get you back on your feet. You’re never clean enough, never enough rested, and food can’t seem to satisfy your inner hunger. You want more, but even if it’s just a few nights of being homeless, you don’t quite remember what it was like to live in a house. Safe memory cannot sustain you, because how would you know it if it was all taken from you?
Death is in my dreams. I opened the door and no one was there. Glass shattered, but no one was there to hear it. I search for my children, but I cannot find them. No one was ever there in my dreams. I was alone, searching, and on the brink of some kind of violent death. If I do find someone, it’s usually another woman, Elise. I woke up from the dream as if I hadn’t slept, my body throbbing with pain. I face the day, but there is nothing I can do. I will do what I have to do, but nothing more. I feed the kids, do the chores, and go to work, but every activity keeps me from wanting to leave. It’s my job to deal with this deception, even when it’s pointless to deal with it. It took over my whole life, it drove everything out of my mind.
I want to kill her. I know her. She knows my kids. She went to a party at my house. I sympathize with her story. When my husband complained about her work performance, I defended her. She moved 2000 miles away while I hung out at her old home. Crying wishing I could knock on her door just to knock on her face. When I was driving, would I hit her as soon as she crossed the road? “Officer, I’ve never seen her cross the street. She’s jaywalking.” Surely that’s why the insanity defense was designed?
One drawer after another was filled with papers, coins, matchboxes, and old numbers began to take on new meanings. They are a treasure trove of possible clues about a past I never knew existed. My kids would ask what I was doing and would say I was cleaning. Yes, cleaning is just that. I’m trying to clear the past, make sense of it, make sense of everything I’ve missed. I really didn’t live those years. Oh, I thought I had, but you can’t when there’s such a big lie. I walk under the walls of memory and fill in those gaps with this information. Knowledge comes like scraps in a discarded junk drawer. During the innocuous conversation, I would keep asking my husband questions. “Did you drive on the freeway with her? Did you eat together? Did she make you breakfast?” Unrelenting, pointless question, but the balance of my emotional state depended on the answer. If I can put the pieces together, I can put myself back together.
The answer is coming, but not enough. The holes and gaps of those years are still there. Between arguments, we sat down to eat, watch TV together, and sleep together. We are passionate. We declare our love and our commitment. I’m dying. Days turned into months, and eventually we reached a point of anger and disappointment. This is an argument from the past. This is peace for my husband, who welcomes these days, something I have hard-earned after months of turmoil. Calm looks calm, but it is actually despair. Anger is life, it’s a way of trying to take hold of my life and reshape it. Twist it, bend it, bring it back to something I know and understand.
I don’t know what my husband and I are doing. I thought I knew it most days. He was the remorseful spouse who saved the marriage. I’m the one who’s reached the edge of sanity but is coming back. I can forgive, but I cannot forget. It seems ridiculous. How does one forget? Does anyone ever forget that they have cancer? Will they forget about the car accident? My husband and I lost touch over the years; things I now know but cannot understand without his confession. The rabbit hole seems to have light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t intend to land, but maybe start walking out myself; exploring the contents of the tunnels along the way.
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