RelationshipFilter: She had an affair. I caught her. We're working it out. This sucks. I need help. Very Long Post of Drama.
It's unfortunate that (1) this kind of question gets asked all the time and (2) these situations all feel so unique to the participants, because I concede there's a certain amount of sameness that can get fatiguing. That being said, I appreciate in advance those of you interested in not only reading my story, but offering such wisdom as you might wish.
Here are the facts, as close as I can relay them and protect anonymity:
We'll call my wife Liz, and my name might be Ryan. We've been married for 13 years. We're in our middle 30s and have 3 kids, between 4 and 10. Generally, we're happy.
6 months ago, her high school boyfriend, let's say he's Jeff, her first true love, pinged her on FaceBook to reconnect. It's been almost 2 decades since we all graduated, we're adults, etc., so I pushed aside my unease and didn't object to the communication. (I know, I know, hindsight is 20/20, but I didn't want to be The Jealous Husband. I still don't.) Over the course of the winter, the length of their online chats got longer, but there was never a hint that there was anything more going on. In February, Liz took the kids and went to visit her parents in their hometown (3 hours from here); I didn't join them because I had to work my second job. During the course of that visit Liz had a friendly lunch with Jeff, at IHOP, with all three kids in tow. I asked her about it later and she said it was a little weird, but pleasant. "He's not really comfortable around kids, so he was a little awkward, but it was nice to see him again."
Liz has had lingering doubts about why the relationship ended all those years ago; Jeff went away for military service shortly out of high school, met someone else, and bailed out on Liz without notice. She had spent the recent months asking questions about the whys and whats, and learning more and more that the end of the relationship wasn't her fault, that he chickened out and succumbed to temptation. Jeff has had a tough go of it, struggling with depression and addiction. He flunked out of the military because he was bipolar, and he's on a chemical soup of medications. That being said, Liz was really happy to have reconnected and become friends again. She really valued Jeff's friendship and was glad to put old ghosts and self-doubt to rest.
I work 2 jobs to make ends meet. Our kids are in private school that we can't afford. During the day, I work in business to business sales which hasn't been going very well with the economy in the tank, so at night I deliver pizza. I've been working an average of 12-14 hours a day during the week, and 6-10 hours on weekend nights. So, while I'm out and about delivering pizza, Liz has had ample opportunity to spend time online with Jeff.
Here's where it gets sticky.
I've never trusted his intentions. I've never been comfortable with the way he treated Liz all those years ago, even though I didn't meet her until well into college. I was concerned that they were spending so much time online together, so I activated the logging capability in her IM client, and from time to time I would peruse the chat histories to see what was up. Totally innocuous; he's a baseball fan, so they'd talk about that, or what friends from high school they were in touch with, or what the kids were doing, how his new job is going, what does he think of that cute girl at the mall, whatever. I felt guilty as hell the entire time, spying on my wife. But I couldn't shake it, couldn't stay away. Then, she went back to her parents' with the kids for Easter weekend (again, I had to work) and when she got back, all of the chat histories were deleted, and the log function had been disabled. Alarm bells started going off; what did she have to hide?
That was the weekend of April 12th. I kept my cool as long as I could, then on the 18th I downloaded and installed logKext to capture keystrokes.
All I got was her side of the conversation, and I also got all of the [del][del][del] typos, and the [up][up][down][left][left][left] etc. of my oldest child playing games, but I was able to decipher the gibberish and ...
Not a sniff of suspicion from her that she was being monitored, not a sniff of inappropriate behavior, at least for a day or two.
Then on Thursday April 23rd, Liz asked Jeff if he thought she should record and post online masturbation pornography. I couldn't see his response, but I flipped out a little - that definitely crossed a big fat comfort line. I still didn't feel strongly enough about it to tip my hand that I had been spying on her. I still felt like my sin was worse.
On Friday, April 24th, I called home around 10:00 PM to say "hello" while I'm on a pizza run and Liz sounded distracted. Not unpleasant, just not really present. I immediately suspected she was online with Jeff. I chose not to say anything and let her go, but I had a hard time waiting for her to go to sleep before I checked the log. There, in blinding black and white:
"By the way, it occurred to me that I probably shouldn't give you head."
and then, later on:
"so I was thinking perhaps an inexpensive nightly place rather than seedy hourly"
[Jeff's response, invisible to me]
[Jeff's response, invisible to me]
[Jeff's response, invisible to me]
"perhaps by then I'll have money to pitch in"
and finally, the kicker:
"do you think about what we'll do when we are alone together?"
And my heart caved in, and my world started to collapse. This wasn't fantasizing, or cyber sex, this was concrete plans and preparation. It was 2 o'clock in the morning, and I was so full of adrenaline that sleep was impossible. So I keep going back and reading the log over and over, trying to glean additional detail.
I decided I really wanted to see his side. I wanted to get the whole picture, I was scheduled to work the following night, and I knew that while I was gone and the kids were asleep they would be online together so I went to the trouble of downloading a more sophisticated system monitor, that would capture full chat logs, website URLs, and screen shots invisibly. I got it all set up, tested, erased my tracks, tried to sleep, nothing.
By 8 AM I'd given up, and just waited. I was going to keep my cool, I wasn't going to let on that anything was amiss. At 10:00 AM when Liz woke up and smiled at me, I lost it. I've never been so angry and so terrified at the same time. I fought through about 40 pounds of adrenaline slamming through me and opened the conversation by apologizing in advance for spying on her, then confronting her with what I'd found.
Liz: "You're right. We've been planning to get together and have sex."
We have spent the last 10 days in intense conversation.
I have learned that she first proposed a sexual encounter the Saturday night in February after they met for lunch. If an opportunity had presented itself (some way for her to get her parents to take care of the kids without giving herself away) she would have gone through with it.
I have learned that she never intended to leave me, that it would have been an ego boost for her and a sympathy fuck for him. That she knew if I ever found out it would kill me. That she thought she could get away with it and live with the aftermath, whatever it would be.
I have learned that I underestimated her capacity for deceit, as she underestimated mine. She was selectively deleting incriminating chat logs, leaving the innocuous details for me to observe. She never thought I'd go so far as to install a keystroke logger.
Even so, I love her very much, and we want to stay married.
We've been learning a lot about ourselves and each other. We've grown (unimaginable as it might seem) closer together. She has cut off all contact with Jeff, at my request. They never had an opportunity to consummate the relationship, so at the very least she has been sexually faithful if not emotionally. I'll say again, we want very much to stay married. We've engaged our marriage counsellor for assistance with the crisis, and she recommended an excellent book called "After the Affair," Amazon link here if you'd like to learn more or think you might need a copy.
One of the chapters is about rebuilding trust, and the author describes "low-cost behaviors" and "high-cost behaviors," things that the couple needs to define for themselves that would help to rebuild trust. Low-cost behaviors might be something like "call me to let me know where you are several times a day" or "tell me frequently how much you love me." High-cost behaviors might be more like "Fire your secretary, sell the house, and move with me to another city."
Interestingly, the book describes low-cost behaviors as a mutual effort, but the high-cost behaviors are the responsibility of the unfaithful partner alone. They are the sacrificial, expensive gestures to demonstrate the relationship is worth investing in and saving.
So, I'd like some ideas about what might be considered high-cost behaviors.
Advice to DTMFA will be politely ignored. We want to stay married.
Advice to seek counseling will ... well, we're already in counseling, and will also be seeing therapists individually to work on our own issues.
Otherwise, the floor is open. I set up this sock puppet account so that if you have questions, we can entertain a dialogue, and so I can come back in the months ahead with updates as events warrant. If you're not comfortable posting here, you can use firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks in advance, everyone.