Am I a freak for not being more upset about my husband's infidelity?
July 7, 2019 12:42 AM   Subscribe

I found out this week that my husband cheated on me with a co-worker. He had confessed to the affair a few months earlier but had said that it was only emotional, not physical. I found out this week that it was. He is very contrite, sad, feels absolutely terrible and is doing everything he should to help me and us heal. I went through anger and extreme sadness for about a day or two, but now feel relatively calm and actually clear-headed that I want to work through this. This is, paradoxically, causing me to worry about my sanity. Should I not be angrier? Should I not still be raging, screaming, crying, feeling desperate? What is going on?

This is going to be long, a heart-felt thank you if you make it all the way through.

In March of this year, I found out my husband, with whom I share a 3-year old daughter, had an emotional affair with a co-worker. Our relationship had been rocky for some time. We'd lost sight of each other, the usual stuff for people with a young child and busy lives. He confessed it to me when I asked him if there was someone else because he had been acting strangely. He swore to me that it was only emotional, they had only gone for walks together on their lunch breaks and he had found a listening ear for our marital problems. They had fallen in love and sexted via the office messenger. He said that they had realized they were headed in the wrong direction and ended things about a month or so previously. They were no longer in contact and he had not seen her since. They work in a huge building, in different departments on opposite sides of it, so it was unlikely that he would see her very much if he didn't want to.

I was numb at first, then very angry. I questioned his story, of course - I knew that every cheater, when caught, tries to claim it wasn't physical. But knowing my husband, who is genuinely a good guy, I couldn't image that he would have done something like that, so I ultimately came to believe him. I went through all the stages of grief but it all went pretty quickly. We went through a phase of hysterical bonding with lots of sex, had better and deeper conversations than ever before. After a few weeks, I wasn't thinking about it every day anymore. The whole thing was slowly fading into the background as something we might one day look back on and laugh about.

Last week, on June 17th, he came home from work and told me he had accidentally run into her. It had been brief and weird. He had asked her how she was, and she had told him her brother had passed away and walked away crying. Later that day she had contacted him via the messenger to apologize, and he had said all was good and to take care of herself. That was it. I was upset, of course, to hear that she was "back". I thanked him for telling me and told him to please keep doing so if anything else happened. In the days that followed, I asked him every day if he had heard more. He always said no.

For some reason, this made me suspicious. And then it dawned on me that I had a way of finding out the truth. He works from home on Tuesdays, and logs onto the company's remote desktop from our PC. I don't have the logins, so I walked in that morning to bring him some coffee and asked him to pull up their chat records. He was blindsided and did what I asked. I could see right away that they had chatted not only on June 17, but also extensively on June 19, though no more after that. I could also see that they had been in contact until a few days after he had confessed the affair to me in March, and so had not ended things a month before he told me, as he had said.

These two inconsistencies seemed minor in the face of it all, but I blew up completely. I made him email the contents of their entire chat history to me and told him I would be combing through it all. Then he confessed to me that he had, in fact, slept with her. Unprotected. Twice. He had left work early to go to her house, and been home in time for dinner.

I spent all of Tuesday crying. Called him every name in the book. Kept asking him and myself how he could have done such a thing. Made him give me all of her contact information - which amounted to her work and private email and her home address. I emailed her that same day - I wasn't threatening or aggressive, didn't call her any names but told her in no uncertain terms that as a single mother, she should have known better than to risk breaking up a young girl's family like that.

I made him leave work early and go to his parents. I took one of his favorite vintage fishing rods, broke it into pieces and burned it in the back yard (it wouldn't burn very well, but blackened just enough to be somewhat satisfying). In the evening, I drank an entire bottle of wine.

The next day, we talked via text. I asked a million questions. He answered all of them. Over and over again. I can tell that he is being truthful now. It helps that the chats do show that even though the dates didn't line up with his story exactly, they did not sleep together any more than he told me and had ceased doing so by the time he confessed to me the first time. They also did fall out of contact after that, until he ran into her again last week, and no untoward things were said in those chats from last week. She really was upset about her brother dying, and he was trying to politely comfort her.

He is also doing everything cheaters are supposed to do to help their partner heal. He is patient, answers all of my questions, reads self-help books that I suggest, did the love languages quiz and most importantly of all, is expressing deep, deep remorse and contrition. He also found us a therapist who specializes in infidelity and scheduled an appointment for next week.

Yesterday, I went to her house. He didn't have a picture of her, I couldn't find her on Google and I needed to see her face, know who she was. I am naturally someone who avoids confrontation like the plague, but I went, because I couldn't allow her to remain a specter, a ghost in my relationship. I needed to make her real. She opened the door in sweats with no makeup - a short, frail, tired-looking woman. The moment I saw her, she ceased to be a threat. When I told her who I was, I could see all the blood draining from her face. But to her credit, she invited me in and we talked briefly. She broke down and sobbed how guilty she felt, how sorry she was. I expressed a modicum of empathy for her situation. I told her him and I would try to work through things. She said that was good. I wished her well and left her house.

Weirdly, this was one of the most empowering experiences of my life. I left feeling completely at peace, and so so proud of myself for having done something so difficult and having stayed calm and composed throughout. But today, I feel weird. I'm still working through the painful logistics of having been cheated on, like scheduling STD tests and putting up a bed for my husband to sleep in (we don't have a guest room). It hasn't even been a week. Why am I not angrier? Why am I not still raging, crying, screaming? I know numbness can be a stage of grief, but I don't feel numb. I feel a kind of sad resignation, like this is apparently something I have to deal with in order to achieve happiness with him again. I also constantly want to have sex with him, which I recognize is that hysterical bonding at work again, but I haven't yet this time, because I don't know if I should.

I kind of understand why he did what he did. Truth be told, we were miserable for quite a while and if I had worked at an office building full of cute guys instead of from home, who knows? Maybe I would have been tempted? I certainly understand his desire to feel wanted again, because I have felt that too over the past few years. I also kind of understand why she did what she did, because when I was 19, a lifetime ago, I too had an affair with a married man. I know how guilty I felt then, and I saw that same guilt in her eyes when I spoke to her. So I have no foundation for anger, it feels like. Anger feels pointless. It would only eat me from the inside, and I just want to heal. I want us to come out the other end of this, and stronger than ever.

But now I also feel like I am going crazy. It's supposed to take months if not years to heal from a betrayal like this. He f-ed another woman, twice, unprotected, lied about it to my face for months. Risked destroying my and our daughter's lives just to feel wanted for a few hours. What does it mean that I am so relatively zen, less than a week in? Am I a sociopath? Does it mean I don't love him anymore? I know there is no wrong way to grieve, but still, I feel like I am doing it wrong.

I hope you guys can help me understand what is happening right now. Have any of you been through something like this and felt the same? Am I a freak? Does it say something about my love for him? Will it stay this way, or will the anger come back? Also, should I give in to my desire to be intimate with him? Will that help us bond and heal, or will it just confuse things?
posted by piranna to Human Relations (30 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I honestly think you're in shock, which isn't uncommon. Your actions as described are at odds with the calm you're currently feeling.

When this happened to me, under less serious circumstances (no marriage or kids), I initially felt very similar. All of this (the trauma bonding, trickle truthing, tearful reconciliation) are out of the cheater's handbook. The momentum of it and desire to move on carried me through the initial trauma. But it was an illusion. Nothing had been healed. I didn't actually trust him. He didn't actually deserve to be trusted. Things dragged on painfully for years before I gained the self awareness to end it.

I'm not saying you should divorce, but please get some individual therapy, and then couples therapy. Don't make any decisions until you do. Know too that you've already rugswept once, and if you do it again, it's likely that this will happen again. I'm from a culture where men cheating is pretty accepted, and watching my mom live her life wary and resentful really did a number on me.
posted by snickerdoodle at 1:13 AM on July 7, 2019 [35 favorites]

Oh my. I can feel how shattered you are by reading your words. You are not a freak, not at all. You are experiencing a crisis. But you are in no way zen, my friend. You are about as far from zen as one could be. Your emotions are coming at you so quickly that you aren’t able to process them. You are acting and reacting to new info that changes the entire ground you stand on, and the complex emotions they arise in you, and you are desperately trying to wrest control and feel safe again. Your family is in crisis and you can’t trust your partner.

The two actions you took that surprised you and made you feel empowered were getting your husband to share his chat logs with you and going to get a true view on the other woman. This gave you more intel and made you feel better, but they were also super risky moves that could have gone very poorly if they went a different way.

All of this is to say you need an emergency therapist. Now. And space to think and process your emotions. If you can get away from your husband for a bit just to have space to think, that could be good.

You have every reason to be feeling the way you are, but the absence of burning the house down and breaking things is not zen. You have to process and feel all of your very complex emotions in a safe place and you don’t seem to have that right now. Call a therapist, for you, today. This is the most important thing you could do.
posted by pazazygeek at 1:24 AM on July 7, 2019 [41 favorites]

Yeah, I think the emotional numbness is a survival trait, so we can do the things we need to when our lives fall apart. This does not mean you won't feel rage and resentment and betrayal in full force. You may or may not, it might arrive when you least expect it. You may genuinely decide to work on your relationship and find yourself making constant snarky remarks that you KNOW he will have to endure without complaint because you are the wronged one. You might find yourself on a bus one day, thinking about your shopping list, and finding yourself crying inconsolably. (I did). I recomend you find a counsellor for yourself, outside of one for the marriage to work through all this shit.

There's one more possibility: maybe you don't love him enough to care that he cheated. Maybe that growing apart has happened for both of you, and your life was too sensible and comfortable to think about getting out.

I don't think you're crazy. I think you're dealing with it the best way you can until you can find a reason or time to fall apart.
posted by b33j at 1:24 AM on July 7, 2019 [14 favorites]

As humans, we construct narratives about the things that happen to us. Sometimes those narratives become societal-level memes, which then sets and reinforces a tone for how people are supposed to react when certain events happen to them. It can be startling when something happens to you and you realise your reaction is out of keeping with the societal narrative for how you're supposed to feel about that thing happening, to the point where you end up constantly second-guessing your reaction.

An example from my own life: (CW for sexual assault) I was raped in college by someone I'd previously considered a friend. According to the societal narrative around this event, this should have been pretty traumatising for me, and it would have been normal for me to have an extreme negative reaction and maybe even develop PTSD as a result of that happening. However, I never felt like that. That event ranks pretty low on the scale of things that have caused me trauma during my life. For a long time I felt wrong describing it as assault, because it didn't destroy my entire life and sense of self-worth like society told me it was supposed to. I have some mild disgust at those memories, but no fear or trauma response.

Another: my dad died when I was 25. He was a raging asshole and abuser, and I've never felt serious grief about his passing, just relief that is still lasting five years on. However, when you say the words "my dad died when I was 25" out loud to other people, their reaction nearly always assumes a particular societal narrative (i.e. I had a loving/positive relationship with my parent and it must have been very painful to lose him at that age). I find this one hard to deal with, especially because most people find my response of "uh, thanks for the sympathy, but I hated him and I'm glad he's dead and my life is 100x better now" very shocking and tasteless. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, that's just how I feel, sorry it doesn't map to the death-of-a-parent narrative that lives in your head.

All of this is to say that you're reacting how you're reacting, and that's fine. You're not a freak. Yes, there is a strong societal-level emotional narrative built up around what's just happened to you, but that doesn't mean your actual feelings are going to map to it 1:1.

I agree with the other commenters that your reaction so far might be numbness, or that you don't care enough about the relationship to be bothered that he cheated, and that your feelings might change over time. But they might not, and that's also okay - it's not your job to have the feelings that our prevailing culture suggests you ought to have right now, and it doesn't mean there's something wrong with you if you don't end up having those feelings at all.
posted by terretu at 1:35 AM on July 7, 2019 [60 favorites]

Your feelings are your feelings and they aren’t wrong. They may change again and that will be okay too. If you never rage or cry again like the US cultural narrative says you should, that’s okay too. Many other cultures have different narratives about infidelity. I recommend Rethinking Infidelity by psychologist Esther Perel. She describes how infidelity can lead to post traumatic stress but can also lead to what she calls post traumatic growth in the relationship. She also gives beautiful descriptions of how women process and view infidelity around the world.
posted by Waiting for Pierce Inverarity at 4:00 AM on July 7, 2019 [19 favorites]

First off, metafilter takes a, pretty hard line against cheating, as does most of society but ultimately it doesn't have to be that important to you.

But emotions day to day aren't a full picture of what is going on in your mind, this is alot and your body can't physically sustain that level of emotional output because it is exhausting and you have a small kid.

So pay attention to you over time . It is okay if ultimately you choose to continue this relationship and reevaluate how important this is to you. It's also okay for this to be a deal-breaker.

Regardless, healthy relationships are built on trust and there is tons of work to do on that front between the two of you.
posted by AlexiaSky at 4:03 AM on July 7, 2019 [10 favorites]

You feel how you feel. It is entirely reasonable to feel all those things and still love your husband, it is also entirely reasonable to come to the realization later that this broke your marriage or made it stronger or did nothing at all to who you are as people.

You should tackle this in solo therapy because it will be helpful to voice your concerns to someone who is detached from the situation and whose only job is to help you take care of your emotions, feelings, plans, and worldview. This is not because you're doing it wrong right now, but it will help you accept whatever interior balance you regain (which could very well be: "the fucker is sorry as hell, he owes me apologies and assurances, we can move past it").
posted by lydhre at 4:23 AM on July 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

Perhaps what happened is that you expressed your emotions, fully and authentically, and your husband has made you feel that he has heard you and understands and does not disagree with you in any way. Feeling heard is extremely cathartic and intimate, so your relationship may, at this moment very much be meeting your needs. It sounds like you expressed yourself well, and responded at a level that feels sensible - nothing histrionic like suicide threats, nothing self-sabotaging like not expressing yourself for fear of hurting his feelings. So feeling good that you have handled things well is reasonable too.

I suspect that you will, over the next few months, come to feel that your spouse was not actually accepting your message and was only providing lip service. He has been deceitful, not only by having the affair in secret, but also and more importantly when he only pretended to tell you the whole truth. It's going to be hard for the pair of you to sustain the level of intimacy and truth that you have now. Sooner or later he's going to say something, and you will remember he lied resoundingly before, and you will start to wonder if what he said was truthful, and the bad feelings will then have am opportunity to come back.

It's perfectly normal and completely adaptive to be in a functional state now. and it may even be a state you can sustain. But if were to make predictions, I would guess that in future this is going to start hurting again, in other ways, and there will be new storms of emotion once a few more hours or weeks have gone by, possibly emotions that you have not yet channeled such as being terribly sad or anxious. It this is the eye of the hurricane, I suggest that you enjoy the respite and not start second guessing yourself that something is wrong with you. Your post, to me, is a suggestion that your situation has undermined your self confidence and is now making you think that there could be something wrong with you - and there isn't.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:33 AM on July 7, 2019 [16 favorites]

>What does it mean that I am so relatively zen, less than a week in?

Like many people, you react to shock or crisis by going numb. Honestly, as a similar person, I can relate to how heady the zen feeling is. Like a power you didn't know you had, and the world is somehow very clear and crisp.

>Am I a sociopath?


>Does it mean I don't love him anymore?


>I know there is no wrong way to grieve, but still, I feel like I am doing it wrong.

Nah it's normal

>Am I a freak?


>Does it say something about my love for him?

Not necessarily

>Will it stay this way, or will the anger come back?

Probably the latter, although it still may be a different anger than you "expect".

>Also, should I give in to my desire to be intimate with him? Will that help us bond and heal, or will it just confuse things?

It will confuse things, don't do it.
posted by Cozybee at 4:54 AM on July 7, 2019 [7 favorites]

So I have no foundation for anger, it feels like. Anger feels pointless.

In my experience we don’t get to choose how we feel, only how we react. If there is anger to be had it will come along whether it "should" or not.

But now I also feel like I am going crazy. It's supposed to take months if not years to heal from a betrayal like this.

Healing from something like this is not like a period of mourning or even like watching a scar close up. You may be done, or you may find yourself crying in the supermarket two years from now with no idea why. All you can do is take it as it comes.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:18 AM on July 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

I just want to say that I am reading all the responses as they come in, and am immensely grateful for all the truth bombs being dropped. Thank you all for taking the time to help me. I will try to give a final reply tomorrow after a good night's sleep, just in case a future Mefite finds themselves in a similar situation and wonders what happened next.
posted by piranna at 5:27 AM on July 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

You need to stop reading this thread, get off the internet, and see a therapist. None of these 'truth bombs' are helpful, these are internet strangers who don't know anything about you and your situation and likely poorly equipped to help with what should be your goal; to take actions that are most likely to help your relationship heal.
posted by sid at 5:47 AM on July 7, 2019 [13 favorites]

Please seek therapy and most importantly do not go to this woman’s house again or otherwise contact her. You are not in a zen mindset, you are going through a shocking event, and your decision-making may be off. She is in the middle of grief and this same event so her decision-making is off too. Keep this issue where it belongs, between you and your husband and between you and a therapist. I think seeing her made you feel better temporarily because you felt superior to her on a superficial level. This categorization of her and thoughts of this issue as some competition between the two of you for the “prize” of your husband can come around and bite you emotionally later on (I speak from experience). You may also be just now processing some feelings from when you were in her position.

Try to keep your routine as normal as otherwise possible, put off any big life decisions for right now, and prioritize therapy immediately.
posted by sallybrown at 5:57 AM on July 7, 2019 [52 favorites]

My wife had an affair last year, and she was pretty brazen about it. I was so deep in denial about what was going on that several people commented on the weirdness, and I kind of blew it off. At the time, I thought I didn't really care too much.

When his wife reached out to me... it all came crashing down.

How you feel is how you feel, and it's not wrong. That said, I wouldn't necessarily expect that you won't feel differently after some time. Disassociation and some... emotional flatness are common after trauma.

I would start building your support network now - find a lawyer, a therapist, start making plans for the breakup should it happen. That groundwork can be undone easily enough - but its much harder to do while your universe is collapsing.

You may MeMail me at any time you need an ear or to vent.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:24 AM on July 7, 2019 [9 favorites]

It hasn't even been a week. Why am I not angrier?

Except that it has--you have new details, but you've been dealing with this situation since March. You've been aware that your husband lied to you, and you've been aware of his intimacy with someone else, even if you weren't aware of the full extent of either betrayal. In some ways, sex is the least important thing here: what matters is that he prioritized someone else over you and your family, and in the process lied to you. That has been true since March, and all the thinking and feeling and reacting you've done in response to the initial revelation has certainly shaped and grounded your response to this new information.

This isn't to say that other ideas above aren't right; your response might be shock, and might shift as the situation evolves. But it is important to acknowledge that you've been contending with this for four months, not a week. That might mean you're exhausted by the ongoing process of discovering of his infidelity, but it might also explain why this doesn't feel raw in the way it might if this were the first you'd heard of the whole thing.
posted by dizziest at 7:18 AM on July 7, 2019 [9 favorites]

You are allowed to feel how you feel. Different experiences hit people in different ways.

Personally, I can see how someone might be relieved to know the full truth of a situation, at which point they can finally address the issue fully and honestly. If you can at least see how you and your husband can work through this and come out the other side, that's hugely relieving.

Also, the way you've dealt with this is admirable and probably greatly healing. You've confronted your husband and the other woman. You now know the full truth. That's hugely helpful in terms of processing what's happened. The greatest source of anxiety is the unknown.

It also sounds like you feel you will be able to fix your relationship and trust your husband in the future. That's also hugely relieving. In a lot of these cases, people have the sense they will never know the full truth, never get to confront those involved, and never feel they can regain a full sense of trust.

Not many relationships are better off after a tragedy like this, but in some cases they are. If your marriage really was going off the rails and now looks like it can be fixed to be better than before, that is indeed a good thing. The ball is in your court, but it sounds like you are in control, know what you're doing, and know what you're dealing with. If you're experiencing all of that for the first time in a long time, that could very well bring you a sense of deep calm, peace, and purpose.
posted by xammerboy at 8:07 AM on July 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

I'm glad that the two of you will be seeing a therapist together. That will be a very helpful context to work out these questions, because, speaking very generally, the emotional response to revelations like this can be complicated and indirect over time. I note that you express total confidence that, now, you know the total truth. But here's the rub: that feeling will likely fade. The trouble with dishonesty and gaslighting is that they plant seeds of doubt that can have long lasting impacts. You've been lied to and gaslit. It will take some work to effectively deal with this. That's great that you don't feel "angrier"—you may have more resilience for dealing with unwanted change than you give yourself credit for—and that'll probably serve you well in therapy.

Therapists like Esther Perel are very popular right now for encouraging adults to acknowledge infidelity as a largely unavoidable psychobiological reality. It sounds like you might be receptive to her ideas and approaches to healing, and she's got podcasts and videos and books all over the place.

All that said, I was where you are back in March of last year. After a hopefully beginning to the healing process, I kept finding out more details that hasn't been disclosed. Earlier this year, in strange circumstances, my husband finally confessed to much, much more than had already been revealed. I still haven't come to terms with how a man I loved could be capable of such systematic and cruel receipt, but I'm seeing a therapist to help me with that and we're partway through a divorce. We have three kids, but the past year was too brutal to ever risk repeating. So I say this: be on guard, be wary of the feeling that someone who has easily lied to you is now remarkably honest, and if you patch things up, keep getting sti checks well into the future.

Be well.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:22 AM on July 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

When I read this, I’m struck by how much effort you are making. You may feel numb, but your actions are in overdrive. Other than him finding a therapist, it seems like he has not self-initiated any actions whatsoever in this whole mess and you are overcompensating. He should be finding his own self help books and making his own sleeping arrangements. When I’ve gone through traumatic situations like this, my reaction is to get to work and get busy and don’t think about it, but that usually backfires when things calm down. I’m wondering if that’s driving your desire to sleep with him?
posted by galvanized unicorn at 8:30 AM on July 7, 2019 [9 favorites]

I don’t think you’re a freak at all. When I’ve been in a situation where I’ve been betrayed, I often have the same sort of numbness or shock. And as others have pointed out, you found out about his infidelity a while ago, so perhaps this confirmed some suspicions and you are doing other sorts of processing. And perhaps you feel clam because you’ve suspected this for a while now and the confirmation is a bit of a relief? I’ve also found that the stages of grief are usually not linear and can come in waves for a long time.

Also, I looked through your question history and it seems your partner has a history of infidelity with previous partners as well. I don’t know either of you and I generally don’t want to jump to cliche or judgment but it sounds like he has been having inappropriate boundaries (or at least boundaries that don’t align with what you want or need) for several years now with you, and previously with other partner(s). I’d take a step or two back and gather some time and space to protect yourself and your child, and have a think about what you want from your relationship and what you’ve been getting for the last couple of years.

Sending you good thoughts.
posted by stillmoving at 8:39 AM on July 7, 2019 [5 favorites]

I’m so sorry you’re going through this, I’ve been there myself and I remember very vividly feeling first very strongly, and then nothing at all. The nothing didn’t stick; as others have said above it did turn out to be a self-protective shock.

I’m an internet stranger, so my experience may or may not be helpful to you, but there was a time when an internet stranger said something here that pulled me out of this, so if there’s any chance my experience will save you any time, I’ll share it here, YMMV. At the time that this happened to me, I was really committed to moving on from this, I believed we had something special and that it would be foolish to ‘throw it away’ when we could fix it. I would have done anything to make things go back the way they were. He even seemed very sorry about it all, so that was encouraging to me.

But here’s the thing, and I wish I’d really processed this sooner: your husband had unprotected sex with someone, and then had sex with you. He did not care that he could get you sick, he didn’t care if you contracted something that could threaten your life, like an STI that can lead to cervical cancer. When you found out about the affair initially, he lied to you, repeatedly, so you wouldn’t think it was physical. He denied you the opportunity to get yourself tested, he prevented you from knowing that he gambled your health so that he could get his rocks off. His momentary pleasure, his secret, his desire to have a marriage where nothing changes because of what he’s done, was more important to him than your actual, physical health and safety. That’s a hard thing to come back from, because it says something uncomfortable about who he is and what he values, and if he is your partner you will need him to be someone you can trust completely to have your back and care about what happens to you. He has put himself first at every turn. Even the simple, easy request you made to be looped in if he was still in regular contact with her was met with another lie. He did the mental calculation, and determined that lying to you and further betraying the fragile trust that was rebuilding between you was worth it to be able to keep chatting with his affair partner in secret.

I went through a process very similar to yours: he said it wasn’t physical, he swore up and down it was over, and I believed him because relationships were about trust. Then I found the chat logs, and it turned out it was very physical, and that the timeline didn’t even quite match what he told me. Again he was very sorry, and very remorseful, and I wanted so badly for things to go back to normal that I forgave him, and agreed to work on it. I stayed up late into the night reading about reconciliation, trying to figure out why he would do this to me, how I could fix it. I read through so many books, articles, old AskMe threads, looking for information and answers that would help me piece our relationship back together. That’s when I saw a link someone had posted here, to a page that asked a question it hadn’t really occurred to me to ask:
Why isn’t he awake at 3am reading about how to fix this?

I think it’s worth taking a look at what his actions are telling you, and valuing that above the words he is saying. Is he the one who’s positively beside himself with grief over this, losing sleep and doing research and making plans— or is it you? Definitely do some solo therapy to process this, get yourself tested, all that good stuff. If you decide you want to give this thing another go and try to make this marriage work, I recommend checking out this article about what true remorse looks like, and comparing it against what you’re seeing at home.

I’m sorry again that you’re going through this, just know that you are not alone, and that not everyone has affairs. It’s not inevitable, and if you decide to let go of this man and look for someone who really loves and respects you, they exist, and you can find them. It is possible to be married to someone who doesn’t cheat on you, and lie to you, and intentionally risk your health by having unprotected sex with his coworkers. I wish you all the best, I hope things get easier and that you find some relief.
posted by suri at 8:46 AM on July 7, 2019 [40 favorites]

Could be shock, but this isn't new, you've been dealing this for longer than you give yourself credit for, at least since March. Could also be, that like some people, you find the idea of an emotional affair way more devastating than a physical one. Or it could just be how you process grief, there is no right or wrong way to feel about situations, there is just how you feel, it's what you do with those feelings that matter. Do you want to work to save the marriage?

I'd be careful here though, the way he's revealing things to you in dribs & drabs, don't assume you know everything yet.
posted by wwax at 8:47 AM on July 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

For me, my reaction at first was like yours because I felt I deserved to be cheated on. I had a fucked-up uncontrollable sister that my parents didn't protect me from and the feelings of worthlessness she gave me trickled into me choosing a partner who felt I was worthless too. So I accepted infidelity, abuse, exposure to STIs (while pregnant!) etc as something I deserved.

But I don't deserve that shit. I am VERY happy now that 15+ year marriage is gone and his poor little feelings aren't my responsibility to fix. I also thought, with each new heart-breaking revelation over the years, that FINALLY I was getting the "real" truth. But that isn't how liars operate. I'm STILL discovering stuff that had I known years ago I think (I hope?) I would have left. You are married to a successful habitual liar and you are simply never going to know the truth, sorry.
posted by saucysault at 10:56 AM on July 7, 2019 [5 favorites]

I'm so sorry this is happening, and I also think you are still in a kind of shock, and would benefit from individual therapy. To follow on to Suri's excellent points, because I don't think it's been mentioned yet: your husband risked your health, your marriage, and your family's happiness; also, by choosing to have an affair with a co-worker (and sexting via office messenger), he's jeopardized his livelihood and your family's financial security.

You wrote he's "doing everything cheaters are supposed to do to help their partner heal" by showing remorse, reading up, and scheduling the counseling session, but perhaps he ought to be looking for another job, too.
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:58 AM on July 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

Just backing up the others who have said you feel how you feel and that is valid, but it is also no guarantee of how you will feel ten minutes/days/weeks/months from now. It's pretty normal, in a crisis, to hunker down and get shit taken care of, but you can't live in crisis mode forever (even if he tries to make that happen by coming up with new confessions every six weeks or so).

Do get yourself a therapist of your very own, one that has no contact with him. And beware this narrative you're constructing in which he is doing "everything cheaters are supposed to do", because nah, he has not and he is not. You will figure it out eventually, and you are probably going to be discovering more and more new levels in your rage mine as you have time to process through it. You may want to make contact with a lawyer to keep in your pocket for later, but also to understand what you need to a) watch out for b) prepare to ensure your own financial safety if the shit goes down - either him deciding to cut his losses and run, or the absolute timebomb of consequences that are now outside his control at work.

People DO move through this and stay together, but the feasibility scale on that has a lot to do with the choices he made at the time and continues to make.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:44 PM on July 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

The strongest impression that I got upon reading your question is that you have handled this situation with exceptional maturity and emotional intelligence. I'm impressed by how you've considered the matter so thoroughly, and from so many perspectives.

I know that doesn't answer a specific question you've asked, but it seemed like it might be worth sharing with you.
posted by Dr. Wu at 3:27 PM on July 7, 2019 [6 favorites]

Note that it's only been ONE DAY that you've felt at peace. Cheating isn't a big deal for some people, but given your response to his previous friendship with this person and your confrontation of her (when he's the one who betrayed you, not her) suggests that you're not one of those people. So I think odds are good that this is temporary for you, as others have said. But I hope that I'm wrong!
posted by metasarah at 4:16 PM on July 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

Also the whole numbness? It isn't crazy. You have a kid depending on you to function so your brain says this is too much and helps you go numb when everything is too raw. Shock and trauma can be healthy coping mechanisms in the face of trauma until you have time and space. Your own therapist and time will help.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 5:24 PM on July 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm so sorry you're going through this. I agree with the comments above that you seem to be handling it pretty well and have been doing so for several months, so you need to give yourself credit for the fact that this isn't new and you've already been processing the situation for a while. The points about society's expectations/narratives for how we respond to certain situations is also very valid. You are not a sociopath and you are allowed to feel how you feel.

That said, it's entirely possible that this is just a "pause" as your bruised psyche gives you a break to recover, and that the next phase could be either more grief and anger or an exploration of a different angle that you haven't thought about yet. If I were in your shoes, I'd be concerned that it took so long to get the whole truth out of my partner, and that the story only emerged when confronted in an unavoidable fashion. If this is a new side to him, it might not be long before questions about other aspects of his behaviour come to light.

The bottom line is that, while it's great that you are going to go to couples therapy to help the relationship, it would be a good idea for you to seek some individual support for yourself. A consultation with an attorney in order to find out how to protect your family's financial and other interests might also be beneficial, if only to give you a better sense of all your options.
posted by rpfields at 5:40 PM on July 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

You said it yourself - you've been on the other side of this. You know an infidelity doesn't have to be this catastrophic cackling-evil traumatic thing because YOU'VE DONE IT and you know it IS a thing that decent people can fall into, notwithstanding the harrumphing you're going to see to the contrary. Furthermore, you've met the "other woman" (good for you by the way! you're a badass) and you see that she has no interest in breaking up your marriage -- doesn't even seem like all that bad a sort.

As someone said above, ask.mefi isn't a place you're generally going to get a nuanced view of infidelity. Read Esther Perel's work instead: it is all about why infidelity happens (as you know, it doesn't take evil) and how couples work through it, without catastrophizing and without taking on the societally mandated roles (unfulfilled cheater, tragic victim etc) which can pressure people into ending their marriages just because they think they "should."

By the way, it's totally bog standard to find one's long-term partner more attractive after seeing evidence of them having been attractive to someone else.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:04 PM on July 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

As promised, having had a reasonably good night's sleep, I'd like to give you all a bit of an update.

When I wrote this post yesterday morning, I honestly felt zen, calm, hopeful. All of that was gone the second I read the first sentence of snickerdoodle's first reply, tentatively suggesting I might be in shock. I knew it was true immediately. Pazazygeek used the word 'shattered' in their reply and it hit me so hard, it rang so true. I started crying and have not stopped since.

I'd like to share a few final thoughts with those of you who may be curious, now or in the future. First, nearly all of you warned me that the trickle-truthing he did does not bode well at all. You are right. I know there is a good chance more will come out or, even if I know everything right now, that he will add more pain and deception later on. He did a truly despicable, heinous thing - the full heinousness of it is probably still beyond my complete comprehension.

I used to believe, like most people, that cheating would be the ultimate deal-breaker. That I would just burn his clothes on the lawn and kick his ass to the curb. I wish that, just this once, life really could have been that simple. But nine years in, with a beautiful daughter that binds us together, it isn't.

Most therapists who specialize in this sort of thing maintain that affairs can be overcome, can lead to a new, healthier relationship, if both parties do what needs to be done. And he is doing what needs to be done. I know some of you found fault with his efforts, but he is voluntarily doing literally all of the things experts suggest cheaters should do to facilitate healing. He actually did stay up until 3 AM last night reading Esther Perel's book (I'm reading it too). He is willing to look for another job, which would be complicated for reasons but we are considering it. He confessed his wrong-doings to his own parents and siblings, knowing they would be sorely disappointed in him. He encouraged me to tell my parents and sister, knowing they would shun him possibly until the end of time, because he knew I don't have many friends and needed someone to talk to. I read the link suri provided, which explains what true remorse looks like, and he meets all of those criteria.

None of this is any guarantee that he is a good man who did a terrible thing, rather than a bad actor. None of this is any guarantee that he didn't just read up on what a remorseful cheater looks like and is doing all of this just to get back in my good graces so he can stay married and then do it all again. None of this is any guarantee that he isn't chatting with her right now, at work, complaining about how hard his frigid, unforgiving bitch of a wife is making his life at the moment.

But for our history, for all the times we were an amazing team, for all the times we made each other laugh until we cried, I have to risk it. I have to try to get through this. I want to one day be able to look my daughter in the eyes and tell her truthfully that I fought like a lion to give her the home she deserves, with her own mom and her own dad who love her and each other. Some couples do make it through, and for her, I have to swallow my pride and try.

That said, I have taken to heart all of your warnings. I know that you are calling things as you see them, that some of you have been where I am now and have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, and that all of you have my best interest at heart. Sid, you thought I should not be talking to the internet at such a stressful time, and I totally understand where you're coming from, but I'm glad I did. I did find it helpful. I've asked questions before and have always found comfort in the thoughtful responses I got. One concrete thing that I am doing, because you helped me see that I need to, is talking to a therapist by myself. I have my first appointment this afternoon.

I would like to add another update a year or so from now to explain how things worked out. If I were in this situation a year from now, and found this question while looking for answers, I might find that really useful. Thank you, all of you, from the bottom of my heart, for taking the time to share your thoughts with me. I am grateful.
posted by piranna at 2:56 AM on July 8, 2019 [26 favorites]

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