May 22 2012
“I treated him/her decently.”
I‘m storing this for my daughters, for that one day when they ask me why, and are capable of understanding:
Four years ago, I found out that my husband cheated on me with several women. Funny thing is, I wasn’t as horrified as I thought I would be about the sex bit. That was the least of the offence (though I did get an STD out of it). I was most devastated by the confidences he shared with them—the personal things about us as a couple, and me as a partner that he carelessly used here and there. While flirting, they laughed and giggled about me, from my wide-eyed naiveté to my sexual preferences. After we’d have sex, he would quickly stand up, grab his phone, and SMS another woman that he had f**ked me twice because she got him so horny. “She didn’t know what hit her,” he would tell her.
Like breadcrumbs, I followed the trail, and documented all the proof I could find from SMSes, to chat logs, and receipts, and suffered in silence. I couldn’t believe the knowledge I held, and wondered why I was so inadequate to him. He was my first love, and my first everything. I had more than enough pieces of the story patched together, and it painted a picture of deception even during the early days of our relationship. It was a deep betrayal, one that had me consulting lawyers and drafting a separation agreement to protect the interests of our daughter.
When I confronted him with all my proof, he couldn’t even manage to be honest. He wove story upon story that didn’t reconcile with what I’d found out, and his own stories contradicted each other. He was burying the truth I needed so badly underneath a huge pile of mashed self-serving fiction.
Did I stay with him? Yes. Because he cried, and it hurt to see him desperately hurting. Because he said sorry, and professed his love for me, and I loved him still despite his cruel transgressions. Because I thought that he would change. Because we had a daughter who deserves a dad. Because when I ran to my own mother for comfort, she urged me to stay with him. Because I didn’t love myself enough. I was weak and alone, and the only hug that I could find comfort in was his.
I asked for counselling, to help me heal, to help me forgive, because I was still an emotional mess despite my decision to stay—but he said he couldn’t afford it. His office offered contacts for counseling, but he didn’t feel comfortable with letting his workplace know about our situation. He asked to move the family to another country for his work, and I agreed, even though it meant sacrificing my career. He is selfish, yes, but I was also the biggest doormat of a one-sided love.
Fast forward to today, and history has repeated itself. Wolf in sheep’s clothing, they say. Behind earnest pleas to stay “together forever” (his words, not mine), and promises to try harder, and gentle morning kisses infused with whispered “I love you’s,” he’s telling another girl how his flame for her has never died, how he can’t control himself when he’s around her, along with urgent pleas to see each other again when the wife (yes, that’s me) is busy.
In four years, I’d like to think I’ve grown up. I had to patch myself together, because my husband who had managed to mangle my self-esteem couldn’t be bothered to help me heal. The separation agreement is out. I insisted that we file for separation within a couple of months. I’ve moved out of our bedroom (wardrobe, deodorant, toothbrush and all) into the guestroom, because we both can’t afford to find a new place in this economy. I’m making it clear that I’ve outgrown his sh*t. And while I’m still hurting and disbelieving, it’s clear to me I don’t want to waste another minute hanging onto dead weight. I’m moving on.
IF this ever happened to my daughters (and I pray that it never does), I will stand by them, and listen carefully. I will be a source of those honest-to-goodness hugs that let them know they are loved without judgment or condition. I will remind them that this experience does not define their self-worth; I will allow them to feel like sh*t, because it is pretty sh*tty, but also urge them to take a few things to heart:
(1) Document, then quickly decide. Once you know, you need to document all the proof you have and dig harder until the picture is clear. The proof you stand on needs to be solid and convincing, as anything ambiguous can easily be explained away. Then, once you have something undeniable, you need to decide whether you wish to stay or go. Don’t get stuck in limbo. I was surprised to find out that any proof of infidelity you find of your spouse is only admissible in court for three to six months from the day you find out about it. If you present something that you’ve discovered from longer than that, the court considers that you’ve forgiven your partner for that transgression.
(2) Be firm and ask for what you deserve. It’s alright to be mad, sad, and angry, and sometimes downright depressed. Sometimes, people make mistakes, and I’ve seen couples that have become stronger after cheating, because both parties worked hard to mend the relationship. Your partner should help you recover emotionally and rebuild trust by being honest, open, and supportive. If you feel it will help, go for counselling immediately. Give yourself space to heal, and him the opportunity to express his contrition. Don’t let the emotional infection fester! If he’s not supportive of your reasonable requests, if he disregards your needs as fancy, that means he doesn’t value you enough—and it may be worthwhile to think about whether this is the type of person you can build a future with.
(3) Surround yourself with people who love you. Family and friends are your best support system. There was a life before your partner, and there is a life after him. You just need to rediscover it.
(4) Don’t worry too much about the children. Perhaps this will be controversial, but I do believe that kids are not as affected by the process of divorce, but rather the manner in which the parents go about it. Move your arguments away from the kids, don’t shut your partner out of your children’s life (no matter how tempting it is), and remind the children that no matter what happens, both parents love and support them unconditionally. Children are resilient, and an environment in which both parents are happy will serve them better than staying in a house full of drama.
(5) Live your own story and own your decisions. I’m not going to tell you to stay, or to go. Many people will tell you to go, and a lot more will advise you to stay, especially when you’ve got little ones. If you listen to all those, you will be stuck in limbo and making a decision that isn’t yours. All I’m going to say is think about the future that you want, and trust in your own judgment. We all learn our own way; each story and circumstance is different. There is never a right or wrong decision, and even if there was, I’d rather be making my own mistakes, than making someone else’s.
Perhaps I should have left him four years ago, or perhaps I should not have married him in the first place. Perhaps I should have been stronger and insisted on counselling. Maybe, there are ways I can be the wife he needs me to be. These are all hypotheticals now. We move forward from the point of realization. And the biggest realization for me, is that I can’t be the only one trying.