The trouble with affairs, is that the more people that are in the know, the more it begins to define you. This ugly event in your life isn't something that is easily kept quiet: humans need affirmation and discussion and empathy at times, but if it becomes a public matter, you are the Woman that Stayed and he is the Man that Cheated.
We have messages in this world that are harmful to reconciliation when affairs are involved:
"Once a cheater, always a cheater."
"People don't change."
"She must have no self esteem."
"I'd cut it off..."
I submit that sexual dishonesty is more common than we want to admit. This does not make it right, but when we face a 50% divorce rate, that tells me we are slowly giving up on each other. When I asked myself if I still wanted to be married to him or if I still loved him, the answer was always a resounding "YES." I held on to this when things were really difficult.
For the first 18 months or so, cheating was seemingly everywhere to me. Every movie, TV show, magazine or book had the elements of an affair. It was difficult not to think about it every waking moment. My inner dialogue was on overdrive. "Why do people do this to each other?" "Why do we blame the spouse that did not cheat?" "Why is cheating sensationalized?" "Why do we not have respect for those that try to make things work?"
Outside of a few very close friends, I did not disclose our marital problems to others. I did not want to have the chorus of shame for staying, or the sympathetic looks that came with the standard "You are brave." responses. My closest friends were able to understand why our marriage was not over, and that my husband really needed me to stay as much as I needed for this never to happen again. I needed to talk to my closest friends about the fact that somehow my response to my husband sexually was foreign to me. I needed reality checks from people that loved us both but were not directly effected by my reactions. 85% of the Affair Chat was with my husband, but I needed the 15% Am I Crazy Chat with my friends. The fact that it was not public knowledge made it incredibly difficult to spend an extended period of time in a room with people that did not know we were struggling, and that loved him. All of this unfolded right before the holidays, and family get-togethers with his family were difficult. All "his people" love him and fancy him Superman, and I wanted to stand up at dinner and let them all know he was not perfect. I knew this was a selfish want and obviously I did not ever act on my impulses, but I really longed to be closer to "my people" during this time. I wanted to be around people that loved me and that would remind me that I am pretty amazing as well.
As I have mentioned, we have not gone to counseling. There were a few times I considered individual counseling for myself during the time of the Inner Monologue, but ultimately we were fortunate enough to create plenty of space and time in our marriage to speak honestly to one another and rebuild. A gigantic reason we have made so much progress is that the changes he decided on have stuck. I do not have to monitor him or remind him of past indiscretions: his entire attitude towards me has shifted to one of love, admiration and respect. My husband is truly no longer the person that hurt me.
I don't remember the title, but sometime in the first few months I watched a film where an adult daughter had discovered that her father had an affair and her mother did not leave. When she confronted her mother about the information, her mother said something to the tune of "I didn't want to let that one action define your father." That truly resonated with me. My husband was more that a cheater. He did not deserve to be defined by mistakes he had made anymore than I want to be defined by the fact that I stayed. I would rather we were seen as strong and capable parents, a loving couple, and the numerous qualities that make us unique individuals.
If I would have chosen to leave, I would have missed "us" at our best and only known heartache. I am certain that we are only on the beginning slopes of marriage, but we will face it all together and there really is no one I would rather be facing it with.