It was a Saturday night when my husband confessed he was cheating on me with the receptionist in his office. Our two young boys were staying at Grandma’s, and I honestly thought we’d go out to dinner and watch a movie like we usually did when we had a night alone. Instead, I was listening to my husband of 15 years talking about his new girlfriend. She was ten years younger than me with her hair dyed pink. It was such an obvious midlife crisis that we would have laughed at if it happened to someone else. When it hits home, it’s not so funny.
I was 35 years old and with my husband for all of my adult life. We were high school sweethearts and moved in together right after graduation. When we married in the summer of 1989, he was 21 years old and I was 20. His family was warm and loving and everything my own family wasn’t. I thought I’d be part of it forever until the night he blasted my entire world into a million pieces. Someone else had my husband’s attention now, and she would now sit in my chair for Sunday family dinners as if I was interchangeable.
He left me the day after his confession to move in with his parents. Suddenly, I was a single mother with two young children and no idea how to manage everything. My husband always took care of things like auto repair, cooking our meals, and getting our taxes filed. I never bothered to learn any of it because I thought he’d always be there. When he wasn’t anymore, my life fell apart in short order. I was overwhelmed and heartbroken, dreaming that my husband would walk back through the door and we’d pick up where we left off.
He did come back to me two times, showing up at the house looking sheepish and saying he wanted to work things out. I took him back without hesitation. My self-esteem vanished during his absence, and I had great fear that I wouldn’t make it in the world on my own. When he moved his stuff back in, we resumed the routine we had for the last decade and a half as if nothing ever happened. I breathed a huge sigh of relief that our nightmare was over. He broke up with the pink-haired receptionist, and now we could go on with our lives.
In reality, we were play-acting as husband and wife. I struggled to forgive his cheating at the same time he was pining over his lost love. We walked on eggshells the entire time, not wanting to blow up our tenuous truce. After a few weeks of not connecting, I wrote him a heartfelt letter about how I was feeling inside. I loved him, but I still felt betrayed. He read it, got mad, and gave me the silent treatment.
During our final reconciliation, we took our boys on a camping trip with Boy Scouts. While the kids played, my husband and I spent the whole time trying to avoid each other. I felt like he had nothing left to say to me. He was so checked out of our marriage it was like he wasn’t there at all. When all the kids went to bed, the parents gathered around the campfire drinking beer and roasting marshmallows. I didn’t feel the least bit social. My husband handed me a stick with a marshmallow on it as a peace offering, but all I could think about was that he wished the receptionist was with him instead of me.
I confronted him back in the cabin, whispering so I didn’t wake anybody up. He rolled his eyes and sighed when I accused him of not loving me. My insecurity was so overwhelming that I left my family at the campground the next morning and drove home. There was no way I could keep up the charade for another minute. When my husband got home that afternoon, I was waiting for him on the living room couch.
“What do you want me to do?” he asked, throwing up his hands in a show of frustration.
I wanted him to love me again. I wanted him to be passionate about me and not be able to live without me. I didn’t want his eyes to look dead whenever he talked to me. I didn't want him back only for his sense of duty to our family. He wasn’t the same person anymore. I felt like I was married to a total stranger.
“Why don’t you check into a hotel for a week with neither of us and figure out what you really want?” I tried to sound brave, but my trembling voice gave me away.
My husband packed his bags within the hour and got ready to leave. We agreed not to talk for the whole week while he pondered the state of our marriage. He didn’t even tell me what hotel he was staying at. I tried to be patient and give him the time he needed, but my suspicions were growing. When I looked online at our bank statement, there were no charges for a hotel. He didn’t even leave a phone number where he could be reached.
After the week was over, he admitted he’d been staying at the receptionist’s apartment the entire time.
“If you don’t break up with her, I will divorce you,” I warned. “You can’t have both a wife and a girlfriend.”
“I’m not ready to give up my relationship,” he answered.
I filed for divorce the next day.
I don’t believe that every marriage is doomed because of an affair, but when I look back on mine, it’s clear my husband checked out long before his cheating confession. There were so many red flags I didn’t notice or brushed aside because it seemed impossible he’d ever leave me. After being together for our whole lives, I never imagined a life without him.
We were the couple everybody envied, married but still the best of friends. Our marriage seemed unshakable and rock-solid, but there had been cracks in the surface I wasn’t willing to deal with. When it was all said and done, my husband didn’t love me anymore and barely even liked me. I felt blindsided although I should have seen it coming.
Lack of communication was a huge factor in our divorce. My husband and I hardly ever fought, neither of us wanting to rock the boat. Instead, we stuffed our feelings down and ignored them for the sake of our marriage. Maybe my husband had the last straw that made him want to cheat, but more likely it was the little things that added up until he finally burst. He was ready to move on, and the receptionist came into his life and made herself available at exactly the right time.
Complacency was another issue. After being married for 15 years, we both felt like we didn’t have to try anymore. We simply took for granted that the other would always be there instead of creating more reasons to stay together. Something I’ve learned in my current marriage is how important it is to always treat my husband the same way I did when we were first dating. I love him to the ends of the Earth and make sure he knows that every day. I’ve learned never to take that kind of love for granted.
Even so, I know things happen and people change. If my husband fell out of love with me tomorrow, I’d accept it rather than panicking and feeling desperate to make him love me again. Life is too short to spend time with someone who doesn’t make you happy. Either way, I’m much better at communicating and encourage him to do the same. I don’t live with my head in the sand anymore.
My marriage did not survive an affair, but in the end, I survived. For that, I'll be forever grateful.