Yet I've never regretted cheating on my husband.
The proper way to leave any relationship is through having a conversation with the other person. You tell them it’s not working for you. You’re clear and concise. You’re even kind. You and they settle whatever needs to be settled. You part ways, officially break-up, respectful of the good times you shared together and what you learned.
But that’s not how most relationships end. Someone might be yelling or throwing things. Tearful cries of, “Just leave then!” It might happen over text or Zoom. There might be lawyers, judges, or mediators involved, observers who are only hoping to get money out of it. Or you or they may just disappear. Ghost.
Relationships and their endings are usually messy, just like people are in general. We’re all imperfect, and not all of us leave or end our relationships gracefully.
I didn’t leave my first marriage gracefully. I was in an unfulfilling, emotionally abusive relationship that I’d been trying to unsuccessfully quit for years.
So when I left, I had to burn the house down to make sure I’d never try to move back into it again.
That was why I had an affair.
There was plenty of kindle around to be able to set that house alight, but my affair was the accelerant.
There’s no excuse for cheating. It’s not the kind, the respectful, or the loving thing to do.
It always creates more problems than it’s really worth. You’ve hurt the person you are (or more likely, were) in a relationship with irrevocably. You’ve also dragged another person into an already dramatic situation, and you’ve heaped a whole bunch of shame, remorse, and guilt onto yourself on top of the already painful break-up feelings.
For me, having an affair and ending my marriage was like setting my house on fire, and then having to spend months afterward cleaning up all of the debris with just a broom and dustpan. I don’t recommend it.
But I also don’t regret it.
Researcher Dr. Shirley P. Glass, a psychologist, author, and one of the world’s leading experts on infidelity, calls her theory of why infidelity happens “walls and windows.”
A healthy marriage is composed of windows and walls.
The windows, which must stay open, are between you and your spouse.
This is how you communicate and pass intimacy, trust, secrets, and love. The couple may also have close meaningful relationships outside of their connection.
However, the windows between partners and their other relationships should remain much smaller and not as transparent.
The walls are between the two of you (together) and the outside world.
The walls give your relationship privacy. No one should know more about your relationship than your partner, and any private information shared inside the marriage should not be shared with anyone outside it.
What I didn’t realize about this theory of windows and walls is that the walls between you and your partner and the outside world should only be in place if it’s a healthy relationship.
If it’s an unhealthy relationship, other people have to know. Therapists, counselors, close and supportive friends. Because you’ll need help: to learn how to practice healthy relating skills, or to leave.
No one outside of my relationship knew about the abuse going on within it. They all thought we were happy. A good match.
No one knew my husband broke our dining room table shortly after we got married. How he lifted it up and slammed it back down, two of the legs snapping.
How once he refused to let me leave. He followed me around, bowed up on me, shoved doors open, until I pounded my fists on his chest and collapsed onto our bed crying.
How he punched walls. How one time, he set our infant daughter in her crib and then punched the wall directly above it.
How every time we had a fight, he called me names. The kinds you shouldn’t even call someone you hate, let alone your wife and the mother of your children.
No one knew because I didn’t tell.
I took the coward’s way out eventually.
I met someone, who honestly could have been anyone as long as they were a kind anyone.
I did what Dr. Glass said: I reversed the architecture of my marriage. I put a wall between my husband and myself while opening a window between me and this new person.
This new person came to learn everything. About the dining room table. About the hole in the wall above my daughter’s crib. All the minor and major violences that made me hate myself and the man I was then married to. Mostly, about how desperately lonely and small I felt.
The affair lasted just 8 days before I left my husband. It was emotional, not even physical. Our hands didn't even touch until the marriage was done. He was the reason I left my husband, at first, but he and I didn't date for long after.
I wouldn’t realize until later that in leaving my husband for this other person, I was actually leaving my husband for me.
I should regret having that affair. I know I should.
I was a weak woman. Sometimes we overcompensate out of our weakness. Sometimes we overdo.
While others may have been able to walk out of an unsatisfying relationship with their head held high, I couldn’t at the time. The emotional abuse I’d allowed myself to take for nearly ten years from my husband (and my mother before him) had consequences, the most major being how incapable, incompetent, small, and useless I felt.
Choosing to have an affair was thus an act of wild rebellion, of trying to take something back for myself.
I didn’t walk out of that relationship with my held high.
I left dirty.
But at least I left.