Cheating on my husband didn’t make me a bad person

Tracey Folly

But it did make me a bad wife.

I cheated on my husband. Let’s just get that out of the way up front.

On a warm September day four years earlier, I had stood beside him while wearing cheap shoes and a ruffled white party dress that barely reached my knees and promised to love, honor, and obey. In the end, I did none of the three.

Allow me to explain.

There is no excuse for cheating. There are only reasons. In my case, my reason was simple. He started it.

I could say that I was devastated when I caught my husband cheating on me, but I was already devastated long before the day I found evidence in his leather jacket and another woman’s phone number scrawled on a napkin in his jeans. The day I accidentally called his girlfriend’s mother when I hit redial on the landline we shared in the kitchen of our third-floor apartment was the rancid icing on a long-expired cake.

My husband was an abusive alcoholic whose booze-fueled temper tantrums and violent drunken outbursts were rivaled only by his behavior when he was sober. When I had the opportunity to cheat on him, I figured why not. He totally deserved it.

Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works.

I will never forget speaking with my lawyer just minutes prior to appearing before a judge in divorce court. He burst into the room with a smile on his face, barely able to conceal his excitement. “Your husband said he wants to try marriage counseling instead,” he said.

I suppose he thought he was delivering good news.

“No,” I replied. It was the worst idea I’d ever heard. I burst into tears. At that point, I just wanted it to be over.

My divorce attorney was an old family friend. He and my father had known each other for decades. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t expect a lawyer to express any emotion or opinion when representing a client in a divorce case. My case was different since he actually knew me and my family.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I bet he’s a great guy when he isn’t drunk.”

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “He’s even worse when he’s sober.”

My brief dalliance began when I confided in a male coworker who took advantage of me. He knew I was married, and he knew I was going through a hard time. A gentleman would have behaved differently, but he wasn’t a gentleman, and my actions didn’t make me much of a lady.

He offered to meet me after work to “talk.” In the end, neither of us did much talking, but we did do a few things that left me feeling ashamed and humiliated.

At the moment, I felt my spontaneous indiscretion was justified. Hadn’t I found the evidence of my husband’s affairs over and over again for years? Hadn’t I endured his physical abuse, suffered his name-calling, and tolerated his insults like a champ? Didn’t I then deserve one night of retribution?

The answer to all those questions is the same. “No.”

In retrospect, I do regret cheating on my husband, regardless of how valid my reasons felt at the time. Cheating on my husband didn’t make me a bad person, but it did make me a bad wife.

In my situation, the only good solution to our problems was getting divorced. Although divorce is hard, it isn’t as hard as living in a loveless abusive marriage. Divorce is still easier than hiding an affair or living with the aftermath of keeping one’s infidelity a secret.

Cheating didn’t make me a better wife. It didn’t make our marriage a better marriage. All it did was complicate a relationship that was already complicated.

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Boston, MA
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