Culture

To the Woman Who Just Discovered Her Husband’s Affair

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I know. I know the unimaginable pain you’re feeling right now. The way your insides feel all out of place and how every square inch of you is throbbing with the sting of betrayal. And I know how bizarre it is to have that intense pain vanish for a moment, leaving you with nothing but emptiness. I know how the entire world under your feet vanished when you read that email, saw the text, or found the credit card statement. I know how your entire life, as you knew it, is now over.

I know you probably didn’t see it coming. You likely chalked his change in behavior up to stress at work. Or he’d just been overly tired. He’d had some sort of existential crisis. And being the loving, supportive wife you are, you probably tried everything in your power to help him rediscover the man you married. And when it didn’t work, I know you likely turned it inward. “Maybe,” you thought, “I’m not fun enough. Not pretty enough. Not sexy enough. Not enough.”

But the thing is, you are enough.

His unfaithfulness is not the result of a problem with you or your marriage. It’s a symptom of his own unhappiness. As much as you wish you could fix that for him, you can’t. And neither can she, though he may think she can. She is merely a temporary medication that numbs his own pain and distracts him from having to deal with it.

Speaking of her, I know you want to find out everything. Where she works, what she looks like, how they met, where they met, how many times they met, if it’s still going on. You want to know every painful detail and I can’t stop you from searching that information out, but I’m asking you not to. It won’t bring closure or healing. It will only cause you more pain and heartache. You know he’s been unfaithful and that’s painful enough.

I know you might be reading this because you have no idea what to do next. Scream? Cry? Confront him? Demand a divorce? Give him a chance to explain? Stay? There are endless questions. And there are no right or wrong answers. Just like you can’t fix your husband’s unhappiness, no one else can answer these questions for you. It’s going to be a long, dark, treacherous path you have to navigate and every corner you manage to turn will always leave you wondering if you went the right way.

The other thing I know is just how unfair all of this is. You promised yourself to this man in front of God, angels, friends, and family. You made a covenant to devote yourself to him and to making your marriage work regardless of the circumstances. He promised to do the same, but now he’s thrown that all away. You are being forced into this catastrophe against your own free will and choice. One way or another, you are required to make this journey that is a direct result of someone else’s poor choices and actions, and it simply isn’t fair. Your family and friends will rally around you and tell you how strong you are, but when you don’t have a choice in the matter, what option do you have other than to be strong?

I know some days will seem impossible. Getting out of bed will be an accomplishment. Showering will likely be something you forget how to do. Eating? Forget it. And that’s okay. You’ve suffered a terrible loss—a forfeiture of security, love, happiness, and trust. Maybe you’ll regain all those things that were ripped away from you, maybe you won’t. But the fact is for the time being, they are gone, and you need time and autonomy to mourn that loss. How long will it take? That, I’m afraid, I don’t know. I’m not you. I wasn’t the one in love the way you were with your spouse. I wasn’t the one betrayed by him. And while I know the feeling, I don’t know exactly the way your heart is shattering inside your chest.

You’ve likely heard of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ theory of the five stages of grief and loss. I know you’ve already experienced a combination of them with a ferocious intensity. But the thing about these stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance is that we spend various lengths of time working through each step. Chances are you will move in and out of each phase for the next few weeks and months. Maybe even years. They don’t necessarily occur in any specific order and there is no telling how long you’ll be working through them before achieving that final step of acceptance. And you know what? That’s okay.

So what do you do now? If you have friends and family you trust, ask them for help. Let them bolster you up. You don’t have to manage this crisis alone. If for whatever reason you do feel the need to navigate the rough waters ahead solo, I respect that. But you’ll need to prioritize by putting your needs first—both physical and emotional. Go to your primary care doctor or OB/GYN to get screened for sexual diseases, and ask for advice on maintaining your physical and emotional well-being. If you’re offered the contact information of a therapist, take it. I know therapy may sound expensive or absurd, but it is the single best thing you can do for yourself right now. Stock your refrigerator with nutritious food. Start taking a multivitamin. Prioritize sleep—even if that means letting the laundry pile up and leaving the dishes in the sink. I know taking care of your basic needs sounds redundant while you are staring at this insurmountable catastrophe that has now become your life, but you are going to need all the strength and energy you can get in the weeks and months ahead.

I know you feel hopeless. I know the very fabric of your reality has been ripped to shreds. I know getting through the next few minutes might even be a struggle. But you can do this. You can take this horrific situation that was thrust upon you and use it to strengthen yourself and to strengthen your faith. Women like you are resilient. You have the power and ability to turn this bitter reality into something beautiful. You might not make it unscathed, but the scars you bear will be a reminder of how valiantly you fought for yourself. I know you will make it through.

How do I know? I know because I’ve been there and back again. And I’m cheering you on from the other side.