My reader stumbled onto a lost note in an old bag that was evidence of her husband having a short affair that had ended over a year earlier. She kicked him out immediately and started the paperwork. I asked if I could help, and she asked my opinion. I’ve seen one of her family photos with them both and the kids. Here’s what I wrote to her…
Cheating causes damage to marriages in two phases. The first phase is the actual cheating itself – the other woman could get pregnant and siphon child support payments from the marriage, there could be STDs, the cheating may be discovered at work and cause job loss, the cheating spouse may leave the marriage for the affair partner. The way this is fixed is by the cheating spouse completely stopping the cheating and returning to being a good spouse. It’s possible that none of those very negative outcomes could happen, just like you can run a red light and not actually smash into another car, you just get lucky and sail through unharmed.
Unless the cheating spouse does something stupid like revealing the cheating, the stopped cheating just gets buried like a lost landmine. The landmine is not usually discovered and the cheating spouse just lives with the guilt.
Phase two of the damage happens when the cheating is discovered or revealed and the landmine explodes because the cheated on spouse feels they have to do something about it all, and is usually livid about the cheating. The damage caused by the discovery and reaction to the affair can be even more destructive than the actual cheating itself. The marriage is more likely to end from the discovery of the cheating, than the actual cheating. From the note you discovered, it sounds like he had a pretty good offer to jump ship from you to her… but he didn’t, he stayed with you.
Usually phase one and phase two happen exactly at the same time. The cheating is discovered while the cheating is going on, so a huge emotional reaction to cut the cheating off immediately is very appropriate and functional. But phase one and two can also happen years apart, and that is a slightly different situation.
Right now you are extremely angry and very hurt – that’s 100% normal, totally expected and justified. Don’t misunderstand anything I am saying here as implying that he did nothing wrong, or that you don’t have a right to be angry. You do.
However, there’s actually some good potential to work through things here should you choose to. The affair is already over – that’s huge. He’s also broken contact with her. He wants to stay with you, and very importantly he has expressed remorse. Those are all things that usually would take a great deal of work to achieve. With most people I have contact with, the affair is still ongoing and the cheating spouse is not apologizing and actively trying to jump ship to the affair partner.
Assuming that the affair is 100% over and she is out of his life, it sounds like he has done his best to repair the damage his cheating caused as best he can without blowing the whole thing open and revealing it. Obviously he hid the affair from you, because he knew your reaction would be extremely negative and risk ending the marriage. So apologetic “only now” is fairly routine. Basically he did the best he could to bury the landmine safely as best he could, but made that one slip up.
So my question for you is…. from the time the affair stopped, until the time you discovered the affair, was he being a good husband to you?
Or put another way. Are you planning to divorce him because he was being the husband he was a year ago… despite that he has changed his ways since then and is a better husband now?
There is no requirement that you get back together. I’m just saying that if you choose to work toward being back together, I see potential for fixing things. Neither road will be easy though. Solo mom is pretty hard going for a long long time. Working on a marriage is a lot of effort now.
The good news, surprising even to me, is that she asked him to move back home the next day. By her own admission he had been doing the good husband thing ever since. The completely realistic news is that she is still having a very rough time of it and riding the emotional rollercoaster. He did cheat. He did lie. It does suck. It’s going to take a little while to put things back together again. But there’s hope that a family might get to stay intact and some little kids get to grow up happier.
And for the record…
I made it exceptionally clear that she had no requirement to ask him back. Just pointed out if she wanted to go that route there was a better than usual chance of success.
I also made it very clear that she had to be 100% sure the cheating was resolved, and that any further episodes of this nature should result in divorcing him without mercy or reservation. And that he needs to be able to verbalize that understanding.