Monday, October 10, 2005

Chapter 9 - Rings and things

It was pretty random, what would send me off. A lot of people call them "triggers" -- things that reminded me of the affair. Obviously her work was a trigger, because the other guy was there. But the less obvious could be a trigger too. Bluegrass music, of all things (they went to a Nickel Creek concert together). Hiking (one of their dates -- the one that resulted in photos -- was to a nearby state partk). Massages (don't ask).

Some of the things made sense, some did not. Our wedding rings was a trigger and I don't know which category I would place it in. To her, the rings were just a symbol with lots of good memories, and she could not understand why I would associate any bad feelings with them. To me, I hated our rings. Mine was a symbol of promises she did not keep, and I'm not sure she meant them when she made them. Hers, she either took them off to have sex with another guy, or she wore them when having sex with another guy, and either way they were spoiled.

We compromised. She got me a new ring which I now wear, proudly. It symbolizes our new commitment. For her, her original rings reminded her of her commitment to me and held special meaning to her. She did not associate her old rings with anyone other than me. If they were meaningful to her, then I could focus on that. We each gave a little.

I went through a phase where I just wanted to purge our lives of anything that had any negative association. We moved to another neighborhood. I asked -- and she agreed -- that we get rid of the dresser where I found the souveniers. One non-negotiable for me -- any intimate apparel she wore with him had to go. It went.

Did it help? I don't know how much difference it made, but I'd do it again.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Chapter 8 - talking to the other guy

After d-day, I thought long and hard about whether to make contact with the other guy. There was so much I wanted to say, not a bit of it that would have been helpful to anyone. I actually went to their workplace a couple of times to see him, but he either was not there or there were too many people around. My goal was to let him know how much pain he had caused and how wrong his actions were. As if he didn’t know. I believe God was at work and that it would have been very destructive if we had met then.

Eventually, my goals changed. I still wanted to talk to him, but not to make him feel bad. I wanted to hear from him, man to man, if he intended to honor our commitment to reconcile and if he would agree never to contact my wife again. I prayed that God would lead me and would guide me to say only what was constructive.

I caught him in his office after hours one evening and asked if he had a minute. He recognized me, politely invited me in his office, and said “I guess we better shut the door.” I sat down, he sat down, and he looked nervous and miserable. I said, “I am not here to talk about the past. There is a lot I want to say, but I don’t think it would be helpful and my guess is you already know how I feel about what went on. What I hope to do is talk about the future. You already know that we want to move forward and we hope to reconcile. I need to know what your intentions are toward my wife and if I have your commitment to never contact us again.”

He said that he had gotten my wife’s letter that I had nothing to worry about from him – he said “I am out of the picture.” He also said that he had respect for me for wanting to reconcile in spite of what happened and for what I wasn’t saying in the present conversation. He started to apologize, but I was getting pissed off. Who the hell was he to compliment me? I could only guess what they were saying about me when they were involved in the affair, and I was not going to listen to him now. I had what I came for and stopped him. “If you are trying to apologize,” I said, “don’t bother – I am nowhere close to being ready to accept it. I think this is a good time for us to part ways.”

And we did.

Chapter 7 - her job

The other guy was worked at the same place as my wife. They were in different departments but their offices were just a few doors down from each other. In my view, there was no way we could recover unless she quit that job.

I brought that up at our first counseling session after D-day. She said she was not willing to quit but would agree not to talk to him or be alone with him. I agreed to those terms and that is the decision I regret more than any other in the discovery process.

There was over a month after D-day before the spring term started. During that month I began to have second thoughts about her work. I finally told her that I know what I had agreed to, but I could not do it. She very reluctantly agreed to arrange for her office to be moved to another building and for her meetings to be in that building, although I do not believe she thought (at the time) that it was necessary. In her mind, the affair was over. She had written a letter to the other guy saying that their relationship was over, that what they had done was wrong, and that her energies would now be directed toward repairing our marriage. He had not tried to contact her since then (she claimed, and I guess I believe her), so according to her there was no risk.

Every day she went to work was a day of misery for me. Whether they spoke or not, I knew they probably would see each other. Even if they did not see each other, it was just too close. Just having to consciously avoid each other kept everyone on each others’ mind. This went on for 1 ½ or 2 years after d-day. Finally, I could not stand this any more and gave an ultimatum.

To me, her continuing to work so closely to him was dangerous and foolish, not to mention disrespectful toward me. I still believe it was. Our recovery went to a new level once she stopped working there and it was no coincidence.

There just can be no recovery if there is ongoing contact between affair partners. In our case, I do not believe they were talking to each other, but they were still part of each others’ work life. If you are so close that it takes work to avoid each other, you’re too close. I would not recommend a compromise on this important point.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Chapter 6

In the 2 or 3 months immediately after D-day, I was two people. One was at peace that however this turned out, I was doing the right thing. The other was full of doubt. One was determined to get her to love me and find me attractive, the other could not care less what she thought of me or anything else. One didn't want to see her again, the other -- the one I've thought about today -- obsessed over her every word and deed. I wanted to know where she was at all times. Who was she talking to? Who did she see? Did she talk about me? Is she going to bail?

It's Friday today, and that was the day they usually saw each other. For a long time after the affair, Friday's sucked -- it was all I could think about. If I tried to call her on a Friday and could not reach her, I panicked.

I spent a lot of time checking phone bills, caller ID, and just generally checking up on her. I didn't trust her. It took a very long time before I did, and even today my trust is not what it was before. Now, I believe my wife hates what she did and would rather die than have another affair. But I don't have blind trust any more. There's a chink in her armor. It means she has to be even more careful than the average person to keep proper boundaries and guard herself against dangerous situations.

Plus, until recently, she was never truly faithful to me. I had not realized it, but there was almost always someone else she was turning to for kicks (it was sexual with only one guy). What blame do I have for that? Sure I dropped the ball here and there, just as she did, but if she felt like something was missing from the marriage, she would try to get it somewhere else. It was a recurrent, almost continuous pattern. Unless someone convinces me otherwise, I'm going to assume she has a serious weakness with commitment, or faithfulness, or whatever it is. That does not mean she is not committed to me or that she will cheat again. It just means, in my opinion, that she is more vulnerable than some to the temptation that we all face. It has nothing to do with her intentions, which are good and right.

Part of the problem was a flirtatiousness that was attractive in the beginning, but which wore on me during our marriage. She was always a guy's girl who enjoyed hanging out with my friends, and there was always a lot of playful banter. As the years went on, I got more and more uncomfortable with it. I told her so, but she got pissed off, said it was just who she was and she wasn't changing for anybody. I saw the flirting as annoying, but I now see it was dangerous.

Flirting says you are available. Do it enough, even joking, there's a chance you will start to believe it. Plus, it was completely disrespectful of my feelings. Nonetheless, she was always good for a double-entendre, a dirty joke, or inappropriate comment when she was around guys.

Her dress also changed. She dressed more and more provacatively leading up to and during the affair. She looked good, she really did, and is a very sexy woman. Once she bitched at me for not saying more about it, and I told her it was difficult to say it when I thought she was crossing the lines of what was appropriate in the work place and when I knew it wasn't for me. She left the house looking like a million bucks, but when I got home from work it was sweat pants if I was lucky.

I remember telling her, "When you dress to go out, your clothes say 'fuck me.' Whenever I'm around, your clothes say 'fuck you.'" That's the way I felt.

Now I had my faults, and they were plenty, both before and after the affair. But I'm not writing about that now, because this is about the affair and the aftermath. Whatever my failings were, she is responsible for the decision she made to go ouside the marriage. It's just a different issue.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Chapter 5 - Q&A - Learning the details

This is my blog about how our marriage survived my wife's affair. Please start with "First Post" below.

On Monday morning, 2 days after D-day, we had a counseling session. I started out angry with the counselor. My wife and I had both visited with him individually over the past year and we had seen him together. Largely, at least it seemed to me, the sessions were about what I could do to help my wife be satisfied. Now, I learned that the counselor had known my wife was having an affair.

My anger was misplaced. I am now quite certain that he was very blunt with her during their individual sessions, and he was ethically prohibited from telling me. He had encouraged her to tell me, but that was all he could do. Still, I felt like I had been played a fool, spinning my wheels and jumping through hoops for a year, when if I had known the truth we could have been addressing a different issue.

I got those feelings off my chest and we were then steered to the matter at hand. The counselor began by assuring us that we could get past this, with a lot of help and very hard work. Then I got to vent. He said -- to both of us -- that it was important that my wife understand the pain she had caused and that the affair would dominate our thoughts and therapy in the short run, and I had to understand that in due time we would need to return to issues in our marriage where we shared fault and that helped create an environment where an affair was more likely to take place. He also said that I needed the truth, the whole truth.

We made a deal. Wife agreed to answer my questions about the affair truthfully, however painful. I agreed that I would have limited time -- so many days -- to raise such questions, and after that time I would not ask her any more sordid details.

Two things were mose shocking. One was that there had been other relationships. None of those had been sexual, but she admitted that she had gotten closer to a couple of other guys than was proper. She wasn't ready yet to categorize them as emotional affairs, but they were.

Second, in the only detail about sexual practices I wanted to know, it had included oral. That bothered me on a completely different level. It just seemed more intimate, violative.

I learned the whens and wheres, their routines. When it started, how long it had gone on, that sort of thing.

I would not have been able to go on without getting these answers, but getting into the dirty details made me just disgusted with my wife. For a while I saw her as dirty and could hardly bear to look at her. I started wondering if this was huge mistake and if I could ever have any respect for her again. Those feelings faded over time, but it still affects me. I do not see my wife as spoiled any more -- on the contrary, she is pure. She has repented and has been forgiven by God and by me. But, our sex life today has a lid on it. Just an example, I would not want her to talk dirty in bed because it would remind me too much of who she used to be.

For the next few weeks, I bounced back and forth between fury and self-loathing. I was so angry at her, at the other guy, at God, at the world, at myself -- it consumed me. Then I would feel not angry, but almost understanding. That thought process went like this -- She cheated, so I must be a loser. And if I'm such a loser, no wonder she cheated. I just don't have what it takes.

I've never been a big guy. Since college I've bounced between 140 and 150 pounds. Over the next 8 weeks I dropped to 125 pounds and a 29 inch waist. My frailty only increased my conviction that I was not sexy, not attractive, not loved, and not a man.

Chapter 4 - Sunday, D-day +1

Ah, the next day. Two nights without sleep, and I was scheduled to teach Sunday School that morning. I could have called in sick, but I taught the lesson to our young couples' class. I don't remember what it was about, but I do know that I never taught with more passion or more love for God.

I didn't feel much love for anybody when I got home. Wife had not gone to church. I don't remember how we spent the afternoon except that our son got back from his grandparents somehow. He was 3 or so at the time.

This, I don't recommend to anyone. My wife was getting beligerant, defensive. She told me a youth counselor had abused her as a teenager. That made me furious that she would bring it up at the time. What an awful, traumatic thing for her to go through, but she had never told me before, and all I could think was that she was trying to draw attention away from what she had done. She was also telling me what a crappy husband I had been all these years. She was trying to change the subject.

Enough, I thought, and let her have it with a continuous flow of lovebusters (if you don't know what that is, see Dr. Harley's web site, I asked her if she realized I would have to be treated for STD's. I asked her where our son was when she was (insert inappropriate graphic description of what I was imagining they had done, which pretty much turned out to be correct). What did she think I was doing at work when she was (ditto). Etc., etc. She cried for the first time.

I don't claim that I did the right thing, but during and after that conversation she seemed to realize what she had done and what it had cost, what she had let herself become. I later learned that she had to deal with guilt and self-doubt all during the affair, but soon after she was confronted her walls went up. Coming face-to-face with it, hearing me use words I had never used before, opened her eyes.

One other thing I remember about that day. We rode together to the post-office. I had said I wanted the crap I had found out of our house. She said we should return them to the other guy. I was in the process of telling her that it was out of the question, when I had an idea. I put it in an envelope and addressed to the other guy at his workplace, and put my son's name on the post mark. It wouldn't give anything away, but it would sure as hell send a message to him. Not smart, I know, but it felt good. I had to pay a lot and for a long time for these things I did that felt good at the time.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Chapter 3 - D-day part 3

This is all such a blur - and that's a good thing.

That afternoon, we went together to a book store and bought copies of Torn Assunder, a book our counselor had mentioned on the phone that morning. It was all so up and down that day. On that trip, I was full of optimism. I was relieved to know what was going on. I was hurt and devastated too, and still in shock. I felt every emotion you can feel.

As soon as we got home, I was furious. I was so mad at her I could hardly speak. She asked if she should leave me alone for a while and I remember telling her, "I'm so angry about all this we probably shouldn't be together for a little while, but I don't know what I want. I don't want to look at you and I don't want you out of my sight either." We actually laughed.

She went over to a friend's house who had really been encouraging to my wife when she was thinking of leaving the marriage. By that I mean this friend encouraged my wife to stick it out. My wife did not confide in this friend about the affair, I trusted the friend and her husband to give Godly counsel and my trust was well placed. (The irony? This friend just filed for divorce and is having an affair. Just goes to show . . . )

She came back, I moved into a spare room in the basement, and went to sleep.

That day was awful, just terrible. But the funny thing is, it was better than not knowing. I knew things were wrong and couldn't figure it out. No matter what I did in the year before D-day, I couldn't get through to her. Nothing made sense. But from the moment I knew, yeah it sucked, but at least I knew, and that was better.

I had a gut impulse to tell everyone I knew. I thought that shame might keep her from renewing the relationship, if it was really over, or ending it once and for all it was not. I don't know if this is the right answer for anyone else, but I'm so glad I didn't. I confided in a family member -- just one -- my counselor and my pastor. This was really God working in me, my desire to talk was so great. But, it would have been so much harder if we had been in the spotlight.

And that's just one of the ways God was working in the situation. If I had discovered the affair a few months earlier, I don't think I would have been strong enough to attempt reconciliation. I even had a counseling session scheduled for first thing Monday morning (D day was a Saturday), so we wouldn't have to wait long to get help. He was so, so good to us.

So as of the end of D-day, I knew and she knew that I knew. She had told the other guy that she wasn't going to see him any more, but I did not know if she meant it. We had bought Torn Assunder to start working through stuff, so I thought the chances of it being real were much greater than not.

Thus marked the beginning of a roller coaster ride from hell that I wouldn't wish on anybody, but -- given the choices that we had -- I thank God that he worked a miracle in our marriage and that we did not take the easy road and simply walk away.

Intermission - How things are now

Before I talk more about D-day ("discovery day"), I need to remind myself of where we are. I still have emotions I haven't completely dealt with from back then, and going through it in detail has kind of bummed me out.

But that was then, this is now.

Today, we have a good life together and love each other very much. I would not say we are healed, but -- I'm not psychologist -- I don't think you ever completely heal from something like this. You can put more and more time behind you and let go of more and more each day, but there will never be a time that I do not bear scars from what we went through. Hearing about someone having an affair, for example, will always affect me differently having faced it personally. I will never, ever desire to be friends, or even see, the other guy. So some change is permanent.

But I don't obsess about the affair. I don't wonder where my wife is every minute of every day. I don't feel like there's a third person in our relationship -- not anymore. These feelings ebbed over time until now it is a bad memory. It doesn't seem so personal anymore, like it is something that somebody did to me. It feels more like we went through a bad storm or car accident that was scarey and painful, but we went through it together and survived it together.

We're different people than we were a few years ago, and almost all the changes are good ones. Our relationship is stronger than ever. Want proof? We're talking about a second child. She's gone of the pill and has bought maternity clothes. You don't do that if you are not planning on sticking around.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Chapter 2 - D-day part 2

So she walks in the door, sees me sitting in the living room (obviously not sick) and her eyes start cutting around the room, like she's looking for something. I ask her to sit down, say I'm not sick, and that I had to get her home alone so we could talk about something. She sits down next to me, very uncomfortable.

I tell her that I want to begin by assuring her that in my opinion there was nothing that we could not work through or forgive if we really wanted to, but that she absolutely had to tell me the truth about some things I needed to ask her. "I need you to tell me, once and for all, if there is someone else."

She said, "I will admit that there is an inappropriate relationship." Now that my radar was up, I recognized the double-talk, the half-truths, that I had been getting for so long. Plus, I had the notes I had found, which were not graphic but left no doubt that the relationship had become sexual. I asked her again to tell me the truth; same answer. Then I pulled out the enelope I had put under the couch cushion and started reading the notes to her. She finally said, "OK! It was sexual! What do you want me to say?"

"How about the truth?"

"That is the truth."

Here the blur starts -- there was a 5 or 10 minute conversation, a little about who it was (I already knew), how long it had gone on, just some of the bare basics. She asked what I was doing looking in her stuff; I said other people's honesty did not concern her at the moment. We both probably said some pointed things, but it did not get too heated or out of hand. My prayers for keeping my temper were being answered.

Then I remember telling her, without being sure that I meant it, and without knowing what I hoped she would say, that she had to decide whether or not to stay in this marriage, and the only condition on which I was willing to work on the marriage was if there was a complete end to any relationship she had to the other guy.

She paused. I had no earthly idea what she was going to say. I just knew her decision would have a lot to do with how the rest of my life would turn out. She looked at me and said, "I want to give us a shot."

"Then you have to end it."

"I want to see him to say good-bye."

"No, it won't be in person. If we are going to have a chance, then you have already had your last meeting with him."

So she calls him. She picks up the phone and dials the number I've already memorized. I'm in the next room, and I can't hear everything, but I can hear the tone. It was hushed, business-like, like "I've-got-to-tell-you-something-important-and-have-to-make-it-quick."

After they hung up she came in the room and sat across from me. She said, "I did it. Now what?"

Now what indeed.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Chapter 1 - D-day

January 2002. My wife and our son had gone to her parents for the weekend. After work on Friday night, I went to see Lord of the Rings. Near the end of the movie, I suddenly came to the realization that my wife was cheating on me. I don't think it was anything on screen that made me see what I had not yet seen, but there was just a moment when all of the clues came together in my subconscious mind, and I was as sure of it as anything.

We had been having serious trouble for over a year. Really, longer than that, but I had only been clued into the situtation for a little over a year.

After our son was born, my wife suffered post-partem depression and had a bugger of a time. I didn't know what it was or how to support her and did a piss-poor job of whatever feeble attempts I mustered up. We started drifting, and while I felt it, I didn't realize the extent of the problem. So one day she tells me she is not sure that she wants to stay married, but she denies being involved with anyone. We start marriage counseling and individual counseling, and all of 2001 was up and down. I would think things would be getting better, then it was clear that it was not. There was so much I didn't know, but I knew my marriage was in trouble and in very real danger of collapsing. I just didn't know why.

In that theater, watching Lord of the Rings, all the snide comments, the missing time, the avoidance, the evasiveness, all came together. I had been in denial, when the truth had been staring me right in the face. I went home and tore the house apart, because I knew with her packrat instincts there would be evidence. I found it - a large envelope with cards, notes, ticket stubs, and photos. She was so busted.

I just sat there on the side of the bed, shaking and crying, looking at the mementos. It may have been a minute, it may have been a half-hour. It was near midnight by then I think. I put everything back in the envelope and stomped down to the basement to get a suitcase. I was going to pack her stuff, I guess, which is rediculous because her shoes alone would require a U-Haul.

About half-way down the stairs, I realized that my family's future depended on how we handled these next few hours and days. God spoke to me that night, although I did not recognize it as his voice. While I believe that adultery is a legitimate reason for divorce in God's eyes, that doesn't mean it has to be. My focus immediately turned from kicking her out, to fighting for my family.

I had to handle this right, but with strength. No begging.

I knew I needed the goods. The first thing I did was figure out who it was. The photos, taken during a hike, told me nothing - I didn't recognize the guy, and there was no one I knew about in her life that made me suspicious. So I found cell phone records, got on the web site for a list of names of people in her department at work, and went through the white pages until I found a match. The other man has been identified.

Next, thinking like the lawyer I am, I prepared for the worst case scenario. I can ask her to end it with dickwad and give us a chance, but she might not want to. I needed evidence if I was going to prove adultery in court. Now it's 2 or 3 in the morning, I know I'm not thinking straight, but I thought what I really needed was to copy all the crap I had found. So I went to the office and copied every scrap.

Back home, and now I wait until morning so I can call her. The plan is to tell her I was sick, to see if she could leave our son at her parents for the day and come home to give me a hand. The goal was to get her alone but not to raise her suspicions until she got home. I started praying that I would be level headed, that I could contain my anger, and that she would agree to end the affair and work toward reconciliation. I prayed the rest of the night, begging God to help me not blow it. I wanted to hit her, to scream, to call her a whore, but I knew she had to see that very morning that reconciliation was possible, that forgiveness was possible.

Seven o'clock, I call, tell her what I had planned, and she sounds concerned. Says she will leave as soon as she got dressed. So I knew I had about an hour to wait.

I found our counselor's number at home, called him and told him my plan, which was to tell her that I knew about the affair, that I wanted to work it out, but that she had to end it right then, that very minute. The counselor convinced me that, while an ultimatum was perfectly appropriate, there was nothing wrong with a little more time, so 24 hours.

I got a shower, got dressed, hid the spare car keys (don't ask why, I don't know -- it made sense to me at the time), and wait for her to drive up.

First post

It's been almost 4 years since I learned that my wife was having an affair. I will never forget that moment, and at that moment I never would have thought we would be married -- happily married -- 4 years later. [edit -- now almost 6 years later]

We've healed a great deal since then, but I still want to tell my story, even if nobody hears it. We were smart and kept our private lives private, so I don't have anyone to talk to. So, I started a blog. It's a chance to do a little self-checkup. Plus, maybe there's a couple out there whose world has just been rocked and they're wondering if a happy ending is possible. It is, but it's been a hard road. Worth it, but hard.

So here's to us, for surviving. And here's to the anonymity of the web.

[Edit - By the way, sometimes I get a little steamed when I'm writing, and the language may be a little raw. Sorry about that. Taking myself back to difficult times raises old emotions, but they are old and it is not in any way what I'm feeling now.]