I was sitting at my desk at work, fingers poised on the keyboard. I took a deep breath and entered in my best guess for my husband's email password. One click later, I found out I was right -- about both his password and my hunch that he was having an affair. I've never in my life wished more that I had been wrong.
Once I had hacked into his email account and then his Twitter account, I couldn't stop reading. There were just so many messages. There were conversations about books and music but also graphic descriptions of sex and, most painfully, declarations of love and yearning. I read until I couldn't anymore and then walked to my car. I sat, sobbing, in the parking lot as afternoon turned to evening. My cell phone pinged with a message from my husband:
"Hey hon, r u on the way? XO"
It was the XO at the end that turned my sorrow at finding out that my marriage was a lie into burning hot anger. I drove home on autopilot, thinking the whole time about the names I would call him, wondering if I was capable of slapping him hard enough that he would hurt as badly as I did. I imagined handling this like a movie heroine, throwing him out and then setting his clothes on fire. I drove home thinking, "This is it, the last day of our marriage. The last day I drive home to my husband."
I walked into the house to see him, the liar, the cheater, the asshole, tenderly combing our daughter's hair. She was resting her head on his leg and they were singing her favorite song together. She looked like every inch the daddy's girl that she is, and the gentleness that he used to coax a stubborn tangle out of her hair reminded me of how much he loved her and had since her first breath.
The liar. The cheater. The father of my children.
In that moment, I knew three things to be true: my husband was a great father, my husband had broken my heart, and figuring out what to do next was going to be far more complicated than I had thought.
In the days that followed, after I confronted him and the terrible truth spilled out, I was never certain I was doing the right thing. I asked him to move out, but I also asked him to come home every morning to take the kids to school like usual and to stay for dinner every night. I told him to see a counselor but refused to go to marriage counseling. I moved money out of our joint account and into a separate account in my name and tried to figure out if I could afford to stay in the house without him. I tried to imagine life without him. I tried to imagine life with him. The thought of ever kissing him again seemed impossible. I mostly thought about the kids and what was best for them.
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Those first days and weeks after finding out about the affair were some of the loneliest of my life. Even though I had done nothing wrong, I felt shame and embarrassment that kept me from confiding in my friends. My uncertainty about the future and the tiny glimmer of hope I had that we might be able to make it through this kept me silent. What if I told and then we got back together? Would my friends -- OUR friends -- hate him forever? I think I was also afraid to say it out loud, that saying my husband cheated would make it even more real. I wanted to tell them that I hated him, despised him, would never love him again, but I couldn't help but hope that maybe I could love him again someday. Love is messy. Marriage is messy. Affairs are REALLY, really messy.
It has been just over a year since the day I opened his email. We are, for now, still together. We parent well together and we get along with each other. He still makes me laugh. I can go days and even weeks now without thinking about the affair and the other woman. And then there are days I hear him typing on the computer and I feel sick to my stomach and I wonder if I will ever trust him again.
I know something now that I didn't then. There is no template for how to handle an affair. There is no perfect script. Real life isn't a movie, and setting his clothes on fire will probably get you arrested. Instead, you do the best you can to take care of yourself, to take care of your children, and to keep getting up every morning until the day it doesn't hurt quite as badly as before.
In time, you discover if your marriage is broken or just bent, taking on a new shape, a new normal. And, if you are really lucky, someday you figure out how to forgive and learn how to live with the knowledge that someone can both love you deeply and cheat on you.
Love is messy. Marriage is messy. Life goes on.