My story: Dregs of trust

Stock image, courtesy of Flickr.com; some rights reserved.
Stock image, courtesy of Flickr.com; some rights reserved.

I found out about my husband’s multi-year affair in 2012, a few months before our 18th wedding anniversary. In the year or two before that, there was a very long stretch when I was barely functioning, I was so deeply depressed. I was recovering from a long period of being virtually catatonic with grief over a runaway daughter, stressed by a mother with dementia who lived with us, a little wobbly socially at “coming out” publicly as an atheist, and I was also dealing with menopause and fresh diagnoses of diabetes and arthritis. I was feeling old and gross and angry and sad. I was even — for the first time in my life — managing badly at work, forgetful and unorganized and about as big of a mess as you can imagine.

We were also in dire financial straits. He handled the money badly, and we were about to lose our house, so he was working two and then (over my protests) three jobs to try to make ends meet. He was tired and stressed and feeling unappreciated. I was angry at him for wanting praise for his hard work — which he took on to fix the financial mess he got us into.

(There’s some dispute between us who got us into financial troubles. I bought paint for a home office, which infuriated him, and I was in the hospital for five days with a terrible kidney problem, kidney stones and pneumonia. That’s it. That doesn’t get us $16,000 and then $32,000 and then finally $64,000 behind on our mortgage.) [Edited to add: I eventually lost my job during that period. Although I got another, it was a big, big, big pay cut. I know now that this was a large part of our financial problems. But I was too depressed at the time to take on a second job, search aggressively for a better-paying one, or deal with the finances and the harsh realities myself. I wish I hadn’t left it all in his hands. He couldn’t and didn’t cope with it. So the short version is: It was both our fault. And there were extenuating circumstances. And it overburdened both of us.]

He didn’t see my clinical depression. He believed I was ignoring him to be punitive about the money; he didn’t see just how little I had left in me. And neither did I, frankly.

Instead of getting me help, or even talking to me directly and admitting how helpless and stressed and angry he felt, he made the assumption that my distance was just my love drying up for him. So he looked for affection somewhere else. He even had the nerve to recommend a slightly racy book to me that a friend (his hootchie mama) had suggested to him. I tore that book into postage-stamp bits when I realized who the “friend” was. I still get a bolt of anger and pain when I hear someone recommend any of the “50 Shades of Grey” books or movies.

He said at first she was “just a friend.” Then there was the post-affair-discovery day when I looked back at old phone bills and showed him just how much he had been in constant contact with her (100+ text messages in the two hours right before I picked up his phone by mistake and saw the sexting). He then said the ONLY healing thing he’s ever said about the whole affair. “My God. I had no idea. I’m so sorry.”

He finally accepted and admitted that he really had an intimate emotional relationship with another woman that was entirely inappropriate. He said it was an “emotional affair” that probably would have ended up in bed at some point, but it hadn’t yet. I told him that was cold comfort, and I still don’t quite believe him. Not that it really matters. Betrayal and abandonment are still betrayal and abandonment.

I never threw him out of the house, but it’s not been easy. Ups and down. A lot of downs. A *whole* lot of downs.

We have good days. Some. There are more of them lately. We have average days a lot. We have bad days more than I’d like.

Today I’m tired and felt a little moony about his affair and our limping-along marriage again, so I dragged out an old YouTube playlist of “love done me wrong” songs. I can’t explain well why it’s cathartic to get a lump in my throat and work while I listen to these songs:

Ones I imagine me singing (if I could carry a tune):

  • “Cheater, Cheater” by Joey + Rory
  • “Stay” by Sugarland
  • “Consider Me Gone” by Reba McEntire
  • “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” sung by Tank
  • “Goodbye Earl” by the Dixie Chicks
  • “Didn’t You Know How Much I Loved You” by Kellie Pickler
  • “Not Ready to Make Nice” by the Dixie Chicks
  • “When I’m Gone” by Anna Kendrick
  • “You Lie” by The Band Perry
  • “Consider Me Gone” by Reba McEntire
  • “A Little Bit Stronger” by Sara Evans
  • “That’s Who I Am (Rosemary’s Granddaughter)” by Jessica Andrews
  • “Mama’s Broken Heart” by Miranda Lambert (which made me smile and also hurt)

… and the one that zings me the most, because it goes to the tenderest, most broken part of me …

  • “Because of You” by Reba McEntire

I guess it’s because the songs put to words the pain, rage, regret, bitterness and more that I still feel.

Here are two songs I imagine him singing (if he could put his heart into words): “Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart” by Randy Travis.

Basically, he’s told me that he loves me, he’s doing everything he can (he’s not — it’s just all he’s willing to do), and he hopes that I will stay married to him and can still care for him.

I love him. But …

I have tried for a long time to pin down my thoughts and feelings about this marriage and this man. Most of the time he’s been a good man with a tender heart. Weak of character, but not a bad man.

Really, he’s only done this one bad thing. This terrible, confidence-crushing, esteem-erasing, love-banishing betrayal.

Of course, the affair was a symptom of a marriage with flaws. We communicated poorly. I’m a strong-willed expressive person. I have plenty of my own flaws. He’s a passionate man who stuffed down his angers instead of expressing small hurts or irritations to me over the years. When I faltered and fell into depression, he shrugged off the marriage and stayed in it — just in case I improved — but started making his contingency plans to get his own needs met.

Just to be clear: I take full responsibility for my part in our marriage’s flaws, and I expect him to do the same for his share. But I put the actual affair 100% in his lap — his choice, his fault, his flaw, his failure, his incredible betrayal and selfishness.

I brought my own baggage into this relationship, as we all do. It took me a long, long time in the early years of our marriage to believe he was here for good, and we had a “til death do you part” relationship. I eventually relaxed into the love and life of our marriage to the point that I used to grin when I got to work for this silly reason: I often parked behind a nice man’s pickup truck with a PromiseKeepers bumper sticker on it. I would think, “That’s nice, but my husband doesn’t need to put on a bumper sticker for me to know what he stands for.”

Smug much? Well … a little. I used to be, with a tiny smile to myself.

I used to think if he were the type to sing country songs (he’s not), he’d sing this for me: “Deeper than the Holler” or “Forever and Ever Amen,” both by Randy Travis.

I was that secure for 18 years. Only he didn’t deserve four of those years. And I’ve been in pain, grief, anger and troughs of depression for so long. I’ve been uncertain for the years since I found out. We’ll pass our 21st wedding anniversary next month.

I don’t want to walk away from this marriage. But I also can’t pretend that I feel the same way I used to feel about him or think the same admiring thoughts I used to think about him. My deal for him is that he broke my trust. This level of “recovery” seems like it is going to be as good as it gets for me. Some wounds don’t heal completely. Some things don’t get fixed perfectly. If they do, I don’t know how to make them or let them.

I go to therapy, and so does he.

I think he’s willing to take whatever I will give. He now gets impatient and a little angry (under control, but still there) when I mention something that triggered me or I try to talk about some grief or anger I’m going through. One time this summer when I was crying and telling him about some blue thought I was experiencing, he stayed a little stiff, mad and reserved while I talked. Then he threw it up to me that at least HE had never struck me in anger as I did on the day I found out he’d texted her 35 times on my birthday that year and about as many on our anniversary. (I went back 18 months in phone records. There’s a period after finding out about an affair where you kind of lose your mind. It was brief for me, but I went there. I thought about delivering those records to the other woman’s husband, but decided I wasn’t that kind of person. I’m not responsible for the integrity of her marriage.)

While I was rocked back on my heels by his little dig at how I’d physically hurt him once, I mentioned that he was right and that I wish I had not lashed out. And then I said, but at least I’ve never had an affair. Not for one day, three days, or four years, as he did. Which was the greater failure? The greater breach of trust in our marriage? One inexcusable bite? Or years of secret “fuck-yous” to his wife while cozying up to another woman?

He nodded. He gets it. Reluctantly.

I have always been faithful and it hadn’t occurred to me to be otherwise. Sure, I’ve seen some friendly, funny, smart, sexy guys, and I have friends. But I’ve got integrity and I’m smart enough to treasure what I have rather than look wistfully on the other side of the fence. There’s always greener pastures somewhere, you know? I believe in honoring what you have, or in separating with integrity if the marriage can’t be saved.

So why — if I really do want to continue our relationship of more than 2 decades — do I still feel so very reserved with him?

I’m not sure, but this is part of it: I still grieve losing the marriage that I **thought** I had. I’m still very hurt. And I’m still very angry. Three years out from the day I picked up his phone by mistake and my heart stopped and my blood ran cold. And still today, I can listen to a sad love song and feel the tears well up. Or watch a movie or read a book with some unfaithful character, and it’s pain and anger stabbing me all over again.

Pain gets muted with time, but it doesn’t leave, apparently.

I do not trust him completely as I used to do. But I think I won’t trust anyone completely again. And what’s more, I don’t even trust my own perceptions. He carried on his affair right under my nose. Sickening.

And I don’t know whether to stay in a marriage that has equal measures of pain and comfort, or to leave for the great big unknown of a different life. Keep the pain, or accept the loneliness?

At first after the affair revelation, I made a conscious choice NOT to leave my marriage for at least that first year. I read and still believe that it’s not a good time to make hasty life-altering decisions in the heat of the moment.

And now, three years later, we have drifted into some kind of distant, fairly comfortable but not awesome relationship. We have a laugh together sometimes, and then I get a bolt of anger inside him for being the same guy who hurt he so badly. Everything is tainted. It’s very hard NOT to catastrophize and assume it will always be tainted.

I have one child (grown) from a previous marriage. And he and I have one child together (almost grown). When she leaves for college in 2016, I have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen at my house. Will we just stare at each other and realize that the bad outweighs the good? Will he work harder to repair the grievous damage he’s done to me and to us? And what will I do myself — how do I stop hurting and feeling rejected and old? And how do I balance my hatred of him for his infidelity with our shared history of more than 20 years of love and family life?

No idea. Truly.

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