I keep coming back to Shiri’s comment on our open thread the other day. It is the idea that there are going to be sustained periods of your relationship where things just aren’t great. That’s the nature of promising forever while still being human. They key, of course, is to know how long is too long and how much “not great” you’re willing to live through. Infidelity is often lumped into a category outside this spectrum, usually under the umbrella of unforgivables. And there’s a lot of shame around choosing to stay after a partner has cheated. But I’m inclined to agree with Mari here that there has to be room for some grey area on this one. I know not everyone will agree with me, and that’s just fine. But I think, as Mari says, that we should be able to have these conversations, without the concern of stigma or judgment, in order to make the best decisions for our relationships.
Three months before our wedding I found out that my then-fiancé had cheated on me. It came as a total and utter shock. I felt like I had been punched in the gut. When I first received the news I started hyperventilating and began pacing from one room in our apartment to the next, as if the next room would hold the calmness and clarity that had suddenly been sucked out of my world. I had no idea that the man I believed was perfect for me, a man who seemed so dedicated to me, the man I was about to marry, had had an affair during the first few months of our relationship.
I thought I had known almost everything important there was to know about him. I was one hundred percent sure he would never do something like this to me—the thought never even crossed my mind. The revelation that he had been with someone else while we were together was earth shattering for me, and I felt utterly disillusioned and betrayed. I felt like a fool. And yet at the same time, I knew that I was still going to marry him. I knew that I would not leave him. It’s hard to explain, and I know it sounds ridiculous even as I write this, but we had been together for three wonderful years at that point, we were great together, and I felt a certainty that he would not jeopardize our relationship again.
My fiancé apologized at length. He explained that it had been a confusing time for him, how he didn’t mean to hurt me and how deeply he regretted his past actions. He told me he was head over heels in love with me and had never in his life been more excited about anything as he was for our wedding day.
It wasn’t easy, of course. It’s taken a lot of time, a lot of talking, and a lot of tears to get through this, and it is probably something that I will continue to struggle with for a long time. I continue to deal with insecurity and, at times, fears that it could happen again. He works hard to remind me that I am everything to him and that it will never happen again. We have slowly been picking up the pieces and rebuilding the trust that is an integral part of any successful relationship. We know that without it, we won’t be able to function.
What’s made this whole process of healing and overcoming infidelity more difficult has been that I didn’t and still don’t feel as though there is anyone I can talk to about this. I feel like even my most understanding friends and family members, while providing a comforting ear, would silently judge me for staying with someone who cheated on me. In romantic comedies, the guy or girl usually leaves the scummy cheater to be with someone better (Wedding Crashers, The Wedding Singer, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall all spring to mind). In my life, I still fear that others would somehow pity me if they knew what my fiancé had done.
I’ve felt totally alone in this, but surely I can’t be? The General Social Survey, an annual survey that has tracked US social behaviour since 1972, finds that about ten percent of married couples are involved in infidelity every year. But it seems to me that until a couple gets divorced, infidelity is rarely spoken about. If this is something that is going on in one out of ten couples every year, then why can’t we talk about it? And why can’t we talk more publicly about ways of overcoming it?
I know that I used to think less of relationships where one partner cheated on the other, thinking that one must have decided to settle for less than perfect. I know there are lots of reasons why people stray from their marriages, and I know there are a lot of reasons to end relationships that are not working. But I now know there are also very valid reasons for staying together and working it out. I just hope that more people are able to have an honest discussion about infidelity and are able decide whether their relationship is worth saving. Mine was.
Editor’s Note: Infidelity is one of those tricky topics that can be a painful trigger for some of us. As always, we ask everyone to please respect the author’s choices and frame comments in a way that speaks from your own personal experiences without shaming anyone else for theirs.
Photo by Gabriel Harber Photography (APW Sponsor)