What Happened When I Fell in Love with Someone Else While I Was Married

bride walking toward groom

I fell head over heels with my sweetheart (let’s call him S.) in ways that I had only dreamed possible. He made me laugh until my gut hurt. He made me think about things in new and interesting ways. When my shoulder brushed against him, lightning shot through my body. When we kissed for the first time, my knees literally went out from underneath me. When we first made love (and it was making love, from the first), everything just fit in ways that left me trembling, tearful, and understanding, for the first time, this was what the big deal was. He found my clumsiness endearing, he thought I was the most beautiful woman he had ever known and told me so. All fear of saying something that was the “WRONG ANSWER” disappeared in the incredible peace and rightness of being myself in our easy togetherness.

Suddenly we got it. Ohhhhhh, said we, THIS is what this whole soul mate thing is about: The utter inevitability of being together, the utter insufficiency of any words or poetry to capture this…. LOVE. LOVE! LOVE! Accidentally in love…. THIS! Together could never be close enough. Forever could never be long enough. People who feel like this should get married and grow old together (even though we already were a little bit old). People who feel like this would (of course!) have joyous and tearful weddings and shout their love from the rooftops!

The only thing was that we were already married.

To other people.

I am a cheater. There I said it. I cheated on my first/ex-husband. And I really don’t regret it.

I’m not saying I don’t have any guilt: I am deeply sad about the devastation I caused my ex-husband. I feel terrible about dragging our children through a divorce. I wish at our wedding my husband and I could have told cute stories about how we met, instead of repeating a vague set of disinfected talking points that have become our “how we got together” story. Our beginning seems sordid and unworthy of the incredibly wonderful and honest relationship we have had for many years now. I most regret that my husband might have to doubt my ability to uphold a vow to be faithful to him because I’ve already shown my capacity to ignore such a vow.

The real story is that we both work overseas in development, and we were back in the States for a conference. I thought he was the most handsome man I had ever seen, and then he sat next to me and made me laugh all day. We went to dinner to “talk shop.” I realized I had a big-time crush and needed to be very careful. I decided not to hang out at the bar where he might be, where I might have a drink, and where I might be vulnerable. The next day, I came down with some knarly germs I had dragged in from the field. He was in the lobby of the hotel when I staggered through the door with a fever of 103.

He took me upstairs, tucked me into my bed and stayed with me all night, taking care of me as I vomited and shat my guts out. He brought me soup and meds and gentle kindness. In those long hours of the early morning when I felt so bad I thought I might die, I admitted my marriage was shit, that I didn’t respect my do-nothing, high-spending, quasi-abusive husband.

I admitted, out loud, that I was desperately alone in my marriage. My ex-husband never told me I was beautiful. He never kissed me. Literally, never. We were sexually incompatible, intellectually out of sync. Since he had seen me give birth he said he could never see me as a sexual person again and had to hold his nose and close his eyes to get it up. I had shared, talked, reasoned, begged, screamed, cried, thrown down ultimatums. Nothing was changing. I was afraid that my soul was dying, but I was terrified of losing my two children. I confessed that I had known I was making a mistake as I walked down the aisle, and I did it anyway.

I admitted that night to him and to myself that I was fast heading for divorce.

He listened without judgment. Saw me. Held my hand. He cried with me and told me his own story, which was similar.

Excuses? Explanations? Is there a difference?

By the end of the week-long conference, the illness was gone, and this amazing man and I were completely, totally, and accidentally in love. We had spent the week holding hands and cuddling… not kissing. Sleeping next to each other, but not together, joking that we were having a “platonic affair,” clinging to those last boundaries that would keep us from being bona fide adulterers. The last night of the conference we finally gave in to the excruciating tension. We kissed and held each other and made love for hours before getting onto our respective airplanes and winging back to our real lives… countries apart. As we said goodbye we wept and held each other like the world was ending (it was) and I whispered: “See you on the other side.” We had no idea what that meant. We were determined to keep this love in a little box somewhere where we could take it out and know that love is real, and that we had gotten to have it, if only for a few days. At least we had gotten to have it at all. That was something.

Days later, on the other side, there was an email from him waiting for me. Then there was a Skype chat; then an SMS. Before we knew it, all of our plans to keep the affair an isolated event started breaking down. Our lives with our spouses went on. We sneaked around. We pretended. We picked fights and bought gifts for them to assuage our guilt. We longed and silently exploded with joy as the next word came in, holding onto stolen moments as if our lives depended on it (they did). We both have children we desperately love, and so we despaired and worried together. We mourned the ION, the Impossibility of Never: we couldn’t be together; we couldn’t not be together.

We behaved dishonestly and dishonorably for months. We even sneaked a vacation together, and it was as wonderful as that first week. Better. My heart shifted and like a lock, clicked solidly, permanently into place.

He broke first, confessed, and got separated. Weeks later, I followed. I didn’t tell my ex-husband the whole truth. He discovered when I accidentally left my phone at home. All eight of us (us, our exes, our four children) walked through the valley of death that is divorce. I was grateful to have a hand to hold and the knowledge that we would be able to be together to pull me through. I don’t know how our exes survived.

We worried about each other, about ourselves… Once a cheater always a cheater? Are we doomed to fail because of they way we began? Are we making this relationship more than it is to justify our behavior? Was I just looking for a bridge to freedom? Is he a rebound? Am I dragging my children into heartbreak? Am I impossibly selfish? Is this an orgy of codependency?

As soon as it was possible (and frankly, just on the inner edge of tasteful) we moved to the same country and moved in together. I’m not sorry.

Many years later, here we are on the other side. Married. Blissful. Crazy in love. I am more peaceful and stronger than I have ever been in my life. He is shining with joy. Our parents know. We were ashamed to tell them but we did confess. His father, staunchly Catholic, was Deeply Disappointed. Their relationship continues to be stilted and he didn’t come to the wedding.

My mom said: “What were you going to do? S. is so obviously your One. You were in a stinking hole of a marriage and you saw how it could be. This was an act of self-preservation.” His mother sees it the same way.

Somehow we have made it work with all of the kids, and they were psyched and earnest at our wedding. My 16-year-old stepson was the best man, and in his toast he said that I am the most fun ever and that when his dad and I are together we’re the happiest people in the world.

No. I’m not sorry.

I don’t believe in breaking promises. I believe that one of the gifts of the type of marriage that I want is the magic of having a separate and dedicated space with only the two of us in it. I believe that we can make that happen. I have no desire to ever be with anyone else.

But, I also know that life is long and biology isn’t helping us out with this monogamy thing. I know that both of us (and in fact, all of us) have it in us to cheat. Because S. and I already crossed that line once, we are even more careful about nurturing our relationship. We connect every single day—especially when we are travelling. We are extra deliberate about detecting and deflecting innocent flirtations. We are diligent about being exciting and adventurous sexual partners for each other. We listen closely for the signs of neglect and loneliness.

I believe, in some sad way, being a cheater is making me a better wife.

Photo by: Moodeous Photography

** A Note On Comments: I know this post may be hard for many readers, as lots of us have been hurt by cheating at one point or another in our lives. I’m hoping that we can have a vibrant conversation about the topic while staying both civil and kind, and listening to each other. While we ask you not leave any comments attacking the writer of the post, who was brave enough to speak openly about the topic, please feel free to leave comments about your own experience, or about infidelity as a general topic. Thanks! —The APW Team **

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  • Dear OP,

    Thank you for posting your story. I hope your reception here will be respectful. I, for one, want to commend you for recognizing that the relationship you were in was destructive for you.

    From this post you sound as if you have fully felt and understood the consequences of what happened (not just of your deeds, because it was not just your deeds that made this come out the way it did).

    I hope your current marriage will be all you hope it to be. May you always have the clarity to see which bonds have the power to destroy you, and act in accordance with that insight.

    Also, thanks for broaching the topic of infidelity. I think we could all stand to talk about it more.

  • Lauren

    Wow – what a brave and honest post. Thank you for sharing.

  • A lot of what you have written here is echoed in the relationship my husband’s father has with his wife. He is deeply religious (a pastor, in fact) so it can’t have been easy to decide to get a divorce (as if it’s ever easy) but he says he and his now wife felt they owed it to their children to show them what a loving, healthy marriage could look like. If they’d stayed with their respective partners, they would have been nothing but a model of unhappiness and compromise. Instead, they are a shining example of two soulmates who have found each other and who work hard every single day, just as you’ve described, to keep their relationship as strong and respectful as it has always been.

    I won’t say it hasn’t been hard for my husband; there is an added element of geographical distance which meant he had to grow up without his father around for most of the time. There has been a lot of resentment and pain, and there is no doubt that while it’s worked out great for his dad, it has been pretty shit for his mum. But seeing my father-in-law and his wife together reaffirms everything my husband and I want for our marriage, and I think that is something very precious.

    Thanks for sharing your story so honestly. It has helped me understand even more the relationship between my in-laws and I wish you every happiness together.

  • Sarah

    Thank you for such an honest and brave post! I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot lately and wanted to hear about how “being on the other side” feels.

    I am a majorly depressed bride-to-be and a child of divorced parents, who separated when I was 11. At that point, my father had already been cheating for 6 years. “That woman” and him got married a few years ago, after being together for 20 years. I am still having a hard time liking her and trying to forgive.

    As a child, I couldn’t understand that love can be endless or that my parents were just not meant to be together. Back then, it was *her*, who took my father, who made him unable to decide with whom he wanted to be with and it was her who hurt my mother and my whole family. I now know that my father is more happy, even fulfilled, than he could have ever been with my mother. But still, admitting this or forgiving still feels like *I* would now be the one cheating on my mother.

    So again, thank you for sharing and reassuring me that cheating and getting divorced is hurtful for *everyone*, even the cheater and the one he or she is cheating with.

  • Alison

    Thank you for such a brave and honest post, for laying it all out there, for letting us into that part of your life. I’m proud of you for taking care of yourself, for being brave enough to take that leap and not feel stuck in a horrible marriage, and for owning the entire experience, good, bad, and otherwise. It also makes me happy to see that people can trust and be trusted after infidelity, but that both parties are aware of what is at stake and what can happen. May you always have the clarity to see what you need, where you are, and where you are going. Many blessings.

  • PA

    There are so many things I could quote in this story. I won’t go through mine, save to say that I know exactly what you mean when you describe the process of maintaining a careful, desperate separation: staying six inches apart at all time, taking pains not to touch, not ever…

    I am so glad that you have your mother’s support, and that the children are pleased. I think that last is such a positive sign. I wish you all the best as you move forward!

    • MDBethann

      Agreed. I think the fact that the kids are accepting of the 2nd marriage is an indication that they saw their respective parents’ first marriages as toxic and the 2nd marriage as healthy and good. While the way it came about may not have been ideal, the example they’ve set for their children of what a good marriage should look like will hopefully help them find good mates for themselves in the future.

      Much happiness to you in a long and healthy marriage.

      • Suzanna

        As a kid, when my parents divorced, I spent a long time ‘being happy for them’. It ended up being really detrimental to my mental health, and my relationship with my parents–I don’t think they ever suspected how torn apart I was, and then I resented them for not reaching out.

        I’m sure the writer’s situation is different, but I just wanted to point out that kids acting/saying that they’re happy doesn’t always mean things are OK.

      • Steph & B

        Like her mother said, what was she supposed to do? Divorce sucks for all parties involved. Divorce with infidelities make a painful and arduous process even worse. But a toxic marriage really isn’t any better…worse even. It’s like leaving a dirty bandage on top of a festering wound. Divorce at least allows for eventual healing and allows both parties to eventually pick up and move on with their lives. If it’s a toxic marriage, don’t both partners deserve to find someone who really truly loves them?

        Speaking as a child of divorce, I’m glad my parents are not married to each other anymore. Do I wish that my parents could have been capable of loving each other and having a happy and loving marriage? Of course, but that’s not who they are and that wasn’t their relationship. It’s been twenty years and they still can’t even stand to be on the same side of the country. I was mess with the two of them together at my wedding and I continue to be a mess whenever the two of them get together. I can’t imagine having to deal with the two of them married on daily basis. Staying in a marriage full of spite and resentment does nobody any favors.

        • suzanna

          Steph & B, I absolutely agree. It’s almost never good for the kids if unhappy parents stay together. I was just pointing out that happy kids isn’t evidence that it was a good decision. Kind of different sides of the same coin, if you will. In fact, divorce can be a great idea and the kids will be miserable, usually! For a while, anyway.

  • Carmen

    This post wrecked me.

    I remember that place in my marriage where I also worried that my soul was dying. For me, the relationship only worked as long as I was isolated, in denial and let him be the strong and interesting one. And quite frankly – if someone had given me any extended interest, I’m pretty confident I would have cheated.

    Managed to wait until the divorce was “official” but in hindsight, its just semantics. Cleverly arranged so that I could feel better about myself. In truth, the marriage ended long before the final court date. Case in point (and I can now say this sans bitterness), my ex put up an online dating profile 4 days after I asked for a divorce. The closing process had clearly started even before the official divorce discussion.

    Thank you for sharing your story and I am so glad to hear that you found your one. Also good to hear how you’re taking a traumatic experience and using that to strengthen and endear your current relationship. I wish the both of you all the best in your love.

  • “What were you going to do? S. is so obviously your One. You were in a stinking hole of a marriage and you saw how it could be. This was an act of self-preservation.”

    – Moms can be absolutely brilliant.

    I think that, in general, we are all prone to blame the cheater because we are so. so. so. scared that we got it wrong. And I think that sometimes, we know that we got it wrong (in ways that counseling will not cure).

    But, I applaud your bravery. To be loved exceptionally shouldn’t be a privilege for only a few, and getting to that love can be a painful experience. (Whether it’s breaking your family ties, changing something in yourself, or leaving a former partner.)

    If we could all be as self-forgiving and courageous.

    • Maddie

      Yup, that was the part that made me cry like a baby. Sometimes when you are very very conflicted about a decision, it can be the most important thing in the world to get permission to follow your heart from someone who wants only what’s best for you.

      • The Writer

        You hit the nail on the head. That was exactly what was going on. I knew my mommy loved me more than anything. And she would tell me the Truth. I was so conflicted, and felt like I couldn’t trust myself. I’m glad that moment spoke to you.

        • Susan

          I hope that I can be that for my mother right now, as my parents are separating after 30 years of not the greatest marriage… experiencing incredible love with my soul mate makes me absolutely understand my mother’s courage of finally leaving my father. There was no cheating involved, but the courage that it takes to be happy, and to get out of a marriage that hurts you, I understand and can relate to my own family right now. My father is not a bad person, but my parents were just never exactly right for each other. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I saw amazing, real love and truly happy married couples, and I feel so incredibly lucky to have found that, and I really wish that every one was able to experience just that and it hurts just to think of how many people don’t.

      • Oh me too! Moms are absolutely brilliant.

    • I maintain that if you’re unhappy in a relationship, you owe it to your partner to be honest and leave before you cheat. To me, that seems to be a final act of grace and respect for what was once a relationship you believed in. So I totally prejudged this post before I read it.

      And then I read it. Original Poster, you seem to have examined your actions, found them to be wrong but yet have reconciled that with the fact that they brought you to a place of happiness and love. And like your mother expressed to you, there is hardly anything to be be upset about there.

      Thank you so much for writing something that reminds us to reach for our happiness. Sometimes it takes the more unconventional story to really think through a hard topic.

      • Shiri

        Yes, this. As the child of a divorce that involved cheating, this post made me nervous before I read it. I feel completely the way Beth does about this post, adding to her thoughts that I think the fact that your children came out of it whole and loving both you and your husband may be the most telling thing about what there is to regret or not.

    • meg

      “I think that, in general, we are all prone to blame the cheater..”

      I think this is fascinating, because I hadn’t articulated it quite this way before. I’ve been around many relationships that ended in cheating (all painful). And in the ones where it was MY friend that was cheated on, in honesty, the blame was almost always shared. (FACT: I don’t think it’s always shared!!!! There are plenty of abusive relationships where the abuser is cheating.) But, in cases where you have an abuser, it’s interesting that we rush to blame the victim when they cheat. I think, mostly, we do it because it’s easier, more clear cut. It’s harder to say, “It was a bad situation. There is a lot of blame on the ground.”

    • Sandy

      My mom said the same thing to me.

      I had a very similar break to my first marriage, and beginning to my current marriage.

      I had moved away from my husband to pursue a job opportunity in another city. I remember driving to the interview thinking that I needed this job to save my marriage. Part of me knew it was already over.

      At that job, I meant my current husband and the first few moments felt just as you described them with your sweetheart. We became fast friends but did all of those things to avoid escalating the relationship. With his support, as my friend, I began to put up walls and pull away from my marriage, even going so far as to try to leave. My first husband was emotionally abusive and it broke through to the physical when I tried to leave. After I promised never to leave him, he let me return to work in the other city.

      I never went back. My sweetheart helped me to tell my husband over the phone why I could never come back and held me as I sobbed over the pain I was feeling and causing.

      We went on our first date two days later, holding hands and kissing like kids. We never made love until after my divorce was final, but this was his request, not mine.

      Today, we are married and I’m so grateful for him everyday. My family has gone through some very painful changes since that time and I could not have made it through that with my ex-husband. I’m certain that I would have been suicidal, at least to the point of attempting if not carrying out.

      Thank you for speaking so bravely about something that I know is very painful. Good luck and good love to you.

  • Molly

    I am definitely fascinated by this story and interested in the writer and I want this conversation to be respectful too – it makes those hard discussions so much worthier.

    I, in general, feel that situations that are happier are generally much better than situations that are not.

    Happy marriages are so much better for kids than bad ones, and a divorce is never easy or fun or even good (necessary, yes, but never good) but the death of a marriage, even if it was on the cards, should never happen because you deliberately kill it off by sleeping with someone else (and it is deliberate. Love I can accept is uncontrollable but bodies aren’t. One makes a choice.)

    Disclaimer: my mom cheated on my dad. When I was six months old and his business had failed and they were fighting all the time and my dad, strong wonderful smart he, was broke and broken and unbelievably stressed and she, sparky and bright and intense, was the main breadwinner and post-natal and way too young when she got married. They weren’t meant to be married anymore and it was good that they divorced and it wasn’t meaningless because she did marry the guy she cheated on him with. But when my dad would get home from the minimum wage job he was working at 11pm (the one that meant he could strap me into his truck as he drove around) and would feel the bonnet of her car as he came in (and it was always, always warm because she had only just gotten home from wherever) so he could tell himself he wasn’t totally crazy when she lied straight to his face with the colour high in her cheeks, it really didn’t matter that it was a toxic broken relationship already. That would haveworked itself out on its own, the divorce papers filed within months anyway. This way, though, my dad looked at the woman he loved, past, present, who really knows in a divorce, and knew that she had held the vow of trust in her hands, one that she owed to me as well as him and her stepdaughter, and looked him in the eyes and broke it. And when I learned of all this much later (as your kids always, always will), it meant that I looked at my mom with new, much sadder, confused and angry eyes. I didn’t want her to be married to my dad any more (I love my stepparents hugely and would not pick a life without them), but I did want her to be someone I could trust and admire and emulate, and it took me literally years of secret pain and confusion to get to a point where I could like her again as well as love her. She never knew I knew.

    2nd disclaimer: my stepdad cheated on my mom 15 years later. And now, 5 years after that, they’re still together, working on it, picking their way through pain and trust issues and the ickiness of sexual betrayal. And their daughter, my half sister, is working her way through how to like and trust her parents just like I did. She’ll adapt just like I did, and like me, she’s never told her dad just how much she knows about the worst he can be, because neither of us really trust our parents to cope with how their behaviour has impacted us.

    Personally, married now to a tremendously wonderful man with whom I learn and kiss and cook with and live with and occasionally hurt deeply in spite of myself, I fear infidelity. I fear its irrevocable nature and its complexity and deep down I fear myself and I fear whether or not I have the capacity to make what I feel is the wrong choice. I fear the way life changes on you and I fear, ultimately, someday somehow hurting those I love most by doing things that will make me happier instead of them.

    So I come to this subject with my own baggage and feel free to dismiss my opinions because of it. But this happiness that the writer and her new partner feel now came at a cost that I personally feel is too high, a cost her family shouldn’t have had to pay. I hope that the undercurrent of sadness and frustration that runs through this comment doesn’t make the writer and those who’ve been in similarly awful situations feel attacked, and I hope that I’m not attacked for taking an opposing view.

    • z

      I, too, feel it is a very high cost for the family to pay. Maybe it’s easier if your kids are so little that it’s far in the past by the time they are old enough to understand. But I was 16 when I found out about my mom’s affair, and I was devastated. I won’t bore everyone with the circumstances, but they were such that my mom didn’t just lie to my dad, but to me, to my face, for years and years. If you can’t trust your mom, you can’t trust anyone. My parents were getting divorced, so I had to cope with their divorce without my mom’s support, because I felt I couldn’t trust her enough to talk with her about it, and she was preoccupied with her “lover” anyway. But I didn’t just lose trust in my mom– it caused me to question whether I was wrong about the character of all of the other adults in my life as well, so I really couldn’t trust anyone. I still believe that people, no matter how much they love us, have an almost unlimited capacity to rationalize and justify doing terrible things. That’s the human condition and I’m better off knowing it, but it was a hard lesson to learn at a vulnerable time in my adolescence.

      My relationship with my mom has partially recovered, 15 years later, and I’ve always loved her, but in some sense I long for a mother I can truly admire and respect. I’ll never, ever be confident that she’s telling me the truth about her relationship with her co-cheater, and I may never have respect for her judgment or feel I can count on her to do the right thing when the going gets tough.

      • Rachel

        My dad cheated on my mom when I was 16, too, but the situation really made me lose respect for both of my parents, not just my dad who cheated. Also, their relationship had been terrible for years and I had hoped for along time that they would divorce, although probably not quite how they did. My dad obviously snuck around for awhile, but my mom snooped to find out (which I also think is a no-no — snooping on your partner). Then, once she knew, she didn’t confront him about it, but instead told me and my 12 year old brother all the sordid details she found out to turn us against my dad. I, finally, was the one who confronted my dad about his affair and he came clean about a lot of things. I know that to this day he regrets so much about how he lived his life and I can see the sadness in his eyes. He is still with the woman he had the affair with — it took me many years to warm up to her, but she has been kind and caring towards me.

        My mother, who had often badmouthed my father while they were married, who caused them to go bankrupt by lying about money, etc (things I’ve found out much later), behaved very badly during the divorce, often putting me in the middle of arguments and battles, having me doing her negotiating for her.

        I understand the feeling of betrayal that comes when you find out one of your parents cheated, but I’ve always been a big believer in looking at the whole relationship. You also don’t know everything about a relationship unless you’re one of the two involved, even if you’re a product of it. Have I had to work at my relationship with my parents? Yes. Do I feel like my dad’s happiness was too high a price to pay for the pain my brother and I have gone through? No way. Perhaps the death of my parents relationship could have been handled better, but who am I to make that call? As far as I could tell, their relationship had died years before.

        • nernin

          Thank you for putting this so succinctly!

          I, too, understand how cheating may feel like a betrayal to a child, but I think the betrayal is the loss of time with the mother, if she works to protect that- and it sounds like in both Z and Molly’s stories, their mothers were not nurturing them in the ways they wanted or needed already- correct me if I’m wrong, ladies- then her adult choices about who she sleeps with seem to not impact her children as painful. This was my experience, that of friends with divorced parents and also with those who were divorced.

          I think another thing we don’t think about is how long divorce and separation and all of that takes. Months. Years, sometimes.So much has to be figured out, especially when kids are involved. Do relationships started in that period count? As Rachel notes, does it count when the two people in the marriage (and there are only two) have left the relationship but not the house?

          The hope for me was always to be compassionate in how I treated others- my partners but also myself included. If you can’t be compassionate to yourself, everyone else will suffer.

  • rys

    So many thoughts ran through my head as I read this post — hurrays and oh mys, wonder and worry — but most of all, the word I kept returning to was trust. Trust in oneself, trust in others.

    It’s something I think about a lot, as I was once cheated on — in a relationship that I knew wasn’t going to be forever, but it hurt nonetheless. In the end, or at least over several years, that guy and I remain friendly and it’s fine. It’s an experience I had once and that’s all. Except when it makes me worry and sometimes heightens my suspicion about others. And makes me wonder about how to trust when uncertain about situations — not just my own, but also those of friends and family — in part because I can be too trusting and completely suspicious all at once. {It’s a remarkable skill, what can I say?}

  • Alisha

    This was a difficult post to read.

    I’m curious – since Meg’s introduction talked about “deal breakers,” is cheating a deal breaker for you? You write that you are very aware now that all of us have the capacity to cheat (I agree). So let’s say he cheated again – where does that leave you?

    I suppose this question is pretty tangential to your post, and for that I apologize. But, it is the question that I always think about when I think about my marriage. In our happy marriage, I wouldn’t want cheating to be a deal breaker. But, a full blown affair? I’m not sure.

    And gosh, could we come up with a better word besides “cheating”? Talk about a judgmental and harsh word!

    • We could try non-consensual non-monogamy, as opposed to consensual non-monogamy (which is a wholly different ballpark) or maybe (non-consensual) extra-marital sex?

      I think “an affair” works well for things that actually involve a prolonged relationship, but not so much for something strictly physical.

      • Amy March

        Adultery maybe? I dont see why the word for breaking your vows shouldn’t be harsh really. Which isn’t to say we treat people who cheat harshly, I think this story is a beautiful example of how to handle life’s unexpected gifts, but I still think it’s fine to maintain that “non-consensual non-monogamy” is cheating.

        • Lizzie

          Yes, but there aren’t really any other harsh words for people who break their marriage vows in any number of other ways, many of which would be a much bigger deal-breaker for me than extra-marital sex. In this case, depending on what vows were used in the writer’s first marriage, her first husband had potentially already broken them very explicitly if they included any phrase like “with my body, I thee worship”. If both of their actions were equally regarded as “vow-breaking”, then to most people, it would change the discussion and understanding of how their marriage ended, especially since his vow-breaking preceded hers.

          I pointedly refused to include any mention of “forsaking all others” or it’s like in our vows, not because we have a swingin’ polyamorous lifestyle (“not that there’s anything wrong with that…”), but because that is so not what our commitment to each other is about.

          • The Writer

            Thank you for this, you have helped me to see this in a new way, just when I thought I had examined it from every angle. Thank you.

          • meg

            THIS. This exactly. I do actually think cheating is a fine word, because it’s about choosing to break rules (even if they are only rules you set for yourself). But I think there are a ton of ways to break vows, and we live in a culture that things The Sex is the worst way to do it, and I actually don’t agree. Yes, a sexual affair can be really really damaging. But emotional abuse is as well (and it’s certainly a violation of vows). And for me, say, financial shenanigans would be worse. Sleep with someone? Not good. Steal all my money? WAY WORSE.

            I like this post NOT because it claims that cheating is right, or that no one gets hurt, or that we should always be in it for ourselves all the time (I don’t believe those things). I like it because it points to the fact that life is long and complicated, and vows are complicated too. It’s the kind of writing that will make me thing twice before I judge in the future (ALWAYS a good thing).

          • Lizzie

            Writer – You are very welcome. Thanks for your lovely and thoughtful writing and your courage in sharing a painful story.

        • “Infidelity” is my catchall word for it. In a modern context, it has clear sexual connotations, but to me I look at it and see the roots of it–the word “fidelity” basically translates to “to be loyal like brothers.”

          My fiance and I are non-monogamous, and have recently begun our first foray into polyamory, and it’s brought a huge swell of thought and consideration for me about what our September wedding will ACTUALLY be about. Sexual exclusivity? Clearly not. Emotional exclusivity? Clearly not. Romantic exclusivity? …Apparently not! :)

          What it WILL be about is fidelity. Choosing to commit and reach out and take each other willingly as family. Sexual exclusivity be damned–breaking the marriage commitment would be infidelity.

          • RachelC

            Um……can we be friends? lol. I need someone who understands this.

          • I get that.
            I couldn’t do a poly relationship, I dont think.
            But I get where you are coming from with Fidelity / Infidelity.
            The single most important relationship is the one you have with your fiance. All the other romance / sex / emotional involvement have to take second place.
            In a way, the same thing can be said about close friendships. Yes, its important to maintain those relationships and help your friends out. But its more important that if your partner says “I need you now, I need US alone right now”, that you do those things and respect them.
            If all that rambling makes sense…

    • oh, i think “cheating” is the perfect word! cheating is, after all, the act of breaking the rules. the wonderful thing about the term is that it is completely and entirely dependent on what your relationship’s rules are. for some people extra-marital sex is not cheating, but those people have rules too, and when those rules are broken, the person who did so is “cheating” on the relationship.

  • Moz

    I think that last line pretty much sums it up – I think it *can* make you a better partner.

    Thank you for your very brave and honest post.

    • MB

      I think it made my parents better partners to their new spouses. Both of them, including the one who cheated and the one who got cheated on learned a lot about themselves. I’m not going to place blame on either one for the way they lived that led to their divorce, but there was a lot of failure to communicate way before this happened.

      I also think it made them able to talk with me about marriage in ways they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. Their new relationships are so much healthier and fit them so much better that despite all the pain it caused, I’m happy to see them on the other side.

  • carrie

    “Together could never be close enough. Forever could never be long enough. People who feel like this should get married and grow old together (even though we already were a little bit old). People who feel like this would (of course!) have joyous and tearful weddings and shout their love from the rooftops!”

    I want EVERYone to have this. And that’s what you found. So many blessings to you and S and your family. Thank you so much for this brave and honest post.

  • Anon

    Oh, OP, I am going through the emotional version of this right now. My marriage is emotionally and physically abusive. I’m repeating the pattern I had modeled for me, as is my husband.

    I’ve since met a man through my work who is so kind to me that I’ve realized that I don’t have to take my husband’s shit. That there is someone out there who will show me the love I deserve. I have a gigantic, 14-year-old girl-esque crush on the man in question, and he doesn’t know how bad things have been with my husband and I don’t know if I will ever tell him. I also have to figure out how to leave my husband.

    Thank you for your story.

    • Can you reach out to someone, Anon? I would love to help you find the network you need, a shelter, anything, but I don’t think I have the right regional knowledge, since I’m from Europe.

      Below is a link with phone numbers and addresses for if you are in the US. Please use it (but delete it from your browser history if your husband cannot find out): http://www.helpguide.org/mental/domestic_violence_abuse_help_treatment_prevention.htm#help

      Take care and good luck!

      • Anon

        Thank you. I am in Illinois and have reached out to shelters, going so far as to leave for a day six months ago. I am also seeing a therapist. I am really scared of making the break and have been told I need a plan for work, health insurance, etc. after leaving – I don’t have a car of my own and don’t live in an area with public transportation, for example.

        • Moz

          Good luck Anon. Hope you find some help and soon xx

        • Kira

          You are so brave to be planning your exit! I can only imagine what you are going through. Thinking of you and wishing you strength and support.

        • PA

          A plan is definitely good. I don’t know what exact situation you’re in, or if you would be comfortable with a religious institution, but places like churches (from experience of where I’ve seen resources, I would check UU or UCC, but there are probably resources at most churches) often have emotional support, resources, and people to help. I hope you find a network you can trust, and people who can help!

        • EM

          Anon, I’m so happy to hear you’re getting some support with putting together a plan — it’s maybe the hardest thing a woman can do, and you should know that there’s a world of support out there for you.

          It sounds like you have a lot of details to figure out, and I hope you were able to meet with a social worker when you left before. If not, a women’s health clinic might be a good place to get help, especially with sorting out the insurance piece. Ask if they have a social worker with whom you could meet when you make the appointment (and if you need to, you can tell your husband it’s for a pap smear). You should be eligible for a number of public benefits — but sometimes they can be difficult to access without help. Good luck — we’re all rooting for you here!

        • amy

          Anon, I have the utmost belief that you can get through this. It’s so hard to see the other side when you’re in that position but it IS there!

        • Annie

          If it’s safe for you, I highly recommend talking with an advocate at your local domestic violence organization and work on a safety plan – one for while you remain with him, and one for your exit. It can be so difficult, dangerous, and yes…sad, to leave. Reaching out to someone who’s not intimately close to you like friends and family
          , can be a relief and very helpful. Some organizations may even have financial resources to facilitate your exit. Good luck. You are brave and you deserve to be safe.

    • Lib

      The National Domestic Violence Hotline is a great resource to help you find free counseling, shelters in, or other resources in your area. I’ve used it while recovering from an emotionally abusive relationship, and it’s been huge in my life and recovery: http://www.thehotline.org/

      Good luck Anon.

    • if you live near a college/university at all, sometimes they have counseling centers that would have lists of resources in the area, or even cheap/free counseling, if you need it.

      good luck, anon. we are all pulling for you!

  • clampers

    Your ex-husband sounds like a real gem. I can’t get over the not-a-sexual-being-after-birth part…it’s really angering me.

    Glad you found Your One and your children and families (for the most part) are supportive. We all deserve happiness in our lives.

    • Carolyn

      THIS. And, this is why I think the last line of your post should be put in the past tense. You *were* a cheater. It sounds like you don’t have any reason to be one anymore. So happy you found the right One!

    • That’s actually a HUGE fear of mine. It hit me straight in the gut reading it.

  • If life has taught me one thing, it is that happiness, and especially happy relationships, are far more complicated that we believe when we are children.
    My father cheated on my mother, not because he fell in love with someone but because he was a serial cheater. Then he left my mother (and us, because he was an absent father) to live his life. For many years I thought “cheating”, his “not being able to keep it in his pants” and “the other bad women”had been the cause of all troubles. As an adult, my father, his girlfriend (the one that remained after all the other affairs ended) and I talked extensively, in a civil manner, about what had happened and , through these talks and others I had with my mom, I came to understand many things.And one of the things I understood (or at least, that is my truth), is that marriages are fragile relationships, that before someone cheats there are frequently many signs that things are not working, and that one has to be extra careful to read those signs in time and not to take the other person for granted.
    Enjoy your happiness.Love happens in unexpected ways and at unexpected times, but it is always a blessing.

  • anon

    I’ve rewritten this comment numerous times, and have finally realized that there’s no way to leave the comment I want without divulging personal details that I’m not ready to share yet. However, I wanted you to know that talking about complexities in relationships is something I so desperately crave (so thanks more than you know APW), and in particular, I am drawn to your self forgiveness. I struggle, within and beyond my relationship, with so many feelings of guilt and regret, and reading your gentleness with yourself is truly inspirational. We should be kinder to each other, and also to ourselves, and this post is a fabulous model for that. Thank you.

    • Karen

      I like your emphasis on kindness. It’s something we could all be better at. If we could all learn to treat each other with more kindness it would be a better world.

    • Carmen

      I love that the writer express kindness to herself too. Sometimes uhh, I think of kindness as kind of wimpy (not endorsing this as the way to go). But her kindness/self acceptance feels very strong and solid to me. Which may have taken awhile to develop, but gives me lots of hope or the futre.

  • Ceebee

    Whenever I see a story that starts with I knew it was a mistake as I walk down the aisle, I always cry my way to the ending. Because not many people turn around or walkout. Not many people find someone that compels them to take that leap. Knowing it’s wrong from the start is more tragic than the surprise wrong midway into the marriage.

    This time I cry too, out of happiness for you.
    Your mother sees and knows you are happy, that’s basically any mother’s only dream.
    kids are smarter these days to know right from wrong, happy from sad, are more open to blended family Brady bunch style that no one would think it’s material for tv anymore. They do know however that happy parents make happy children, though the logistics need to be set up.

    I really appreciate that you acknowledge the pain exists even when doing the right thing. But the gleaming promising life ahead is too much hope to overlook for fear of pain.

    I wish I was as strong as you are, but I’m not and I’m so miserably stuck.
    But posts like this make me feel stronger and hoping and cheering you to the last page.

  • Very brave to write. And so glad to hear you are all happy, including the children. The one thing I will say, and mean with all my heart, is – I think it must be better to go out the front door of a marriage than the back. To exit with intent, rather than accidentally. Not always possible, but something to think about along with all the constructs around how to stay married.

    • tirzahrene

      Yes. I entered my first marriage through an emotional affair, and at the time it was a beautiful, amazing true-love story.
      And then the marriage went on and became something I couldn’t live in, or maybe I became someone who couldn’t live in the construct I entered in the first place, and I realized over a period of time that if we didn’t deliberately do something we were going to accidentally do something.
      I entered my first marriage through cheating. I didn’t regret it then, but I came to. For myself.
      And so I told my then-husband: “We need to either fix this thing or break it all the way. Because I don’t want to go out like that.”

      And we did. We broke it all the way. And it was one of the best choices I’ve ever made. And all through that time I worked very hard to keep things clean…not because I have stones to throw at those who get into more than one relationship at a time (I don’t; I did it myself) but because once was enough for me to realize that *I* don’t want to ever do that again. I clearly, deliberately, and intentionally ended that marriage before I started anything else (my cutoff point was filing the paperwork). And for me, I’m so much happier this time around knowing that whatever I do from here, it’s clean.

      OP, I have no stones to throw at you; I don’t want to come off that way, and I’m sincerely sorry if I did. I wish you and your family the best possible future and much happiness. I’m so glad you found love.

    • I just re-read Ibsen’s The Doll House the other day and your comment about intentionally going out the front door of a marriage immediately made me think of Nora.

  • coasterkim

    What a powerful piece. Thank you for baring your soul like that. I pray your marriage continues to be strong and fulfilling for both of you.

  • afrome

    this is not the first time i have read about partners who can no longer find their wife sexually attractive after witnessing child birth. What The F%$# is wrong with some people?? From a very limited outsider’s perspective, that is a very clear recipe (an INVITATION, even) for an affair. Yes, yes, I completely understand that having children involved is heartbreaking, but children aside, your “deception”, to me, seems almost inevitable. Just sayin!

    • Michelle

      Seriously. My heart BROKE when I read that line.

  • Emme

    I read this story and I feel for the writer. I understand what it’s like to be in the midst of an emotionally draining, loveless marriage that saps you of all of your self esteem and self worth. Unfortunately I also understand what it’s like when you find out that your spouse has been having an affair for 2 years, has gone on vacations with another woman, and so on. To say that it hurts is one of the biggest understatements of all time. I was emotionally annihilated in the process. And not only did that affect me, it also destroyed our children in so many ways.

    I went on to find my soulmate and I thank my lucky stars every single day that I get to live out the rest of my life with someone who truly loves me the way that I love him. I will just forever wish that to get to where I am now I could have been spared being taken to the edge of a cliff and pushed over. Because I didn’t deserve that and more importantly- my kids sure as hell didn’t deserve it.

    Marriage takes work. Sometimes all the work in the world isn’t enough. I am happy that the writer got out of her abusive first marriage, I really am. But I will never be able to justify an affair.

    • ANON for this.

      Nobody “deserves” to be betrayed. I’m with you there.

      If you’re worried about the impact on your kids, maybe this will help? I knew that infidelity was going on in my parent’s marriage. It was a horrible, awful feeling. It ended in divorce…also a horrible awful feeling. As an adult, I’m so thankful that I got to see my parents with their respective soulmates. I got to witness a happy marriage and a good partnership. The means to get there? Not that great. But it’s not on the forefront of how I think of relationships.

      Just another perspective for you. I think yes, if we could end all of the betrayal in the world, that would be awesome. In the meantime, I’m really glad you and your children get to experience the love that you describe above.

      • Ambi

        Nobody deserves to be betrayed . . .

        That is what I have been struggling with this post and the comments. I feel like, here at APW, this post could just as easily have been written by the first husband, lamenting how youth and stress and inexperience and lack of maturity had made him a really shitty spouse, and how he feels he drove his wife to cheat and leave, and it would be a post about everything he has learned from that situation. We could just as easily be talking about him forgiving himself, and I am guessing that some of the comments to THAT post would blame his ex-wife (the OP). I say this not to place blame, but as a reminder that it really isn’t as simple as “he was an ass, he deserved it.” She did stuff she wasn’t proud of, but has learned to forgive herself . . . and I am guessing (hoping) that is also true of him. Situations like this are complicated and there is plenty of “blame” to go around. Human beings are flawed and make mistakes and do things they regret. That goes for her affair, but it also goes for him being a shitty husband.

        • meg

          Very true. I certainly hope that by sharing one perspective, that doesn’t negate the other perspective in people’s minds.

  • Rachel

    There’s no shame in leaving a marriage that frankly, your ex-husband had apparently checked out of long before, even if he hadn’t made it official. In a perfect world, would the divorce have come before the new relationship? Of course. Is the world perfect? No.

    The absolute best thing you could have done for your kids was leave a situation where you were miserable and mistreated (and where these unhealthy patterns and this negative relationship was being modelled to your kids) and move to a situation where you are happy, joyous and fulfilled. As a child of divorce, I can tell you that more than anything, all I ever wanted was for my parents to be happy, and if that can’t happen while they’re together, so be it.

  • Fermi

    I have a story very similar to yours (minus having children) and I know there is NOTHING easy about divorce. Telling my mom and dad was the hardest thing ever, I thought they would be so angry and hurt. Instead they were quite the opposite. They were understanding and in the end wanted to be there in anyway possible. It’s nice to know there are family members there to support you. Thank you for sharing your story!

  • OP, thanks so much for your brave post. I’m so glad you’ve found happiness and your children are happy, too.

  • Kira

    Thanks so much for telling your story. It gives me a lot to think about. I often feel like the dominant narratives around relationships don’t take into account the emotional states from which people act. It is so simple to say something like “Even if you are in an unhappy marriage, you should end it before beginning a new relationship.” OK, sure, but what if there are substantial logistical barriers to leaving the marriage? And if you are not yet in an emotional place that allows you to recognize the need to leave the marriage or to do the heartwrenching work that leaving it requires? What if it’s only by virtue of the support of another person that you can come to such a place? We don’t always act from such places of ideal reasoning.

    • Maddie

      “We don’t always act from such places of ideal reasoning.” I like that.

      • I agree. We don’t. I think we can honor the value of aiming at ideal reasoning – all the while moving towards forgiveness for those who fail.

        • Maddie

          Yes. And I think it’s especially important in situations like this one that we honor a person’s intent as well as the outcome.

        • nernin

          Forgiveness for when *we* fail.

    • Emme

      I feel like I should address your statement “It is so simple to say something like “Even if you are in an unhappy marriage, you should end it before beginning a new relationship” as I’m guessing that was in response to my post. It’s not simple for me to say something like that — trust me, I have given this topic quite a bit of thought over the years. Substantial logistical barriers? What – like divorce proceedings, child custody, dividing assets, endless hours of therapy, STD testing? Yeah – there are those logistical items. But I guess that’s what I think you sign up for when you enter into a marriage and begin a life that is complicated and intertwined.

      And I really do understand and get that the writers husband was not the greatest guy and that because of this – she wasn’t strong emotionally. I’ve been there. And no – it’s not easy or right to judge someone else’s situation — I’m just saying — having been the –let’s say “surprised spouse” and incidently — a child of an ugly divorce myself — that perhaps ideal reasoning isn’t something that we should strive any less for in our life?

      Once again – I am truly happy for the writer. I wish the relationship that I have now for everyone. And I applaud her for writing about her side — it took some huevos. And she sounds very sincere. But if my response made any one person out there think a bit more about ending their marriage before embarking on an affair — then good. And I kind of get the feeling that the writer would agree with me?

  • KatieBeth

    This was an incredibly moving post – I think it reminded me, and others as well, that it’s so easy to judge others for what are incredibly personal decisions. As outsiders, people see right and wrong, and these situations, they want to see someone do penance, explain their actions, weigh everything in black and white – and they’ll still judge them. But this post really speaks to the fact that, simply and uneloquently put, &*#$ happens – and you wouldn’t have CHOSEN to go through that or feel forced to make those choices to find your happiness. It would be great if we could go through life just picking happy moments off trees or something (too bad it doesn’t work like that, though – SO much more convenient). You were in a deeply unhappy marriage and despairing state of mind and it coincided with meeting a wonderful man who you were able to build a life with (bravo to THAT by the way, it’s amazing you seem to have dodged – or worked through – so many of the landmines that come with divorce, blending families, building trust, etc.). It’s great that, at the end of the day, it sounds like you can look back, lay it all on the table and say, “It happened, it’s past, I’m a better person for it.” And I totally get when you say “I’m not sorry” but you feel for all of the pain you caused and went through to get to the place you’re standing now. It’s not black and white – it’s regret and relief at the very same time. I’m glad you shared your story, it’s a reminder that you have to be brave to be happy.

    • Ceebee

      Have to be brave to be happy.
      Exactly million times over!

  • AMBI

    First let me say that this is probably my all-time favorite post on APW (until tomorrow, right?). You are unbelievably brave, honest, and perceptive. And a REALLY good writer (I’d be interested to know if you write for a living – if not, you should).

    This line killed me:
    All eight of us (us, our exes, our four children) walked through the valley of death that is divorce.

    Because that is what scares me about getting married. That is what keeps me awake at night as my 7-year-relationship finally moves towards marraige, which I have wanted for so long. I have cried and prayed and WORKED to try to get us married, I have wanted it SO BAD, and yet this line shook me awake. I am so scared of this. It is why we haven’t gotten married yet; it is what is holding us back. And the truth is, we can’t know what the future holds. And it is scary as shit.

    Also, thank you for exploring your true, complex emotions regarding your ex. So many times, these stories are one dimensional. I love the fact that you were honest enough to talk about the negative emotions you had about him and your marraige, but also your sadness at hurting him. I think it is really important for us to acknowledge that you can care about someone deeply and still desperately want to leave; you can be ecstatic about your new life and sad about the pain your first husband felt. Life is like that – we have conflicting emotions, and sometimes the hardest part is figuring out which ones to follow.

  • I don’t even know what to say. This post speaks to so many different things.

    As a child of divorce done badly, it’s both painful and refreshing to hear someone talk about the complexities and emotional aspects of ending a marriage, and leaving for someone else.

  • Anon.

    This is the way-more-complicated version of what I went through when I was young. My high school “sweetheart”, whom I’d been dating since I was a freshman in high school, was anything but sweet. He was emotionally abusive and, over the years, had convinced me that I could never leave him because no one else would ever love me.

    Then, I met a guy who was in one of my summer classes, and he made me feel the way the OP describes. If I had known what love was, I would have known I was in love with him by the time our three-week class was over. As it was, though, I was so emotionally scarred, that he became my friend. My talk-every-day, visit-every-chance-I-get, tell-all-my-secrets-to, but completely platonic, friend. For a whole YEAR.

    And at the end of that year, I was a completely different person. I was strong, confident, transformed. I broke up with my boyfriend, bought a plane ticket to visit my very best friend (he had a girl friend at the time, too, but that didn’t last much longer), and finally began the relationship that had really started many months before.

    That boy was not my ONE. Our relationship eventually ran its course, although our paths have crossed several times since then, keeping us unexpectedly in touch. But I am forever grateful for the gift he gave me: the knowledge that, even at my lowest points, someone CAN love me. And I deserve that.

    Many year later, I am now married to an amazing man who loves me as dearly as I love him, and I feel incredibly lucky every day. I’m so thankful, especially after reading this story, that I learned this lesson long before I was seriously considering marriage. All those feelings you describe are very real, and if I had not been fortunate enough to marry the right man the first time around, I’m not sure how I would have handled it. I’m so glad I had someone teach me what I should be looking for.

  • Thank you for writing so openly and honestly about something so difficult. Also, I want to applaud the APW community for responding to this in such a good way– even though, as Meg (or another APWer) said above, this can be a topic that is very emotional for some.

  • Justin

    Wow. That is a wild story. Sometimes I think I might be the only man in the comments. I’m on the edge of getting engaged (got the ring, gotta switch the stone, waiting for the vacay in late May) but I don’t know if I’m afraid of cheating as much as some other people. But I also have slightly more flexible ideas on what constitutes monogamy (which I’ve discussed with my prospective fiancee). Like a lot of women I know, I’m less afraid of physical infidelity than emotional infidelity. Anyway I’m sort of rambling. I think that you did the right thing, given the circumstances. Your ex-husband sounds like a real tool. I hope you get to see your kids enough now that you’re living in another country. They need you more than anything else in the world. (My mom checked out of our mother-son relationship when my age was in the single digits, so I know this profoundly.) Be there, be good to yourself and those around you. Good luck with all of this.

    • meg

      Her kids are with her and happy! No worries there…. (It’s a very complicated story, to say the least).

  • Jessica

    I am impressed with both the writer and APW for having the balls to share this story. Amen.

  • sarah

    Thank you so much for this post. My story is so similar to yours (minus the children) though I’m not quite completely on the other side. Divorce is so incredibly painful and being seen as the “cause” to so many on the outside is painfully isolating. Along with the guilt of knowing that the route to your much needed and deserved happiness wasn’t ideal makes it tough to stay strong. While my divorce was relatively painless & my family very supportive I can’t say the same for my new love. It’s been nearly 2.5 years and still his divorce isn’t final. His family not accepting. We’ve been living with a bit of an open wound just waiting to truly start over. On the brighter side I can say even with the complications I’ve never been happier, and not a day goes by that we don’t stop and realize how empty our lives would be had we never followed our heart.
    Thank you for sharing your story.

  • amy

    I relate to this story so much!
    I always find it difficult when people ask how me and my fiance got together because the truth of the matter is that when we did I was engaged to someone else, and that someone was abusive. Thankfully it’s a long time ago now (ten years) but it took me a long time to get over what happened.

    • Annon

      That is my story too. I’m over it, but it’s not something I particularly want to talk about.

  • Anonymous today

    I’ve read this story before on a personal blog, and I understand going anonymous to share the message – I, too, prefer anonymity than having that label get attached to me and my relationship.

    I came to be with my partner in a very similar way. He was quite literally, as your mother referred to S, my act of self-preservation. He didn’t save me from my ex who had torn me up and spit me out and pulled me back in for more, but he gave me the strength to know what it should be like and to save myself (and my child). It is still difficult to skirt the issue when people talk about how we met and the first few months of our relationship. We were lucky that my previous relationship wasn’t legal – the ties we had to unbind were relatively simple when compared to divorce – but the aftermath had long-reaching and still sometimes painful effects on everyone involved.

    And yet. Here we are years later, confident in our relationship and in our family and slowly making preparations to get married. And our daughter tells everyone she knows that she has the happiest parents of anyone in the world (although sometimes she’d like us to stop dancing around the kitchen laughing and kissing in public).

  • Whitney

    This post resonates so much with me.

    I was in an incredibly abusive marriage to someone I never should have married. I walked around on eggshells and was terrified that he would snap at any moment. He told me how ugly I was all the time, and how no one else would ever love me. We didn’t have sex for our entire marriage because he said he didn’t find me attractive anymore. I wanted to die every day. I met someone who was in a similar place (I still cry when I read a comment he made on a website explaining what his life was life) and after a long time trying to avoid the obvious connection we had, I finally just gave in.

    I gave up everything when I decided to get divorced. I’d already been married before that, and the idea of being a twice-divorced woman before 30 filled me with so much shame. But, I decided that I needed to choose life and happiness. I got an offer the father of my 2 kids to take them in so I could get a handle on my life again, and it was the best decision any of us made. I lost many friends who didn’t agree with my choices and who said I wasn’t trying hard enough.

    We’ve been together for 4 years now, and while the first few were so hard, I didn’t realize how different it would feel to be in a supportive relationship with someone who loves me. I know now that our children get to see a happy and functional relationship. My children are doing better than any of us imagined, and their dad has really relished fatherhood in a way he hadn’t before kids lived with him.

    Yes, I wish we had been unattached when we’d met. But, I know I made the right decision for me.

    Thank you so much for sharing your story and making me feel so much less alone.

  • melissa

    I believe in three things in life: be kind to others, be kind to yourself, see some beauty before you die and your body rots. I don’t judge this writer one bit. Be kind to yourself trumps all and this was an act of self preservation.

  • OP, I don’t think a lot of people have addressed this, but it needs to be said.

    When I was four years old, my biological father walked out on my mom. He stayed away until his girlfriend dumped him, and then came crawling back. My mom forgave, and accepted him back, and they went on to be married for 8 more years.

    When she met my Dad, they were both married. You would think that as an 11-year-old, I would have had prejudices at the time. All I saw was that my Mom was happy in a way I’d never seen her with my dad. My reaction when she finally sat me down to tell me that she and the BF were divorcing was, “You know Mom, (my dad) seems like a really wonderful man.”

    I do not think of myself as a child of divorce, or a child of cheating. I think of myself as the child of two people who weren’t right for each other, and my life is SO MUCH BETTER since my mom found the one she was meant to be with. I am thankful every day that she knew enough to take the chance on the man she loved, and that I gained an incredible father in the deal.

  • Lturtle

    Wow . This post hit me deep. It sparked some major resentment about my dad that I thought I had long ago put to rest. The resentment, not my dad. I’m going to give the readers digest version of my experience, as the full story is far too long.
    My mother was my dad’s second wife. Their relationship began as an affair while he was in his first marriage, in fact my mom was a bridesmaid at the first wedding. My dad’s first wife had been my mom’s best friend. Wife #1 was so hurt by the affair/divorce that she never had another serious relationship. Then when I was 3 my mom left and got pregnant by another man, which led to my parents divorce. My dad got married and divorced 3 more times, though to my knowledge there was no infidelity in those relationships. Now he is preparing to marry Wife #6 this summer, and while I love him and want him to be happy sometimes I also want to shake him.
    I have some major untangling of the emotions to do I think before I attend his next wedding. I guess I just wanted to share that this story brought up some old unresolved issues I didn’t know I had. Thanks to OP for that. I think.

  • Sharon

    I have tons of sympathy for the author of this post. For starters, the first person in her first marriage to be cruel and unfaithful was her husband. He didn’t “cheat”, but he certainly didn’t hold up his end of the relationship bargain.

    If you ask me, the OP’s ex voided their marriage agreement when he was cruel and distant from her, and refused to do any work to fix things. No counseling, no discussion, just distance and mean-spirited behavior. Why should she care about his feelings when he had no regard for hers? And I don’t mean accidental thoughtlessness – deliberate unkindness was at work here. I continue to abhor the dialogue that even though we’re saddled with a horrible situation, we’re supposed to “fix it” or “make do.” He had hurt her and left her ALREADY, and she was seeking human comfort, solace, friendship, affection – all things that she was supposed to be getting from her marriage already. and wasn’t. I have NO sympathy towards someone who was mentally/emotionally abusive being cheating on or left – that’s not unfair, that’s karma.

    BRAVO to the OP for getting out of that horrible first marriage – your kids didn’t need to sit around and watch you endure mental abuse and be a martyr for “their sake.” Good for you for teaching them that sometimes the only way is out. In an ideal world, sure the OP should have left first and then met the new love, but it took the new love to remind her what was absent and missing from what she had, and she correctly learned that no one should have to endure that kind of treatment.

    • Emme

      Geez, this whole topic just keeps pulling me in — while I agree with some of what Sharon says — there seems to be something that is woefully not addressed here.

      What about the other spouse in this foursome? The guys wife? Yeah okay the writers husband was a jerk. What happened to him can probably be chalked up to karma. Nobody can seriously expect her to fix that relationship and keep her self esteem and self worth intact. But what about the other woman? Was she just collateral damage?

      And while I understand that “it took the new love to remind her what was absent and missing from what she had” – does that really entail months and months of deception and vacations? Maybe we should all redirect some of our sympathy to the guy’s first wife?

      Maybe I live in a place of impossibly high moral standards, but shouldn’t we as women kind of try and look out for each other? Men and women (for the most part) look at things differently. Perhaps if more women treated other women in the manner in which they would like to be treated it would provide a better example for our daughters in general.

      • meg

        No one is claiming this situation is simple, or clean, or ethical, or any of that. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not important to discuss life in all it’s complexities. What I will say is that I chose to edit out any discussion of the other family, because it’s not the writers story to share, and it’s frankly not something I think we have permission to fully discuss, given that person is not part of the conversation. In general, yes, cheating and divorce is awful, and yes, people get hurt, and yes, I would hope that all of us have sympathy for all the people hurt in this situation. That said, I still think it’s something important to talk about, in all it’s moral complexities. Because life doesn’t always turn out the way we planned, and we don’t always end up living up to our own ‘impossibly high moral standards’ and there needs to be dialoge about that. It’s easier to just judge, and look the other way, but I don’t think we grow as humans by doing that, and I don’t want to only share simple, easy, morally clear stories here.

        • I couldn’t agree more, Meg. Life is just not that simple, even if we wished it was and even if we do our best.

  • Lauren

    I’m obsessed with this post. I am marrying a man this June who had an affair with me.
    Thank you for writing this.

    “I believe that one of the gifts of the type of marriage that I want is the magic of having a separate and dedicated space with only the two of us in it. I believe that we can make that happen. I have no desire to ever be with anyone else.”

    That’s us. That’s what we’re all about.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  • kathleen

    I think this is such a wonderful reminder of the strings of stories and effort and complication that lie behind events that we, as outsiders, are quick to judge. A reminder to offer space and quiet and the possibility of forgiveness even when the facts of the event make it difficult.

  • even though i’m getting married in july, this post hits me more as a child of cheating/divorce than as a woman about to make the big commitment.

    bravo to the writer for getting out of a relationship that was just toxic. it was toxic for her, and i’m sure it was toxic for her kids to see their parents interact like that. i can completely understand why she would jump at the life of love she could live with this new man, and it’s helping me to make sense of my parent’s divorce. my dad wasn’t in love with my mom anymore and he saw a chance like the writer’s and jumped.

    the hard part for our story is that my mom wasn’t abusive in the least. i know that dad had fallen out of love with her (and now, as an adult, i can understand that), but she treated him well. she still loved him with all of her heart. i even feel like now, 10 years later, she still loves him. so it’s hard for me to accept divorce in a situation like that. especially because now my dad doesn’t seem happy with his new (of 5 years) wife.

    infidelity is a hard thing for me to swallow. it seems as if my feelings and thoughts about it change on a case by case basis, but again, i just want to give props to the writer for her strength and say that i hope her now-marriage continues like this for the rest of their lives :) and thank you for helping me to see my dad’s affair in yet another light. it still doesn’t make it okay to me, but it helps to understand it more. understanding is half the battle.

    • My grandmother still loves my grandfather, even after he cheated on her (at least once that we are confident of, in their own bed no less), and they have both had several marriages in the 30+ years since the divorce (they have been divorced all my life, and I think it came through during my mothers high school years)

      Thankfully both managed to find love again (although both have been widowed), and although they b*tch and moan about each other, they still see each other regularly. In fact, my grandmother is how we communicate with my grandfather most of the time, after he cut off my mother and accused her of theft…

      Anyway, this relates with a summary of I hope your mother can find happiness. It can be done after infidelity and divorce. Somehow. Apparently.

    • “infidelity is a hard thing for me to swallow. it seems as if my feelings and thoughts about it change on a case by case basis”

      You know, I think that is exactly the point. Because life can be so messy, regardless of what ideal we strive for, it’s important to look at situations on a case by case basis. My story is not the same as your story, and so should not be viewed through the same lens.

      Thank you for such an insightful, excellent articulation :)

  • AMBI

    I am 100% for reflecting on the past, learning from it, and ultimately getting over it. I’ll never judge the OP for having an affair, because I wasn’t in her shoes. And I am confident she learned from it. I just hope that somewhere her ex-husband, and her husband’s first wife, are also able to reflect on what happened, learn from it, and move on. Maybe her ex is out there somewhere regretting how he treated her, realizing what it cost him, and vowing never to be that way to his next spouse. Maybe he learned as much from this as she did. I really hope everyone involved did.

  • Anon

    So . . . I guess my relationship is pretty much fucked. This post made me long to go to a conference and meet an amazing man and have that kind of spark and have amazing sex and finally feel like someone couldn’t live without me.

  • Snow Gray

    I am in tears at my desk, because this post has resonated so deeply with me. Falling in love with my One, my fiance.. helped me become brave enough to break free of the emotionally abusive relationship I was in before him. My fiance taught me what love was really like, and our connection was SO much like what was described “the incredible peace and rightness of being myself in our easy togetherness.”

    While I never physically cheated, and I knew that my now ex was wrong for me, it was still heart wrenching and I regret the pain it caused. I can only imagine how much harder it was with kids and divorces.

    To the author: I think it was incredibly brave to share your story with us, and I’m so happy that you have formed a wonderful relationship and found a man who treats you like you deserve to be treated!

  • Kayden

    I’ve read this post over and over, and I simply can’t agree with all comments. It is brave to leave a terrible marriage and fight for happiness in your own life, but it’s never brave to cheat- to sneak around is deplorable. And simply, when you start renegotiating your promises and vows, where do you draw the line? If the husband had been loving and sweet, but you still fall in love with another man, is that ok? Is it just making excuse for breaking promises that should be kept?

    • meg

      I don’t think that you have to think the writer is brave. I think she was brave for getting OUT, I don’t know if I think she was brave for cheating (cheating is fucking complicated, in any circumstances). That said, I think the one place I disagree with you is that I’m not sure all promises need to be kept at all times. Was her husband keeping her promises to her? I’d argue no. Did she need to keep her promise to stay with him? Absolutely no. Is cheating the ideal way to exit a relationship? OF COURSE NOT. I don’t think the *writer* thinks that. But sometimes shit happens, and I want to talk about that too. So, do I think cheating is always deplorable? No, I don’t. I’ve seen relationships of people close to me where tons of deplorable stuff happened, AND there was cheating. In those cases, the cheating wasn’t always the deplorable part (which isn’t excusing the partner who cheated, I just often think other things they did were the things that broke the relationship). Cheating can be a symptom. It can also be the problem, but it really depends on the circumstance.

      • This philosophy right here is why I keep coming back for more. Well said.

      • Kayden

        I agree with you that this is something that should be talked about, cheating shouldn’t be ignored just because it’s not a ‘pretty’ part of life. However, I don’t think that by calling cheating and sneaking around deplorable doesn’t make his behavior or any other actions any more commendable. They can be different and equally horrible. My main point was that cheating for x, y, z reasons is a slippery slope. The relationship may have already been broken beyond repair, but that still doesn’t make cheating the necessary or honest route.

        • Why do things have to be black or white? why do we have to talk about cheating as deplorable or commendable? It is neither in absolute terms. Life is complicated and shit happens, and persons are not automatically bad persons for cheating nor are they good persons or good husbands because hey are the ones being cheated on.

          • Kayden

            No one is making a judgment call about whether or not anyone involved is a good or bad person, just discussing the actions taken. Talking about the decisions made doesn’t mean thinking things are black and white.

          • meg

            I think I’m with Marcella. I mean, look there ARE things that are deplorable, and cheating can be one of them. But life isn’t as easy as: cheating is always 100% deplorable always. It’s never IDEAL, but it’s not always so simple.

  • Ambi

    This has really gotten me to think about why we have such strong negative feelings towards “cheating” but respect a woman who is strong enough to leave a bad relationship . . . and I think it is about the deception. I have a guy friend who is trying to rebuild his marraige after his wife cheated a year ago, and he keeps coming back to the same issue – it isn’t the sex, it’s the lying.

    So . . . this has really made me think about what SHOULD you do in a situation like the OP’s? I personally believe that she needed to leave her marraige, and it sounds like she was right to begin a relationship with her now-husband. But HOW one does that is the difference between “cheating” and “leaving.” I am not criticizing the OP or saying that she should have done something else – I am just trying to use this as a learning experience for all of us. If, god forbid, we are ever in that kind of circumstance, how do we want t handle it? Is there a way to navigate leaving your marraige for someone else that might be less hurtful? Would it make a difference if there was no deception (if you were totally honest from the start)? What if you didn’t physically cheat prior to leaving, but did plan to begin a relationship (including a physical relationship) once you left – is that somehow less painful for the other spouse?

    I guess these are all pretty much hypothetical moral questions. I just keep thinking about my friend, who firmly believes that what hurts isn’t the fact that his wife had sex with another man, but that she lied to him and hid things and snuck around. So I was starting from a point of assuming that the deception makes the pain worse . . . but does it? Is there any way to leave someone for someone else that is any less painful, whether you technically “cheat” or not? Whether you hide it and lie and get caught, or come right out with it?

    • z

      I agree– the lying is a major factor. My mom had an affair and it caused me, as a teenager, to lose trust in her and question my trust in all adults in my life, so it was a really traumatic and alienating experience– I still can’t say that I really trust her to do the right thing when the going gets tough. It’s almost impossible to carry on a long-term affair without telling a lot of lies to a lot of people, and it’s not a good way to earn their respect.

      Cheating also involves other people, so it can make things publicly messy and embarrassing, at least if you live in a small town like I did. People think they can keep things secret, but that’s easier said than done, and it was utterly humiliating to have my friends and everyone else know of my mother’s married men and cheap motels. I’m still embarrassed by it 15 years later, because it was so prolonged and so shameless. At least in a divorce some things can be kept private.

    • i have to agree that the honesty part of it is huge. although the sex part can hurt too.

      as someone who was cheated on repeatedly in a previous relationship, the fact that she was always honest and forthcoming about anything that happened was…it’s odd to say it was good, because the whole situation was not good…reassuring, almost. it meant that i didn’t have to worry about what *might* be happening – because she never lied about it.

      that said, while not lying was better than lying, the situation still sucked. the sex part of the cheating has had long-lasting effects on me. of course, our case was odd – i think her cheating kept our relationship together. had we had the kind of functional, honest communication that would have (in our case) addressed the issue, we would have realized far sooner that we weren’t really best off together (eventually, that is exactly what happened – we grew into our communication skills and talked ourselves out of the relationship, more or less). so, i don’t really blame her, actually.

  • Wow. Apart from anything else, this is a powerful and beautiful piece of writing. Thank you for writing it, author, and thank you so much for being the place that will host these discussions, APW.

  • Anonymous

    I could write a book about this and I keep cutting sentences out of my comment because I do want to be kind. Goodness knows I’ve done plenty of things that others (and I) find lacking, and there are plenty of things worse than being unfaithful. But the a good number of the comments make me uncomfortable because there seems to be an implicit assumption something “wrong” is OK when doing the “right” thing (leaving before an affair) is hard. That said, all we can do is the best we can, and there’s enough unhappiness in this world that I’m glad the original poster found love and contentment.

    • meg

      That’s certainly NOT my takeaway from this post. My takeaway is that life is hard and complicated, and sometimes we do things we never thought we would, that we don’t necessarily find deeply ethical… but sometimes things are less black and white than we hoped. That doesn’t mean what we did is right (even if we’re not sorry we did it), or that doing the hard thing isn’t the right thing. But we don’t always DO the right thing.

    • I agree with Meg. It’s not about applauding, it’s about understanding.

      • Anonymous

        I was referring to implicit assumptions in the comments (not the post).

  • AnonymousMouse

    I’m very moved by your post – as with many other commenters it has brought up unhappy memories from my past. I was the cheater in a really great relationship with a great guy who loved me and tried everything he could to keep me happy. I met a guy who knocked me over with lust and I threw everything I had away to sneak around behind my boyfriend’s back. I broke up with my boyfriend, but never told him what I had done. Needless to say, I never went out with the other guy either – by that point I had realised how manipulative and toxic he was. It took me a long time to come to terms with how cruel I had been. I had been selfish, self-centred and utterly mindless. The two things I comforted myself with was the knowledge that there were other reasons why my relationship would have probably run its course – if it wasn’t this, it would have been something else. The second thing was a pure sense of relief that I hadn’t met the second man later in my life – I saw what a powerful thing lust was – at the time I didn’t appreciate its power – now I would be wary of it. I think I will never feel totally reconciled to what I did, as it was completely out of character. It’s nearly six years now, and it has cost me a lot of time, energy, and tears to bring back my belief that I can be honest in a relationship again. Just before I read this blog I emailed a man who I had been dating for a while, who had not been particularly nice or committed to me, and told him that I didn’t want to see him any more. My bad behaviour has made me attuned to what a relationship should look like – and when I saw the photo and comment “be with someone who knows what they have when they have you” it really struck a chord – I hope the next person I meet will feel that way about me, and I, imperfect me, will be able to make them know that I feel that way about them. I wish you every happiness. x

  • I had chills from the halfway mark through to the last word. This is an amazing post, thank you to the writer for sharing this with us.

    As someone who was (is?) pretty scarred by my mom’s cheating when I was younger, I put the start of your relationship in an entirely different category than what I’ve known. I know some people don’t agree, and cheating is cheating no matter the circumstances, but for me, accidentally falling in love with the person you are supposed to be with and then making a beautiful life together is very different from serial cheating with the sole intent of causing your spouse pain (which was the case in my family). I’ve always had such a visceral reaction to cheating stories because of the way my mom treated my Dad, but I didn’t feel that way while reading your piece. Even though there was secrecy at the start and two other people were hurt by the fallout, you were strong enough to leave when you did. Many people would have stayed and continued in their unhappy marriages/happy affairs for fear of the repercussions or the unknown of what’s next. So you don’t have an easy “how we fell in love” story, so Disney probably won’t make a fairytale out of your courtship, but how you’re living your lives now is the real story. The fact that your kids are happy and supportive is proof that you’ve got it right.

  • Anna
    • Lizzie

      Oy. Life happens, but why would you put this in the NYTimes? Which, for the record, seems COMPLETELY different to me than the anonymous post and ensuing discussion that has happened here today.

      There’s actually a great This American Life prologue about exactly this, which gets directly at what makes me uncomfortable about it (the rest of the episode is good, too, but the intro is particularly apropos):


      • meg

        Indeed. There was a reason this post was anonymous (and edited to not include details of stories that were not the writers to share). People involved needed to be protected. Putting this kind of story in the New York Times seems a bit… unkind? Perhaps I’m wrong, and I’m open to that, but it doesn’t seem like it has the best intentions behind it.

      • Anna

        Obviously completely different! OP- I didn’t mean to imply it was comparable. I think you sharing your story was brave and you did it in a ‘safe’ environment and it cultivated an interesting discussion.

        I agree it seems in poor taste to go public with this in the NYTimes.

        I just thought it was kind of topical and curious as to other peoples take on this. It seems this couple found an ‘inconvenient’ love… at what point is infidelity ‘justified’? Honestly- it seems these 2 are happy together and they felt conflicted about it at first…

        its interesting to approach infidelity from another angle, that life is complicated and imperfect- rather than the usual cheating=always wrong.

        • meg

          I’m not sure I’d use the word “justified” and “infidelity” together, ever. Even in this post, does her current happiness JUSTIFY an affair? I’m not sure I’d use those words.

  • Lola

    I’m not sure the commenter above was saying that was the takeaway of the post – I think she was referring specifically to the tone of some of the comments. I actually tend to agree that some of the comments on this particular post make me uncomfortable, but maybe that’s just because the post itself made me uncomfortable. But yeah, I couldn’t totally get behind what I took as sort of a rah-rah, “good for you” tone in some of the comments, because while the post told a complicated story that involved blame on both sides, I don’t think it really addressed why the author had an affair instead of leaving her husband before starting up a new relationship.

    • meg

      I think the point is, there wasn’t a reason, necessarily. She wasn’t expecting to have an affair, and she hadn’t left her husband yet. Life happens, and sometimes it’s messy, and that’s important to talk about. Yes, of course, it’s not ideal what happened, but that’s what happened.

      • I think another interesting part of this is, how we tend towards reacting in these ways. Even in everyday conversation, someone talks about doing something difficult, and we immediately want to approve it (or disapprove). “Well that makes sense, he was awful to you”, “Well that makes sense, you had nowhere else to turn”, etc. Well maybe it doesn’t make sense, and it’s complicated and hard, and it happens anyway, and here you are. And we (generally) aren’t sure how to talk about it in new terms.

        • meg

          THIS COMMENT. I don’t think it’s our job to approve or disapprove (it’s not our life, or the life of a loved one even). The best thing we can do is try to understand why it might have happened. First: because it makes us more in touch with our own humanity, and second: because if we can understand and sympathize we’re actually more likely to be prepared and not end up doing the same thing (or be able to forgive ourselves and move forward if god forbid we are in that situation). Once you let go of “THIS COULD NEVER HAPPEN TO ME BECAUSE I WOULDN’T LET IT” and “I approve” or “I disapprove” you start to see and feel complexities… which is is insurance for the future. Which is exactly what the author brings it back to at the end of the post. Does she think cheating is awesome and want to do it again? No. She hopes, now knowing what she knows, she’ll never do it again.

  • Amber

    I cried like a baby at this post.

    Not because of the pain of cheating, of divorce, of any of those things. Because of the absolute JOY you feel with your current husband.

    Although my former relationship didn’t end with cheating (or if it did, I never found out, and I want to keep it that way), my ex-fiancee and I were over long before he left. Those feelings of being trapped, of desperately wanting, NEEDING, to be somewhere else (or with someone else, or just with yourself rather than him) were there for me even before he told me he didn’t want to get married. I blame my own baggage and the idea that I was supposed to be happy for keeping me there.

    I don’t know you, but anyone who can feel so happy deserves to feel that way. You understand the emotional dammage that was done, but how much more would have been done if you had stayed? Whenever I get weepy (like at the first wedding since my breakup that I went to this saturday) I just remember that, even though I’m miserable now, surrounded by the wreckage of my heartbreak, I would be even more miserable if I were getting married in 2 months. And that little glimmer of happiness outshines everything else.

  • z

    To the original poster– thanks for sharing your story, and it’s refreshing to hear you own your choices and their consequences. One of the most difficult things for me about coping with my mom’s lengthy affair is that she doesn’t accept responsibility. She says things like “it’s just a thing that happens in some families” and explains that it was because my dad was mean to her. He was mean to her, and she was mean to him, but it’s not like her pants came flying off of their own accord, right? I think that even when we are unhappy or in love, adults can keep their pants on and be accountable for their choices. I could live with it if she felt it was the right choice despite the cost, but her denial of agency is really frustrating. I wish I had a mom I could trust and admire, but her unrepentant cheating makes that less likely.

    I’m glad that your children are ok, and I don’t know how old they are, but I would suggest to you that they might view it differently in different stages of life. I was utterly horrified as a teenager when I found out, but didn’t really care when I was in my 20s, but then when the time came to get married, I suddenly had to re-process everything that happened, and was much more upset by it than I had ever been. It was only after a serious relationship of my own that I could fully appreciate what my dad and her co-cheater’s family went through for so many years. Having happily married in-laws has made me see all too clearly what my family has lost. I wish I could have had my mom as a mentor while I was preparing to get married, but the subject is so sensitive between us that it was really difficult to include her in the wedding planning process at all. Just one more little loss to go along with everything else, I guess.

    My mom has been unable to accept that I think her cheating was wrong, and continues to pressure me to validate her relationship with this still-married man. It’s been really damaging to our relationship. If I want to have a mother I have no choice but to accept her as a person who finds her infidelity morally acceptable, and I wish she could accept that I, too, am entitled to form my own opinion. If your children come to view your infidelity more negatively than you do, I hope that you will understand that it can be a very difficult thing in a parent-child relationship. You seem like you’re already on a much healthier path than my family, for sure.

  • kate

    there’s a line in the carly simon song ‘jesse’ that i have always loved: ‘let’s open the wine and drink to the heart that has a will of its own’

    i like what meg said – life is long and complicated and things happen and things don’t work out. when i do say my vows i will say i will do my best to make this work, but i am also a practical person and i know that it might not. i don’t think that makes it anymore likely that i will cheat – just that i know how life is.

    i, too, have mixed feelings about cheating as it’s what broke up my last serious relationship, but i also was ‘the other woman’ for awhile. i wasn’t sure how i could do that after being destroyed by cheating in the past, but sometimes you just can’t help it.

    i also think that my experiences – both being cheated on and being the other woman – have helped me grow as a person and someday as part of a couple. we’ll definitely be talking about it before i get married.

    thank you for a sensitive, thought-provoking post.

  • Man, talk about “The Hard Stuff.” This is it. It was not easy to read and I’m sure even more difficult to write. Thanks OP for such a compelling and thought-provoking piece.

  • Anon

    I was once on the side of the fence where I was the person who a married man cheated with. He lied to me to make me think that he was already divorced. When I found out the truth, my reaction was not to get away from a relationship that never should have happened even if he was truthfully single. On the contrary, my reaction was to ignore the things that were wrong, that were against my morals and logic, and try create a story where we became soulmates. Somehow, I thought, that if the relationship worked out then the wrongs we had done would be forgivable, perhaps? Still many years after separating myself from the situation and moving on to true love, I am still haunted by the hard lessons that I had to learn. Above all, I am ashamed that I was weak.

    There is a fine line between vulnerability and weakness. Vulnerability has two outcomes: you either experience great happiness as a result of taking a risk or you get hurt from going after what you want. Vulnerability takes courage, there is no courage in weakness. Great relationships come from letting yourself be vulnerable, but both sides working hard to maintain the happiness outcome. I read from this post both courage and vulnerability from her side of the story even in actions that are unfavorable. Thank you for sharing your experience for us to think on and learn from.

  • ZWP

    as usual I couldn’t be happier to follow APW, for your honesty, your interesting topics and your non judgemental editor choices. You are definitely a big bowl of air in the “all perfect ” kind of wedding blogs we see around the net.

    Long live APW!

  • Pingback: Cheating, or not? « The Smitten Immigrant()

  • Bella

    Wowee, what a post.

    I very much admire the poster for writing about this, because it can’t have been easy, and I appreciate what has been shared. It is a really hard issue to talk about, and as always, I appreciate that we get to have this discussion, because it is fascinating to hear what other people think.

    I’m a bit concerned by the tone of some of the comments though. There is a bit of a theme of “if the husband was a jerk anyway, then his bad behaviour means it was okay for you to do wrong as well”, which I personally don’t agree with. I think marriage vows are both joint and separate. Joint, because you take them together, and say them to each other, and your marriage depends on those vows being something that joins you together. But, having said that, they are separate as well, because you as an individual are signing up to the partnership, and you as an individual control your behaviour and your adherence to those vows. So, if one person dishonours those vows, that is a blow to the partnership and a wrong by the individual, but I don’t think it excuses the other person from dishonouring their vows as well.

    Background: I am yet another child of a bad divorce. My father cheated on my mother for years, and her life virtually ended after they divorced. She’s been profoundly depressed for the past 13 years, and is so crippled by anxiety and complete lack of self confidence that she doesn’t work, barely leaves the house, has only one friend, and a whole host of related physical health problems. The hell that her life has become is not simply because my father cheated on her, but because he destroyed her faith in herself. She questions everything now, and I can’t help but believe that if my father had just been respectful, told her upfront that he had met someone and fallen for her, and started that whole process straight away (instead of sneaking around, lying about breaking off the affair and then sneaking around some more), maybe she would have recovered from the heartbreak and moved on with her life. Which is all a roundabout way of saying I’m hardly unbiased on this issue, so take my comment as you will, but know that I don’t mean any hurt by it!

  • Airplane Rachel

    I have nearly the same story, but without marriage or children. With that, I feel like I understand your situation as completely as an outsider can.

    There have been a lot of things going through my head while reading the comments and I too don’t know what to add. It would be nice if my brain could spit it all out at once. I can’t just not comment because I want to show my support for the author.

    I share with you in your joy – its something I thought I would never find because who literally finds their personal idea of prince charming, the one that fits every characteristic, and then some, in the real world?? That is what makes the relationship so much more special and whole, in the biggest and fullest meanings of the words as they apply to a love-filled relationship.

    “I have no desire to ever be with anyone else.” We talked about this a lot when we first got together because of my past with my ex-boyfriend and because we think the complications of cheating are worth discussing to understand each other’s intentions, beliefs, morals, whatever you want to call it. The important part to us is that, like the writer said, we have no desire to ever be with anyone else. We feel fulfilled by each other enough and have the tools, desires and motivations to keep it that way.

    For me, I know I wasn’t treating my ex-boyfriend the way he should be treated, pre-cheating, I know, a sign right there, but no one is perfect and things aren’t black and white. I have never been married before and I didn’t know how much sacrifice and bending a relationship could handle and how much happiness and joy, or lack of, could/would/should accompany that. This is how the cheating started. Sure it doesn’t justify it but it helps me to understand why I did what I did.

    The other part is that I know he is a better person without me because he deserves someone that can love him perfectly, the way he needs it. Just like we all deserve someone like that. Its when we find it accidentally that it can hurt others in the process.

    Best of luck to the author! Finding that joy is one of the greatest things in the world. :)

  • The Writer

    Ok. The post went up, and I sweated a bit. Felt nervous all day as I waited for it to post (in the evening where I live). Then it was up and then the comments started flowing, which is both the most joyful and scariest part of the whole publishing-on-APW experience. I kind of rode along and reacted within myself all day. There are huge chunks of the story that go untold.

    Now that the comments have waned, I did want to say a few things.

    1. I don’t feel proud of myself for having an affair. I don’t think it was brave. I think it was wrong. I feel ashamed about it (obviously, since I was Anonymous). I want to protect our kids from this version of our story. We don’t lie to them, nor will we if they ask us outright, but we have a sanitized version of the story where dates are vague. Since we were long distance for a year, nobody really asks.

    2. I didn’t believe that I was a person who was capable of infidelity. It was deeply against the fibres of my grain. I am a very empathetic person. I believe in committment. I Stick. I protect The Sisterhood. And then it happened, and suddenly it was all: oh shit! I am capable of this. I didn’t get to be smug anymore about anything. It was humbling and devistating to be faced with the cold hard evidence of my humanity. Talk about standing on shifting sands.

    3. I think it’s hard for people in healthy relationships to comprehend how incredibly dysfunctional communication can get. It’s not that you stop trying to communicate–it’s that you both feel like you are screaming at the top of your lungs and yet you simply cannot understand one another–even when you desperately want to. There were lots of other (revealing details) factors that made our journey harder than most. My marriage failed, yes, but not for lack of effort. I TOILED in that relationship. And it wasn’t really that my ex was a tool. He became emotionally abusive when he sensed that I had lost respect for him. It was kind of a chicken or egg situation–the quintessential “vicious cycle.” I loved being able to reframe this event and the betrayal of vows (Thank you Liz!). We both broke vows. I gave it/him/my family everything I had, and then things I didn’t have, until I was so empty I couldn’t even cry anymore. Yes, I should have gone out the front door of that marriage, and not skulked out the back–it would have been infinitely more graceful. But I no longer had any belief or hope of love, or that a man like S. would ever even see me. I thought I could endure. Work harder.

    I found myself at a crossroads of vulnerability and opportunity that broke through moral barriers that would have been stronger if I were in a more solid place emotionally and pysically. I think that’s what Meg means when she says: life is messy.

    I am profoundly grateful to have found a Great Love–but I don’t feel that end justified the means. The means sucked, but they happened and the best I can do is try to learn the lessons about who I am, and who I want to be as an individual, a woman, and a wife.

    4. Thank you all for reading, grappling, and trying to understand. I am a bit older than many APW-ers, and thus have had time to make more mistakes. I have some scars. Some still hurt when I press on them. All are reminders of human frailty.

    • anonymous

      Exactly. This is a broken place to be. I always say that sometimes cheating, while a bad choice, is sometimes a choice that is made in times of desperation and brokenness.

  • MWM

    This post was difficult for me to read… not because I’ve been cheated on but because, I too, am a cheater. Cheating is the worst thing I’ve ever done, period. I terribly regret the pain I caused others by cheating, but maybe even more so I regret the way I disrespected myself. I never thought of myself as a dishonest or selfish person, I never thought of myself as destructive… cheating is all of those things. For me, cheating was the ultimate act of self betrayal, I went against my beliefs and values and it has cut me to the core. Now, I know some will disagree but I do think the cheater is always 100% to blame. Cheating was their choice regardless of the state of the marriage…. There are always other choices. I understand that it can be complicated but walking away with your dignity still intact would have been a much better option for me.

  • I am a product of a marriage similar to this. My mom emotionally abused my dad. He tried many times starting when I was 3 to get out, but my mom was far to controlling. By the time I was 11 he couldn’t handle it anymore and had an affair with a co-worker. While the divorce was hard and the years following difficult, everything eventually worked out for the better. My dad met his soul mate and is happier than I have ever seen him. I am a firm believer that there are certain times when affairs can be a positive.

    Thank you for writing this. I think it is something that everyone should read.

  • Maria-Andrea

    All I can say is wow at your bravery to share this with us in such a public way and voicing what many of us may be thinking in our own failing marriages or relationships and not be able to say. No judgement here, just the best of luck :-)

  • anonymous

    Life is complicated. Let me share how complicated life is and how sometimes unbearably complex people are. Reading this post made me extremely uncomfortable. It made me uncomfortable because as much I wanted to, I couldn’t read this like a wonderful love story where two lost souls save themselves from the disaster and heartbreak of a failing marriage and find each other. It sounds sordid and shameful and sad and horrible. That’s what I felt reading it. But guess what? I’m a cheater too. Like the writer, I never thought I was capable of cheating. Before I got married, I always said that if I was unhappy in a relationship or my marriage, I’d do the respectful and honorable thing and LEAVE if we couldn’t work it out, NOT something so undignified as cheating. But some years into our marriage, somehow I found myself incredible isolated and lonely in my marriage. My husband didn’t slowly kill me with abuse, but with something else that feels just as horrible: indifference. After some time, it just started to feel like this was the way our marriage would be. I fought, pleaded, begged, cried, but things never changed. My husband was completely uninterested and we literally became roommates who happened to sleep in the same bed. Eventually, we slept in different rooms. Days would go by without us speaking a word to each other. Our home was a cold and barren place. And then I met someone. I wasn’t looking for anything; it happened and slowly over time, evolved into something I didn’t even know was happening. He paid attention. I didn’t feel alone or isolated. I felt loved. And I hated myself because I was doing something I didn’t think I could ever do or feel. I did end the relationship. And I’m still married, but what I did will always have an impact on my marriage.

    My comment isn’t to justify what either me or the writer did. I’m just sharing this to say that life is complicated and people more so. I think it’s really easy to say what one would never do, that there are moral and ethical lines we would just never cross. I was one of those people. But I crossed a line, a BIG one. I think the writer is incredibly brave because she is honest about what happened, about what she did. None of us are going to get through life without making mistakes, sometimes major ones. I think the true testament to our character is going to be how we navigate through them. I applaud for the writing for baring herself and sharing this.

  • natalie

    Thank you for your honesty and courage in telling your story. We are all imperfect beings and so sometimes we do ‘imperfect’ things. But life has a way of leading us in the right direction–there is a plan for all of us. Good luck and lots of love to you. PS: I cried while reading this. It takes some serious b**** to discuss these issues on a personal level. Very deep and moving. keep up the good writing, too.

  • This post is a tribute to personal authenticity, striving continually forward as best as one can, and deciding that love is paramount. I am struck by how stunningly written this piece is; it will be a manifesto for many struggling with the complexities that arise when the sacred things in life–like integrity, love, commitment, parenthood…–don’t get along with each other. As I have read this, I have been standing on the sidelines at once with pom-poms and open arms to embrace you.

    Thank you for doing a hard thing in the name of love. Thank you for sharing.

    I hope you have this written down and folded into an envelope somewhere as an heirloom–the world will be a better place if we can all (put our judgements aside and) inherit your story.

    APW, your guts in sharing stories like these are what make you absolutely necessary reading. Yours is the blog I first recommend to every bride I work with. I’m cheering from the sidelines for all of you, too!

  • As someone who entered a new relationship (very unintentionally) quickly after a broken engagement, I am so glad to see this post. If you know someone isn’t right for you, but haven’t made the move to let go yet, sometimes it DOES take someone else in the picture. I was lucky enough that my someone else was from my past, and I had simply wondered “what if” for years… and a week after I broke off the engagement, he asked me to spend time together. Everyone gets to the end in a different way – and I applaud the poster for being willing to share her difficult story with the world.

  • GuitarGirlCoco

    This happened to me – not the two countries thing, and neither of us had kids. I was actually already going through a divorce but my now-fiance hadn’t separated from his (now) ex-wife yet when we realized we had something. A BIG something. That something you can’t ignore, and from my perspective – exactly what you describe here. THANK YOU for having the courage to tell your story. We’ve been able to explain ourselves to family and friends easily enough (since they all knew his marriage was shitty and my friends knew my ex-husband wasn’t the ONE as well)… and life is just so beautiful and fun and *real*. We keep each other accountable and I can only hope that we will continue to love, nurture, and pay attention to each other – something we both tried to do before but our former spouses just weren’t that into. I’m proud to say that we thrilled to move forward together and start OUR family..

    I really, really appreciate this post. Thank you.