I so clearly remember the day I discovered my husband’s affair. He, my 3-month-old son and I were going to my friend’s child’s birthday party. Prior to that, I was hanging out in the house with the baby while my husband worked on landscaping out front. It started to get late, and I went out to ask him when he was coming in to take our son so I could take a shower. He exploded at me, saying that he didn’t even want to go. I had been excited to see my friend because this was the first time she would be meeting my son, but this outburst put a bit of a damper on the evening.
At the party, my husband sat away and ignored everyone, texting on his phone the entire time. When we got home, he went upstairs to get ready for bed, and left his phone, unlocked, on the couch. Looking back, I think this was an unconscious move – he wanted to be discovered and end the misery he was in with me. This was the moment that ignited the worst trauma of my life, one that’s effects continue to endure 6 years later.
The words I managed to read before going blind with rage are ones that I will never forget. There were sexually explicit texts exchanged with a woman we had both worked with, whom he still worked with and who had been to our house with her husband for social gatherings on multiple occasions. A woman I had been suspicious of for years. A woman I had repeatedly asked about, only to be told that they were “friends”.
I ran upstairs and threw his phone at him. What ensued were lies upon lies about how it was just “sexting” and that they had never gotten physical with each other. I so badly wanted to believe that they had not had sex because if that were true, then all hope was not lost. Maybe we could find our way back to each other. I desperately wanted to understand how this could happen, especially as we had just started expanding our family. I had never felt so angry and so betrayed.
The next day, I took my son and left. I wasn’t sure where I was going. I talked to my therapist while driving, and she said she thought the “fact” that they had never had sex was very unlikely. I knew that was true, but I didn’t want to believe it. All I could think about was being a poor single mom. The poor part was already true.
I went to my dad’s house. He wasn’t home, but his girlfriend was, and though we were not particularly close, I told her everything. She turned out to be the exact right audience at that moment, as she had previously been married to a man for 18 years who had had two affairs during their marriage. It was comforting to hear that my anger was justified, and that I was going to be ok. To feel supported by my family. To believe that the horrible pain that I was in wouldn’t last forever. Little did I know, the discovery was not complete and that things would get much worse.
I stayed at my aunt’s that night and returned home the next day. I fought to stay focused at work. I talked to anyone who would listen. I cried. I called my husband and screamed at him while he was at work. I investigated the mistress online, trying to figure out, why her? What was so special about her? I tried to focus on taking care of my son and not crying every time I was with him so that he wouldn’t suffer from the effects of a depressed mother. I dug and I dug and I dug for more information. I couldn’t get enough. I had to understand.
A week later, I was home with the baby, and my husband was at work. He had recently gotten a new phone, and the old was one sitting on an end table, powered off. My son was napping, and I was obsessing, so I turned the phone on. To this day, I am sorry that I did. It was miraculously unlocked, and there was naked picture after naked picture of the mistress. There was a sex video of them. One photo he had even made the background on his phone with her head cut off. When I questioned it, prior to knowing it was her, he lied and said he had gotten it off the internet. I thought it was weird but stupidly believed him.
I lost my mind. Sobbing, I called him, screaming, and told him I had found the pictures and that I was leaving with our son. Sobbing, I packed up what I could. Sobbing, I put my son in his infant carrier, and we headed out the door, back to my aunt’s house, with a sick stomach and weak knees. My life was crumbling and I had the naked truth to prove it.
I stayed at my aunt’s house for two months. Initially, my husband was beside himself because he wasn’t seeing his son. I was so angry and did not want my three-month-old away from me. I didn’t think it was fair that I had to give him up to his father because of a decision his father made. We fought a lot on the phone, arguing for hours while my aunt took care of the baby. It was exhausting.
I religiously checked all of his accounts to make sure they were not talking to each other. One day, on my way to work, I was checking his email on the highway (because I was an obsessed, crazy person) and saw that she had emailed him. I flipped out and crashed right into the back of someone’s car. Luckily, my son was not with me. I got cited for reckless driving.
There was so much pain in those early months, pain that overshadows the joy of having a new baby. My son’s babyhood will always be colored by this awful thing that happened. I felt like I was going to be swallowed whole by suffering. We started couples counseling, and it quickly became clear that the counselor was not interested in helping us; perhaps he saw something about the state of our doomed relationship that I could not yet see. When he said that he thought seeing us once every three weeks was acceptable, we quit. Things weren’t getting better, and I didn’t think less therapy was the right move.
I begged my husband to see a counselor that my therapist highly recommended who didn’t take insurance. I knew it would be worth it. He agreed once I told him that my dad was willing to pay for our sessions; we truly could not afford it with both of us working in community mental health and me only working part time so I could be home with our son for part of the week. The counselor agreed to take us on with the caveat that she was retiring in one year. Turns out we didn’t need that long to figure out that we were not going to make it. I found out about an email address that my husband did not tell me about, and I was done. I felt that to be a sign of him either not getting it or not wanting to get it. We spent the holidays with our own respective families, sharing the baby. Once I was able to find an apartment, I packed all of mine and the baby’s stuff by myself, and we moved out.
Luckily, by this time, I had two part time therapy jobs and a very small private practice. I was thrilled that I was actually making it on my own. When this first happened, I was not convinced that I would be able to do so. My private practice was growing. Everything that I had been through, though painful and terrible, had helped me grow as a person and as a therapist. Of course, none of this would have been possible without my family. My aunt was our unpaid babysitter. My sister spent every weekend with my son and I. My dad gave us money to get by. Everyone hated my husband and wanted to see my son and I thrive.
And here we are, four and a half years later. We have been through a lot, more than I imagined two people could go through in such a short period of time. I have done my best to protect my son from any damaging aspects of the split, such as the rancor I still feel for his father. I have gone to many therapy sessions, cried a lot, and stared at my son for hours to remind myself why I work so hard to be the best mom I can be. My ex and I are divorced, and he purchased a lovely house with his affair partner, who quietly got divorced shortly after I discovered their affair. I am in a committed relationship with a single dad. We have moved on in many ways. But, one thing remains, ample conflict over our son. Despite my best efforts to work with him and have a custody agreement drawn up by my attorney that gives us shared custody, we are now headed to court to argue over who will have primary custody.
I don’t understand it. I want to be left alone to love and care for my son during my parenting time. I don’t interfere with his life. If I don’t agree with something, I state my opinion and allow him to make a decision. I don’t take him to court and spew lies about him to try to get my way. If I could have my son full time, I absolutely would. I know that isn’t going to happen. So, I want my 50%, and I want peace.
I never imagined my parenting journey would be like this. I wanted a partner to raise our son with love, respect and fidelity. All of that has changed. The fantasy is gone because after all, it was just that…a fantasy. We are in a better place. I think my son would probably prefer to have one house, not two, but here we are. I am committed to making this home happy, emotionally safe and capable of supporting our ongoing life journey, wherever it takes us. My marriage vows were broken but, to my great surprise and joy, that didn’t break me. And for that, I am both grateful and proud.