what I want you to know: emotional infidelity

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. This post is written by Sue M. of Borrowed Light.

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First of all, you should know that I never talk about this on my blog.  Too many people read it who know us In Real Life.  Too many people who would read about it and change their perceptions about who my husband is, who my family is, who we are together.  Even now, after everything, I’m not sure that’s fair. 

I can go back and read the very few posts on my blog from that period of time and I can see the bitterness, I can feel the sadness of my aching heart where it leaked through even though I was trying to mask it.  I almost totally stopped blogging, because I couldn’t be honest about what was going on, and if I couldn't be honest, what was the point? It was a lonely time.  It is not something you can tell people, not if you want to try to make your marriage work – not if you want your family members to still love and respect your spouse. 

Because they always have loved him.  You can’t know him and not love him.  My husband is Good People.  He has always been that solid, trustworthy, absolutely dependable guy who would never, never, NEVER cheat on his wife – not emotionally or otherwise.  I would’ve laughed in your face if you’d ever suggested such a thing.  Impossible.  Never in a million years. 

Except he did, and in some ways I am still reeling – not so much over what he did, but over the discovery that he is not quite who I always thought he was. 

We were going through an extremely rough period, and when I say an extremely rough period, what I actually mean is that we were going through total hell.  Our business crashed.  Our finances tanked.  We went through all of our savings.  We lost both cars.  We were in the middle of losing (and eventually did lose) our house. We were also expecting a most decidedly unexpected baby.  I would’ve told you that things couldn’t get worse.

I would’ve been wrong.

FIRST OF ALL, there were definitely hard things going on in our marriage at the time:

-    Aforementioned stress
-    We were totally disconnected
-    We were arguing a lot
-    We were stressed
-    I was tired from my pregnancy and falling asleep at 9 every night
-    I was working a lot, trying to come up with extra money to save the house from foreclosure, something my  husband had given up on long before, and frankly, I was sort of mad about that.

But if you had asked me I would’ve said that our marriage was still fine.  We still loved each other.  It was just a rough patch.  A reaaaaally rough patch.

Can I tell you something about my husband that has always bothered me?  He has boundary issues.  He always has a work wife.  He always has close female friends and he feels free to talk with them about anything.  He is just so darn friendly, and understanding, and patient, and easy to talk to - and unable to recognize when a line is being crossed from appropriate-for-friendship and appropriate-for-a-girlfriend. Even if HE never meant for anything to happen, his emotional behavior has always been a disaster waiting to happen. 

At the time there was one cute, thin, young, blonde (MARRIED) girl at work who he was quite good friends with. At the time I was not cute, or thin, or even particularly blonde, but rather drab and very pregnant.  Still, I never really worried, because HE WOULD NEVER, ARE YOU KIDDING ME.

In case you are wondering, here is what it looks like when your husband is emotionally involved with someone else:

-    He will chat with people on Facebook (or what-have-you) and minimize the windows whenever you walk by
-    His phone is suddenly private, password protected, and apparently made of freaking GOLD, because he will not let it out of his sight for a second, not to shower, not to pee, not for ANY REASON WHATSOEVER
-    And don’t ask to use it, because NO
-    His phone will buzz incessantly
-    Any inquiries into the source of the buzzing will earn you a lecture about jealousy, control, and trust that will leave you feeling shamed and guilty
-    He will spend a lot more time texting his “mother”
-    He will want more time alone
-    He will make changes to his appearance, diet, exercise habits, etc.
-    He will pick fights over nothing and find fault where he never has before
-    His email and Facebook passwords will change
-    There will be lots of innocent comments on his Facebook wall from one person in particular

Since I’m not a moron, this behavior raised, shall we say, RED FLAGS.  I talked to him about it, over and over.  I knew something was wrong but I still couldn’t quite believe that MY HUSBAND WOULD EVER.

THINGS YOUR HUSBAND WILL SAY WHEN HE IS TRYING TO THROW YOU OFF THE TRAIL:

-    That you are being crazy
-    That you are being controlling
-    That he hasn’t done anything wrong
-    That he isn’t talking to her, for the LOVE
-    That you need to loosen up and stop badgering him because he is fed up with it and besides
-    How dare you think something like that about him

Ladies and gentlemen, TRUST YOUR INTUITION.

One night we got into a huge fight about it.  I demanded to see his phone, and he refused that request on account of it being unreasonable and an invasion of his privacy.  He actually made me feel really guilty, and I ended up crying and apologizing.  I went out with friends that night, and when I got home I heard his phone buzzing.  At midnight.  His mother, MY LEFT BUTTOCK.

I logged onto our cell phone provider’s website and looked at the call log.  Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of texts back and forth between the two of them.  That night, all night long.  Every day, all day long.  When I was working.  When I’d left for five minutes to go to the grocery store.  When I went out with friends one night.  Constantly.

I nearly threw him out of the house.

We fought a lot after that. 

THINGS YOUR HUSBAND WILL SAY EVEN AFTER YOU HAVE PROOF THAT SOMETHING IS UP:

-    That they are just friends
-    That he can’t help it if she understands him
-    And she is really a nice person
-    And you would probably like her
-    And she is just so easy to talk to
-    That’s why they were texting till 2 in the morning
-    And all day long
-    But even though he is totally innocent
-    And nothing happened
-    The fact remains that he loves you but is not sure if he’s in love with you
-    And your marriage hasn’t been good in years anyway
-    And if he did end up having feelings for someone else it wasn’t like he meant for it to happen
-    And in any event it doesn’t matter, because they are just friends

In case you are wondering what you should say to your husband in response, it goes pretty much something like this:

-    Bullshit
-    Bullshit
-    Bullshit
-    Bullshit
-    Also, stop talking to her immediately or pack your bags.

Here is the thing about people involved in emotional affairs.  They believe they are “in love.”  They are feeling the heady rush of emotion that comes with a new relationship.  It is exciting.  It is fluttery.  It is new.  It is like getting high, and they will do almost anything to protect that high, to continue to feel what they are feeling.  They will rewrite years of loving marital history.   Instead of groveling for forgiveness as you would expect, he will be almost willing to throw in the towel, to toss away 13 years of marriage and four kids, for the chance to continue to pursue a total fantasy. 

WAYS IN WHICH YOUR HUSBAND MAY REACT WHEN YOU DEMAND THAT HE STOP TALKING TO HER:

-    Refusal
-    Anger
-    Apathy towards your relationship
-    Eventual capitulation regarding killing the friendship
-    Depression (because you killed his romance)
-    More Anger (because you killed his romance and now life sucks)
-    More Depression (because you killed his romance and now life sucks and what on earth is there to live for anyway)
-    Occasional bouts with reality (oh wait, four kids, oh wait, a wife who put me through college and has supported and loved me for years) followed immediately by
-    More anger and apathy and depression

HOLD THE LINE. 

INSIST UPON NO CONTACT. 

People who are involved in emotional affairs are in a fog.  Until it clears, you can’t reason with them.  Sometimes I think emotional affairs are more damaging than physical affairs, because the involved parties often feel star-crossed and innocent of physical infidelity.  They give their hearts to each other, betray you in the most intimate way possible, and still feel like the wronged parties, because they “couldn’t help it.”  It just happened.  Except that it didn’t.  They made choices each step of the way. But in the fog, they can’t see that.  They think they were in horrible marriages and that they magically found each other.  They can no longer see the actual truth of your marriage.  They can’t see the truth of their behavior.  They can't see.

Only after he's cut off all contact with her, only then can you figure out if there is anything left to salvage. 

My husband was really upset with me for making him give up his “friend.”  But it was funny how, a couple of months after he stopped talking to her, he suddenly snapped out of it.  Seemed to realize what an idiot he’d been, and the reality of the damage he’d done to our marriage.  Seemed to suddenly remember the reasons why he loved me, and that he in fact, really HAD loved me.  But in the fog, he couldn’t see it.  He couldn’t see anything but himself - and her.

Oh, you guys.  It was ROUGH.  There isn’t even room here to get into how hard it was.  How many fights, how many tears, how many nights I spent pondering divorce.

Ugh. 

IF YOU ARE GOING THROUGH THIS, HERE ARE SOME THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW:

  • You are not alone.
  • This is not your fault.  You may share fifty percent of the responsibility for the state of your marriage pre-infidelity, but he bears ALL of the responsibility for choosing to seek intimacy outside of your marriage.  ALL OF IT. 
  • If you want to, and if he wants to, and if you are both willing to do the work, it is possible for your marriage to work again
  • But it will not ever be the same
  • And it’s ok if you don’t feel like you can go there

IF YOU DECIDE TO STAY, KNOW THAT:

  • You may not ever fully trust him again
  • You may be able to forgive him eventually
  • But you will never forget
  • There will be days when you hate him.
  • And there will be days when you love him very much.

For us, two years later things are a lot better.  We are closer, more connected.  I know he loves me.  He tells me every day.  He treats me wonderfully.  He is still trying to make up for it, and I know that I can’t ask him to do this forever.  He is totally open with me – I have access to his phone, to his passwords, to his email.  I don’t like acting like a prison warden in that regard, but it is the only way I feel safe.

I love my husband, but I haven’t totally forgiven him. I will never forget it.  I will never fully trust him again.  I get mad about things that never used to bother me, because, let’s face it, I have a lot of resentment.  I’m trying to work through it – for us, for the 15 years we have been married, and for our four children.  At some point I am going to have to either forgive him or let us both get on with our lives, but it’s hard.

It is different.  It is like learning to love a different person.  It is about learning to accept that your husband is, in fact, truly human and flawed in ways you never thought he was.  That he is capable of real mistakes, not just things like being bad at handling finances, or leaving the laundry on the floor, or leaving the cap off the toothpaste.  And now you have to decide if you can live with that.

I really hope I can. 

If you are going through something similar, please know that you are not alone.  (And my contact info is on my blog if you need to talk.) 

Sue blogs at Borrowed Light.




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