My marriage survived a cheating affair. At least, it’s survived so far. This episode of infidelity occurred less than two years into our marriage, though my husband, Paul, and I had been together for many years beforehand. And neither of us had ever cheated on each other before. It was a one-night, one-time indiscretion (not that I’m making excuses) that happened during a four-day work conference clear across the country (cliched, I know). Oh, and I wasn’t the cheater. He was.
My husband didn’t know this other woman; they met at the work conference. As often happens at these kinds of boring functions, much drinking ensued during the post-seminar evening hours (again, not an excuse, just saying). Unpleasant story short: Paul got drunk. The woman got drunk. They ended up drunkenly “making out” in the hotel bar, which, for me conjures images of a sloppy high school prom. Later, Paul and this woman stumbled back to his room. A few hours later she was gone, and in the early morning hours Paul awoke apparently not knowing what had happened (perhaps largely due to the getting wasted aspect of the story). But he assumed that they had had sex, which, I think, is a pretty fair assumption to make, all things considered. The conference ended that day, and, according to Paul, he never saw or spoke to this other woman again (she was from and lived in Europe) except to email her once to ask if she had any STDs that he should be aware of or concerned about. Her reply was: Nope, not to worry. (Unless she was lying, of course, but since then I think Paul and I have established the fact that she wasn’t.)
Now, I realize that Paul sounds like a total asshole worth kicking to the curb. But he’s not. And I didn’t. (Not that I didn’t consider it!) He’s actually one of the most decent, circumspect, good-hearted, loyal, stand-up people I know. He just made a seriously major mistake, and not just according to me — according to him. Of course, that wasn’t Paul’s only mistake. He didn’t tell me about his one-night stand until 18 months after it had happened. I think I was angrier about the fact that he’d kept this secret from me (okay, lied to me) for so long than I was about his actually sleeping with someone outside our marriage. When he finally did confess, I wasn’t at all sure that our marriage would survive this betrayal — however brief it may have been. Paul, however, was sure. But before we even got to that point, we had to take a long, hard, uncomfortable look at what had been going on during the beginning part of our marriage.
With the help of weekly couples’ counseling (Paul paid!), we did just that. Basically, our pre-infidelity problems were that we weren’t communicating or negotiating anything as a couple. And there were money issues. Back then, Paul was carrying most of our financial burden for various reasons, and because he didn’t see an end to this dynamic in sight, he was damn pissed off at me about it. Should he have communicated his ongoing frustration to me? That would’ve been nice. Should I have been more aware of his frustration? No doubt. But I’m talking about marriage here, not something idyllic or carefree or devoid of road blocks. A problem is either fixable or it isn’t. And we were just starting the demolition phase of the construction project that is our marriage.
Don’t get me wrong; I was madder than hell at Paul. But the truth is, while I wasn’t technically unfaithful to my husband during that time, I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t considered cheating myself. And I’d actually been tempted to a few months before Paul’s indiscretion, while I was away from home on an extended business trip. (The kind where you basically have to live in another city for a month and you weirdly feel like you’re single, even though you’re not.) Nothing physical happened, but it’s fair to say that I “emotionally cheated” for a month with this other man (who was quite a bit younger than I was — woo-hoo!). Some may say that emotional cheating isn’t the same as physically cheating, but I have to disagree. When I looked at my extramarital situation for what it really was, if I’d seen my husband acting with a woman the way I’d acted with this younger man (long, “deep” conversations, quiet dinners alone, major flirting, lots of eye contact, staying up late together, hugging, watching movies while lying on a bed together), I’d say that Paul was cheating on me. So, as it turns out, I did have some experience in the infidelity department. And the point is this: While I wasn’t to blame for Paul’s infidelity, I wasn’t blameless in our entire situation, either.
There’s an old saying that goes: Once a cheater, always a cheater. I used to believe that, but now I don’t think it’s true anymore. People fuck up, and they either learn from those mistakes or don’t. The trick is to make sure your partner falls squarely into the I-learn-from-my-mistakes category. And that you do, too. These days Paul and I are cruising on the right track. We both want to be in the marriage, and we’ve worked hard to make that happen. I’ve forgiven him for his transgressions, and he’s forgiven me for mine (the money thing, remember?). We’re a lot less richer thanks to several years of couples counseling with a great clinical psychologist, but we’ve noticeably improved our communication and negotiating skills. We’re starkly honest with each other. And we don’t cheat — at least, we haven’t since then. Let’s just say we’re midway through our ongoing restoration project, and that things are proceeding nicely.
If you’re reading this and thinking: Oh, there’s no way this would ever happen in MY marriage, then either you’ve never been married, haven’t been married for long enough, or are just plain kidding yourself. That’s the bad news. The good news is that your marriage or long-term relationship can survive cheating. Really. Mine has so far. It sounds impossible, but it’s not. It sounds like you have to settle. But you don’t. That said, I know that infidelity can cause or contribute to the failure of lots of marriages, and for some of you, that sad outcome may be for the best. That just wasn’t my particular situation or choice. But I fully expect that our marriage will have to survive a lot of other challenges and crap before it’s all over. I’m just glad we got the infidelity part out of the way early on, so now we can focus on moving forward and meeting all the challenges that a marriage renovation involves.