One of the reasons I ultimately divorced my ex-husband was his ongoing infidelity. The first time he cheated on me, I passed his affair partner and longtime friend at the apartment complex entrance without knowing it. She waved at me as she was leaving and I was entering. We weren’t even married yet.
He went on to cheat many more times. The truth is, he cheated so many times that overcoming his infidelity would have been impossible even if I hadn’t struggled with so many feelings and thoughts about it. But even if infidelity is a one-time thing, it can be incredibly difficult to overcome.
Some people think it’s as simple as forgetting. Just stop imagining them with this other person, stop wondering why, stop thinking about it and it will all go away eventually. And that’s certainly a nice thought, but it’s not realistic.
There are so many emotions, thoughts, and concerns that come with infidelity. Here are just a few of the ones I struggled with.
Feeling like I wasn’t enough
I never really knew the women he cheated on me with. What I did know was that none of them were drop-dead, irresistibly gorgeous. I’m not going to insult them and say they were less attractive than me, because I think attractiveness is a unique thing. But it would have been easier to understand (still inexcusable, of course) if my ex had cheated with a woman who looked like Angelina Jolie or had the personality of Jennifer Aniston mixed with Mother Teresa — or both.
These women were, like me, average. They were just normal women, flawed and human and not having some quality that made them some force that no man could resist. So it left me to wonder why I wasn’t enough for him. If these women were no different than me, then what did they have that I didn’t? What did they give him that I didn’t?
I still would have felt like I wasn’t enough if he’d cheated with the Angelina/Jennifer hybrid I mentioned above. But at least I would have been able to point to the things I felt I was missing that would make him go elsewhere. When he cheated with women who were no different than me, it left the feeling without closure. It made me feel even more inadequate and insecure because I was unable to pinpoint that “something” that would lure him away from me and to these other women.
Infidelity is a strange beast. When you’re the innocent spouse, you’ve done nothing wrong and yet the humiliation runs as deep as if you showed up to take the SAT naked while picking your nose after not showering for a month.
You’re humiliated because your spouse cheated. You’re humiliated because you didn’t know — or you did and you just ignored it until you couldn’t any longer. You’re humiliated because you’ve been living a blissful life thinking you were with someone who loved and adored you, with deep trust and loyalty, and they’ve been banging someone else behind your back.
For me, it meant feeling like I couldn’t go anywhere — not even to the grocery store — without feeling like everyone was staring and whispering about what my spouse had done. We lived in a decently-sized city, so it wasn’t like we were the center of a small town gossip mill. Yet I felt like we were. I felt like everyone, even complete strangers who didn’t live nearby, knew what had happened.
And it’s not just the idea that everyone knows. It’s the idea that everyone knows and you didn’t. I imagined these people whispering and wondering how I could have not known he was cheating. Wondering how stupid I was to not know. Asking each other did they really think I didn’t know or did they think I just pretended not to know?
Blatant disregard for me
Cheating, to me, shows a complete lack of respect for the person you cheat on. I felt my ex-husband showed a blatant disregard for me when he cheated. And that was infuriating.
He never thought about my feelings. He never thought about my humiliation. He never considered my physical health and whether or not he might bring any diseases home to me (including while I was pregnant). He never considered the vows he’d made to me, the promises he was breaking every time he was with someone else.
There are so many ways to disregard and disrespect someone. But infidelity seems to be the one activity that brings all those ways together into one neat little package that allows the cheater to destroy an entire life without even trying very hard.
It was this blatant disregard for me that I think might have made it impossible for me to get past my ex’s infidelities. The fact that he kept doing it over and over again felt like a slap in the face, like he needed me to know just how little he cared about me and how little he respected me.
Concern about STIs
I will never forget being six months pregnant and asking my OB to test me for everything. It was embarrassing, uncomfortable, and singlehandedly ruined what should have been a beautiful pregnancy experience.
The thing about infidelity is that even if your partner swears up and down they used condoms and the person they were with was clean, you can never know for sure. Because the mere fact that they cheated means you can’t believe a word they say. So you end up with a constant thread of anxiety in your mind, worrying about STIs and whether you might have one.
Getting one clear test isn’t always enough to ease your mind, either. Because you can’t know for sure when your partner last had sex with someone else, you can’t know when you were last potentially exposed — other than knowing when you last had sex with your partner.
So you might have to get tested three or four times before you begin to feel confident that you’re in the clear. And the fact that you have to do that is enough to make you struggle to forgive your partner.
Infidelity causes so many losses. The loss of trust. The loss of dreams. The loss of connection. The loss of hope.
Some couples are able to overcome those losses and get those things back. But it’s always a struggle. And for me, it was a huge struggle.
I had always dreamed of being married just once for life. That my husband and I would be close, connected, sharing our hopes and dreams with each other. Supporting each other as we chased after those hopes and dreams.
And with his infidelity, my ex shattered that dream. It took so much away from me. And he felt no real remorse about what he’d done. So little remorse, in fact, that he continued to cheat. It was as if each loss was a hole I was in, and with each affair, he dug that hole a little deeper. I was never going to get out because he was always making sure I couldn’t.
Feeling like I’d never get over it
This is a feeling that everyone feels when they first find out their partner has cheated. They immediately think they’ll never get over it because the pain is so intense in that moment. For me, though, the feeling was much stronger. Even in that first moment when I found out about the first affair, it was just… different for me.
I think it might have been my intuition telling me that he was always going to cheat. But whatever it was, I just constantly felt like I’d never get over it. Every time I’d try to forget, try to move on, try to forgive, I’d have images of him with someone else flashing through my mind like neon bar signs.
Even when we went to counseling and our counselor offered tools that were meant to help me get over it, they just didn’t work for me. I would try so hard, grasping at those tools like I was clutching the neck of someone trying to rescue me from drowning, and never make progress.
And in the end, I couldn’t. I couldn’t get over it and forgive him because he wouldn’t stop cheating.
You can’t fix what someone continues to break
Infidelity can be overcome. I know plenty of couples who have done it. But the key is that the infidelity has to stop first.
You can’t fix a marriage when one partner continues to break it with their infidelity. It’s like trying to glue a plate back together when your partner keeps taking pieces and breaking them into smaller pieces.
You’ll likely struggle with all the things I mentioned here, and a few more that are unique to you. But if your partner is truly remorseful, and you’re both determined to survive infidelity, it is possible. You’ll need time, and maybe a counselor or even a change in location, but it doesn’t have to be the end.
And if it is the end? If you decide you can’t forgive it and can’t get over it, there is still hope. It took me a long time but I did finally find the ability to forgive my ex. It’s not the kind of forgiveness that would ever allow us to be a couple again.
But it is the kind of forgiveness that allows me to trust other men. It allows me to have relationships without feeling insecure and constantly worrying that my partner will cheat or is cheating. It allows me to move on without him and without the negativity our ill-fated marriage brought into my life.
It might not have been able to save my marriage, but it did save my love life.
Wendy Miller is a Post-Divorce Coach & writer. After years of settling for abusive and otherwise toxic relationships, she got fed up. Using meditation and other tools, she got to work on healing herself, setting boundaries, and only engaging in relationships (romantic and otherwise) that bring her joy. She wants to help other single parents find the love & happiness they seek, including and going beyond romantic love. She lives in Florida with her two sons, where she homeschools while solo parenting, while surrounded by what feels like a zooful of animals.
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