I was pretty much always in control. Thanks to a chaotic childhood, I'd become uber-capable, one of those people you could always count on in a crisis. I could think quickly, weighing possible solutions and deciding on what made the most sense. I cast aside my own needs/wants in the moment and ensured that everybody else was supported, that they were safe, that they had what they needed.But that blessed saint could also be yourself—the person who, in this moment, makes a decision that can make a bold path into the years to come and whom your future happiness will always remember. What could you do now for yourself or others that your future self would look back on and congratulate you for—something it could view with real thankfulness because the decision you made opened up the life for which it is now eternally grateful? ~David Whyte
In the hours that followed my husband's admission that yes, he had cheated on me, I followed that familiar script. I told him exactly where I stood on this, exactly what he needed to do if he wanted to prevent me from packing up my three kids that very minute and walking out the door.
And then...I fell apart.
In the days that followed, I realized that control had been a total illusion. I didn't control him. I'd been completely ineffective at keeping him faithful. Despite believing that I'd marred someone so principled, he couldn't cheat. Despite a conversation we'd had when I we first considered having kids in which we promised each other we'd always talk to each other first, if ever we were tempted, that we'd seek help before we'd make a choice that could destroy everything.
I felt impotent. Out of control. Terrified.
And yet, it's within that emotional space – where light is dark and nobody seems who we thought they were and we wonder whether we're betraying ourselves further by reaching for comfort from the very person who has broken our heart – that we're expected to make a decision: stay or go. Forgive or move on.
If we've dared to share our pain with others around us, there's no shortage of opinions. We're told by some that monogamy is unnatural so of course he cheated. We're told by others that they sure as hell wouldn't tolerate someone cheating on them and if we had a backbone we would pack our bags and make the bastard pay. Some suggest that leopards don't change their stripes so staying with a cheater means more pain. And, occasionally, someone confides that an affair is what broke up their marriage. Less often we might hear that an affair is what woke up their marriage.
But against all this noise, whether from actual people in our lives or the culture in which we live, we're expected to make a decision. Stay? Or go?
Is it any wonder we feel like we're losing our minds? How in the world can we be expected to make a choice that will impact us years if not decades down the road – that will alter the course of our children's lives as well – in the days following one of the biggest emotional shocks of our lives?
We're a reactionary world. For every action, we are expected to respond with an equal and righteous reaction. You cheated on me? How dare you. You. Will. Pay.
Some of us measure payment in different currency. It's not a pound of flesh we're after (though, come to think of it...). It's a genuine acknowledge of the cost – to us – of their choice. It's a commitment to doing whatever we need to help mitigate that cost. To help us heal.
But in the absence of our spouse's immediate remorse and a commitment to rebuild a marriage, what choice do we have?
We can leave.
Or we can do what David Whyte suggests. We can make small decisions that put us on a path that our future selves will look back and be grateful for.
Perhaps that small decision is to seek professional support, even when money is tight. Perhaps that small decision is to begin saying 'no' to the things that everybody expects from us but that we have, for years, grit our teeth and done anyway.
Perhaps it's seeing a lawyer to get a clear picture of what our financial future might be should we leave, to get an understanding of how we can protect ourselves in the meantime.
Maybe it's refusing to remain silent to protect our husband from facing the disappointment of his family or ours.
Maybe it's putting our needs first, for a change. Joining a gym, quitting a soul-sucking job, getting childcare for a blissful evening a week to spend in the company of friends.
Or maybe it's refusing to tolerate the same old marriage that he was so quick to risk...and instead making some new rules. My heartbreak, my rules, as Steam has put it.
Making the decision in the days following D-Day can feel unimaginable. Overwhelming. Terrifying. But making a decision – one that honours ourselves – is not only manageable, it's empowering.
Figure out what you can do to make your future open up, even just a crack.
Then do it.