Shortly after my husband and I separated, when I was still in the thick of the pain of his betrayal, I made a new friend.
She and I just clicked in that unusual and delightful way that new friends can. I could tell she was a woman of strength, wisdom, creativity, and compassion—all the things I most admire.
As we slowly got to know each other, I shared the fact that I had just separated, and that my husband had been unfaithful.
She met that information with deep compassion… and with something else that was very subtle and might have gone unnoticeable by anyone who wasn’t already in a hyperaware state. She told me how sorry she was that I was going through this. She admitted that her marriage had been through difficult patches when her children were young, and that time is a great healer. She cautioned that you never know what someone is capable of until their back is against the wall.
I already had my suspicions when, with great trepidation, she eventually confessed to me that many years ago, during a time of strife in her marriage, when her children were as young as mine are now, she had an emotional affair and was caught. What she described (motivation, rationalization, outcome) sounded very similar to my husband’s physical affair.
My new friend was concerned that this information would cause me to see her in a different, less favourable light. But it didn’t. Not at all. Instead, her revelation made me grateful that she would trust me with something so emotionally important.
It also made me very curious.
I liked this woman. She was like me. We had very similar values. Yet she had made a bid for escape that was similar to the one my husband had. She had put her spouse—the man she was still married to and very much in love with—through the same pain my husband had put me through.
This all happened at a pivotally important point. When I met this new friend, my husband had just put me through two months of trickle truth that left me deeply traumatized (panic attacks, hypervigilance, insomnia, nightmares…) and obliterated any residual trust that still remained after I first discovered his affair. We were separated, at my request. I no longer believed anything—literally anything—my husband told me.
But I believed this new friend. She had volunteered information about her relationship that I never would have known otherwise. Unlike my husband, she had no reason to lie about her experience.
She told me that although it had been over a decade since she cheated, she still felt ashamed of her choices. And I believed her. She told me that she never cheated before and had never, ever considered cheating again. I believed that too. She told me her affair partner was of zero consequence—just a human escape-hatch for the feelings she didn’t want to be having in her marriage. She told me that she was so grateful that she and her husband stayed together, not just for the sake of their children but for the sake of their relationship. She told me that she loved her husband now more than ever. I believed her.
A key thing this friend of mine was able to give me (and continues to give me) is the same thing Elle gives us on this website: the solace of having been there.
When I first read Elle’s assurances that it gets easier, I trusted her because she had been through it. She knew. For months, Elle’s words did not match my experience, yet I still took solace in the notion that they eventually might. I’m happy to report that a year after D-Day, they do. It isgetting easier.
Similarly, I took great solace back then in hearing about my friend’s experience. It reframed my notion of what the future might look like. It meant that “once a cheater always a cheater” was not always correct. (My friend hadn’t re-cheated in over a decade.) It meant that it might actually be true that the other woman meant nothing. My friend never gave her affair partner a second thought.
It meant that when my husband claimed to feel regret every day, to be permanently changed, to be repulsed by his former choices—just like my friend did—he might actually be telling the truth.