In hindsight, I knew my husband was cheating and I knew with whom before he admitted it to me. I knew before I knew. Of course, there was lots I didn't know. The years of sexual acting out with strangers, for instance. But though I didn't know the details, I felt the disconnection. I knew...something.
But because I didn't want to know the truth, I told myself stories to soothe. We were busy with the kids, I told myself. We had growing careers. If he would just deal with his family, things would be better, I told myself (and him). He's a good man, I told myself. He loves me, I told myself.
We lived like that for a long time. Years. A decade.
And then...the truth.
The truth was that my husband was living a secret life. It took place beyond my view, outside of the lines I drew around our family. It existed with strangers. People whose names and faces I wouldn't know if I bumped into them on the street.
The truth was a thousand-volt shock to my life. The truth was a million stings to my soul. The truth was a red-hot branding iron to my brain.
The truth changed everything.
"When one person has said the truth, both people in the relationship are emancipated," poet David Whyte recently said to On Being's Krista Tippet. "Even if you look away, when you look back the truth will still be there. And then you can move into the next stage of your relationship."
Emancipation. It's not the first word that come to mind when we discover a partner's affair, is it? For me, I felt the opposite. Not liberated but imprisoned. Trapped in a marriage, with three young children and a man who felt like a stranger to me. Everywhere I looked, I saw a cage. None of my choices looked like freedom.
"When one person has said the truth, both people in the relationship are emancipated," says David Whyte.
It has taken many years for me to see the truth of that. There was freedom in the truth for me. Freedom from the fables I was telling myself. Freedom from the self-blame, the confusion. Freedom to make a choice that was the right one for me, even if the right one was far from perfect. Freedom from perfect.
It took years to recognize that. I wish that wasn't the truth but it is. But with practice, with learning to acknowledge the truth of things – uncomfortable things, things I wish weren't true – the span between knowing and knowing is getting smaller. I'm better at recognizing that what I wish was true doesn't make it true.
It's hard. And it's sad. But it is, yes, also liberating. Emancipation.
Because only when we see people for who they really are, only when we see our situation for what it really is, can we respond honestly. It is then, once the truth has been spoken that both parties can move onto the next stage of the relationship. That stage might, like my own, mean rebuilding a marriage. For others, it might mean separation. Or divorce.
And I get it. The truth of your marriage, when it's not what you wanted to hear, stings. It wounds. It brings us to our knees. But once we're standing again, that truth informs what's next. Our next right step is rooted in what we know and know. And from that knowing, we can truly choose what's right for us.