I sometimes look at the search terms that bring women to my site. It's common to see such searches as "things women say during sex" or "is cheating sex better".
And my heart aches.
Because I know that there's a woman in pain at the keyboard, desperately seeking answers for why her husband has betrayed her. Wondering just what it is that's wrong about her, or at least what's better about the other woman, that made her husband hurt her so profoundly.
Almost ten years ago, I was that woman. Googling my heart out for answers.
They came. Eventually. Not nearly as quickly as I would have liked. But, no doubt, they came when I was ready to recognize them.
It's hard to be patient. And it's hard to understand that what our culture tells us about affairs – that they're exciting, that the sex is always outrageously good, that the other woman is enticing and empowered – is complete and utter bullshit.
For a start, make anything forbidden and it will suddenly consume every waking thought. If you don't believe me, you've never tried to give up sugar. Or caffeine. Or bread. THAT is what an affair is. The sudden conviction that this one thing is what you've been missing. That this one thing makes you more you than anything else. And the more forbidden it is, the more you want it. Need it.
But an affair is more than that. An affair is a distorted mirror that only reflects back what we want to see. Gone are our flaws, replaced by an idealized image of ourselves as sexy and interesting and vibrant. It conveniently shrinks guilt or shame. It refuses to acknowledge the pain created for others. In fact, there's little room is this mirror for others. They're inconvenient. They get in the way of this intoxicating image we see reflected. Even the Other Woman isn't reflected so much as what she represents. A reflection of who we wish we were, instead of the real-life version we really are, one with insecurities and a bald spot. One with fears and disappointments. One that hides behind a mask for a relative stranger rather than show our true face to the person with whom we've committed to spend our life.
An affair is where cowards hide. It's a curtain that obscures deeply broken people.
Which is why I refuse to accept that the only response to a partner's cheating is to walk away. If they're unwilling to acknowledge their brokenness, then yes, it makes sense to mitigate your own future suffering by walking away now. And if they show no awareness or remorse for the pain they've caused, then yes, it makes sense to remove such a sociopath from your life.
But the others, the ones who feel deep guilt for the pain they've caused, who are willing to do the hard work of looking into a true mirror and seeing their mistakes in full, can be worth the time and the pain and the effort it takes to rekindle your love.
Because the other thing I've learned through this is that we only really grow through experiences that challenge us to look more deeply at ourselves. Our pain has lessons for us, about who we are, about what we stand for, about what we value and how we show that – or don't, as the case may be – in our lives.
He might have escaped into an affair to avoid his own pain. And yes, he betrayed you but, if he has any scruples at all, he also betrayed himself. And there's a mountain of pain in that hard truth.
I often say that there is no right way through the agony of betrayal. My response is no more "right" than another's choice to head straight to the divorce lawyer. I have friends who've been cheated on who've done exactly that. Even with a repentant spouse who begged for a second chance, one friend of mine said 'nope'. She's remarried (so is her ex to the OW who doesn't seem to mind that she was first runner-up) and they have an amicable relationship as co-parents to their son. She's mentioned that she thinks they could have rebuilt their marriage. That she doesn't think he would have cheated again, after the devastation he caused. But, she shrugs, doesn't matter now. Things have worked out just fine.
And that's the thing. If you make your healing your goal, it will matter far less whether your marriage survives. Because you will be okay. No matter what.
And that gives you the freedom to really understand that your husband's affair will never define you. That nothing in that other woman is anything you really want.
She was a fantasy. The real-life her is just a broken woman willing to settle for second runner-up. You, on the other hand, are in the process of becoming your own number one.