It feels like something of a miracle in those weeks or months following D-Day. Something makes us laugh and, for a moment, we forget that our life is a wreck. Or maybe we wake up one morning and the boulder on our chest feels a little less heavy.
Or perhaps our husband comes home to find us sitting at the table, colouring with our child and soaking up their innocence.
We almost smile at him. Then we remember. He's the enemy. And so we scowl instead.
Navigating those first few months is hell. Even if we've decided to stay in the marriage (for the time being, anyway), even if we're engaged in hysterical bonding like crazy, even if we can't imagine life without him, we can feel as though we're on opposing sides. We are loathe to, as we think of it, let him off the hook.
And what is the hook?
The hook is this misery he has cast us into. The hook is this heart of ours he has shattered. This life he took a wrecking ball to.
The hook is our fear that, if we even for a minute behave as if we're not utterly ruined that he might just think that what he did was okay.
And it was decidedly NOT okay.
It will never be okay.
But let's stop for a second and consider this mindset.
Do we really think that, without a constant reminder of the destruction he has wrought, our husband might think that he's off the hook?
Because, frankly, maintaining a look of agony, day-in and day-out for the rest of our lives in order to ensure that our husband knows he is not off the hook sounds exhausting. It sounds like manipulation. Not in the short term, of course, when we really do feel shattered. But eventually.
I remember the feeling well. I remember worrying that if I actually started feeling better and, more to the point, acting as if I was feeling better, that my husband might mop his sweaty brow, breathe a sigh of relief and think to himself, "whew. Glad that's over and I can get back to my job of ignoring her pain and doing whatever I want regardless of the impact to my marriage or her."
I might not have put it in exactly those terms. More likely, I thought of it as, if I am revealing that I'm healing then he will think he's off the hook. And he is not. He will never be.
And that has remained true.
Though it has been more than a decade since D-Day 1 and a month shy of a decade since D-Day 2, my husband is not off the hook. No matter that I now laugh, that I go days or weeks without thinking about his former infidelity at all, that I feel grateful to have him in my life, he is still not and never will be off the hook.
He knows that.
He knows that I can love my life and still never be okay with his cheating. He knows that healing from his betrayal will never make his betrayal okay. And he knows that, having been given the gift of a second chance by me, he would be a fool to ask for a third chance.
And so...I was free to heal. You are too.
You are free to laugh when something is funny. You are free to smile when you feel happy. You are free to feel whatever you might feel in the moment without forfeiting your right to NOT be okay with his betrayal of you. To never be okay about it.
You don't need to remain miserable in order to ensure his fidelity.
You can speak to him about it. Like an adult.
You can share your feelings with him. You can share just how difficult it is to heal from this and what a miracle it feels to be able to laugh again, to have a glimpse of a life that isn't utterly darkened by betrayal.
And, if he is a good, decent man doing the hard work of understanding why he made the indecent choice he did, he will listen to you. He will do his best to understand. He won't ever be okay with what he did either. He will always know that pain he caused. As my husband once said, the worst feeling in his life was seeing the pain in my eyes and knowing he had caused it.
If your husband has really acknowledged what he did and taken responsibility then he will think your laughter is the most beautiful sound in the world, not because it lets him off the hook but because it sounds like hope.
Hope doesn't erase the past. It opens the heart to the future.