Tuesday, May 31, 2022

When do we *know* our partner's cheating?

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.

And yet.

"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. 


  1. The part about being trapped with someone who was now a stranger really rang true. Just like most others on here I knew before I knew as well. My line of work requires me to be extremely observant and I go into every situation knowing that everyone is lying to me. So when I started feeling like I was on duty at home as well alot of emotions came up long before D Day. My truth is that the trust in my relationship is permanently fractured and I still don't think I've been given full disclosure still 2 years later. All I can do is fix my issues and hope my effort is contagious. I haven't given up yet but, surrender is starting to look appealing these days.

  2. Six years ago I had my first DD and over the course of the next two years I had several more DD's. It broke me down in a way that shocked me. My childhood had mental, physical, and sexual abuse, but this felt worse. I had trusted this man and laid down my barriers and become vulnerable and trusting with him. It really was like my entire world had exploded. At the time I was in horrific pain, but i agree it was an opportunity for both of us to be set free of the lies and see each other clearly. I began to focus on myself, because at that time he was undeserving of anything from me. When he saw me disengage and focus on myself he became afraid and started to work on himself..the reason for his behavior. It's been a long dark road, and I will never be grateful it happened. However, I am happy at the person i am today.

  3. I too felt something that knowing before knowing it has taken me a long time to get to where I am today. It has taken a lot of time to put myself back together ( I’m still working on it ) however I need to finally discuss the elephant in the room up until now we haven’t really talked about it. I don’t want the gory details I don’t need to picture what went on between them. What I want is for him to acknowledge the way he rewrote his moral code and our history to let this person in to our life. Our marriage, our family and was it worth all the destruction and heartbreake the loss of connection to the people he says he loves the most. I’m certain that at the time he didn’t give us a second thought but now ? In order for us to continue to move forward we need clarity and to see each other clearly. I too see a stranger sometimes where I used to see home. I hope that we can get to that point again. Like Mister J I hope the my efforts are contagious and I too haven’t given Up. I have days like today where I feel tired and as if I could just surrender, however it normally passes and I keep going. I have to say something though I have truly surprised myself on me the person I have become I never wanted to be here where I am I stupidly thought we were solid. What I found out is I’m the solid one, I’m the rock for our children and for my husband and he knows this too

  4. I just confirmed my husband is cheating on me a few hours ago and your description of knowing before you knew was so accurate. I can now look back and see all the times I hid from the knowledge and I don't know how to face the morning at this point. I am afraid to go to sleep because I have to decide if I am going to address this before or after the holiday weekend with HIS family.

    1. I literally just returned from a week long vacation with his family that I had to go on the day after he finally admitted it.
      Worst experience ever and I feel for too. I knew it was true the moment the OW told me it happened hours after the event but choose to “believe” my husband for the 3 weeks immediately after when he told me she was just some random crazy person

  5. I knew something was going on before I found out a few days ago. I'm feeling completely devastated and trying to hold my self together for my 2 girls who sre 11 and 13. My husband said he had feelings for this woman. It started out as a friendship he said. They text and call while he's at work. He said it has not been sexual. It started a year ago. The other woman is married as well. I feel like a emotional relationship is worse for me then him having sex becsuse he has feelings for her and it's not like u can just turn off those feelings that were built over a year. It saddens me greatly. The problem also is he is not a bad man. He is a Amazing father. I just wish I could turn back time. I will Just take it Day by Day.

    1. Hi KM and others, I'm so sorry you're discovering what so many of us discover -- that the person we trusted was untrustworthy. You will find a ton of info and support on this site. Please also find support in the "real" world -- a good therapist is a godsend. But also know this: You will get through this. The pain will end. "My heartbreak, my rules" is our motto -- you get to decide how you respond to this but give yourself time to truly digest this. He will reveal whether he deserves a second chance with his behaviour but even if he does everything right, you are not required to give him a second chance. That is your choice. Treat yourself with respect and kindness. Be gentle with yourself. This is a trauma. But you can heal.

    2. My husband has also had an emotional affair and it sucks!! He reconnected with someone from his past & from his messages to her, it seems like she was the one that got away. I feel like our 30+ years together have been a sham. While they were not physical as we live hours away from her, the emails they exchanged with each other keep replaying in my mind all day & all night. He has never said the things to me that he has said to her….and he downplays what they have exchanged & says it was “fantastical.” According to him, they have no plans to be together. I don’t believe him. I don’t trust him. I don’t know what to do. I can’t sleep. I can’t eat. He keeps telling me to focus on us & not her. How can I do that when I’m not convinced that they stopped communicating?!?!?!

  6. Freedom. From. Self-blame. YES.

  7. I found out three months ago. I will say this-the waves of grief get further and further apart, but they’re still there. I can barely keep my head above the water some days, but I know I’ll be ok. I have felt all of the feelings that you all have described and if kids weren’t involved, I would be gone. I’m disgusted by him-even though he’s really working on himself. I want him to be ok-but I’m not sure I want to be his wife anymore. But as far as the knowing? I knew. I had dreams he was cheating for years but chalked it up to my insecurity: I even knew who it was with but thought he would never. I was wrong. I’ll never doubt myself again.



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