I took my husband’s faithfulness for granted. Not in the tone of dereliction or fault usually attributed to taking something for granted, but in the vein of; he promised never to seek comfort in the arms of another woman, so he won’t. Throughout the years, no matter our difficulties, his faithfulness was the one thing I was always sure of.
I’d bet on my uneducated guess that the majority of us don’t think our spouse will be unfaithful. I’ll double down on my hunch that those who do think infidelity could occur in their marriage think they know how they would react if their partner betrays them. And I’ll let it ride with the inkling that there is no way to know what you would actually do unless it happens to you. Even then, your plan of action might be elusive, elastic and evolving at best.
If betrayed, it’s likely you would fall into one of these camps:
- Gutted and gone; the details of how and when to be worked out, but for all intents and purposes, gone.
- Wounded but willing; to roll up your sleeves, pull the weeds, till the soil and try to reap a new harvest.
- Broken and blindsided; initially dumbfounded and possibly devoid of direction for a time, but in all probability, headed to #1 or #2 above.
My cabin was in camp number three. During couples counseling, while trying to work through the destruction and debris an affair leaves in its wake, our counselor asked me, “How did you miss it, Jodie? How did you not know about the affair?” It had happened about three years prior to us sitting across from her that day, and Erik had just told me about it a few weeks before. That question riled me and I nearly shouted my reply, “I TRUSTED HIM.” Full stop.
While I do not accept any of the blame for my husband’s behavior, I do recognize my contribution to the vulnerability of our marriage. Both things are true. Erik worked in law enforcement for 20 years. And over those 20 years, I watched him slowly morph from the man I married into an entirely different one, one that I likely would never have married. Ours had all the ups and downs that any marriage does but often the ups were overshadowed and the downs were compounded by the steep struggles that marriage and family life can become while trying to carve enough space in between them for a career in police work. I’m calling being married to a police officer strike one in our marriage, in any marriage.
Our nation’s police officers will, on average, die younger and suffer a higher divorce rate than their private sector counterparts. We need these women and men to protect and serve us but when they do, we often ignore the incredible levels of stress and strife their work creates for them. Even some of us who married them. We frequently point our fingers, scoff and steel our eyes at police officers; forgetting about the line they lay their lives on every single day. Even some of us who love them. Their prolonged existence of sworn duty and embattlement can manifest as heavy, heavy weight on a marriage.
I begrudged that changeling-inducing career almost from the start, for what it did to Erik and for what it did to our family. My unchecked resentment only made things worse. While I do own my culpability in the diminishing of our marriage, I do not condone what Erik did to risk its complete demise. Both things are true. Through his neglect of family life in favor of his profession, combined with my hostility about that slight, I lost a large part of my husband to law enforcement long before I lost part of him to another woman. And he lost a large part of me. But his choice to have an affair with a co-worker, 17 years into that seemingly fatalistic career, and 17 years into our marriage, served as prime proof of just how far from true-north he had traveled.
We were broken long before the affair occurred, and I tried everything I could think of to put us back together. Erik did too, short of agreeing to seek professional help together. I asked many times, even pleaded on a few occasions. He refused. When I told him how unhappy I was, that I knew he was unhappy too and that I believed we needed outside help, he told me he knew where he was going wrong and how he could do better. That he wanted to do better and that he would. Over and over again. I too knew where I was going wrong but the difference was I knew I needed help to do better.
Once I understood the less than desirable state of our marriage wasn’t likely to change, yet unwilling to abandon it, I started numbing myself to the sense of loss and loneliness I felt from an oftentimes unhappy and unfulfilling union. My friends were a powerful anesthetic and I spent lots of time with them to ward off the lonelies. I sought relief via shopping, spending, acquiring and placating myself with things I thought would bring me some lasting happy. I calmed by campaigning for a bigger house in a better neighborhood, thinking I’d find contentment there. I lessened the grief by lobbying for vacations we could never really afford in an effort to feel like a family who was going places instead of going only through the motions. I chose to ice Erik out in a way that left him unmoored and with unmet needs, in order to protect my heart from further isolation and farther reaching hurt. And he chose the illicit intimacy, excruciating excitement and condemning consolation of another woman. I’m calling that strike two. On both of us.
When Erik told me about his infidelity it was because he was forced to. His indiscretion was on the brink of being covered by our local media. (If you are new to our story and are curious as to why I’m writing publicly about this taboo so often suffered through in silence, click here to read more.) I couldn’t believe he had made that choice; I couldn’t fathom how he could have actually done it. I couldn’t get it to compute. But I did come to understand why people lie.
People lie to protect themselves from enduring shame, loss of trust and the severing of relationships due to their actions. But also, and maybe even more so, as a last-ditch effort to protect the people they love from the red-hot hurt and searing pain their misdeeds will cause if they turn from secrets into truths told. But those secrets and lies eat away at their keepers until they end up resembling a mere shadow of their former selves. And it’s really hard to be married to a shadow. The only togetherness to be found is on the bright and sunny days and even then that connection is lacking and elusive.
I learned a long time ago that when people show you who they are, you should believe them. And someone capable of hurting our children and me in this demoralizing way wasn’t who Erik was. So what was I to believe? I had never found a reason to be jealous or a circumstance to be suspicious of. I never had cause to question his whereabouts or doubt him in the least. To this day, I still struggle with believing he was unfaithful to me. The question I am asked most often about our all too public story is, “How did you get through this?” A better question to ask me would be, “How are you getting through this?” Because I’m doing it but I’m not done and right now it feels like the doing will be a constant for a long time to come.
How I was able to even begin to try to get through this was that in response to my repetitive probing and unrelenting search for understanding, each time Erik would tell me wearily and in defeat that he lost had himself. He said he’d become arrogant, conceited, selfish and only concerned about what he wanted. He said he’d cut God out of the picture and stopped saving a seat for him at the table. And that he’d wanted to be wanted again. He didn’t point fingers or shirk any blame. He owned his mistake and how it devastated me. He showed his deep and true love for me in the ways I needed to see it. He demonstrated extreme patience and complete acceptance of my erratic and acute emotions. And he employed a hard-won humility I’ve not seen matched very often in the world. There hasn’t been one second since he broke the news to me that he hasn’t shown me who he really is, who he was, before we both lost our way.
Curiously, I never thought of leaving him. Even when the initial stun and temporary paralysis inflicted by Erik’s confession wore off, I became aware of what felt like an absolute certainty that I would stay, though I questioned why. I couldn’t explain or validate my decision or how unwavering it was beyond the twin facts that in spite of all the heartache, I love this man I married and he loves me. And then, in reading Glennon Doyle’s story of infidelity in her book Love Warrior not far into our recovery, I came to recognize something in myself. I am a warrior for love, and I will stop at nothing short of its complete and ultimate victory over all of the evils, including adultery. For me, love trumps all. And because of love, I knew I wasn’t going to leave, but I also didn’t know how I was going to stay. Both things were true.
Erik showed me how. He showed replete remorse and utter regret. A deeply wounded spirit and a crestfallen countenance. A profound brokenness due to breaking me. A renewal in the belief that without reinstating God as the focal point of his life and the center of our marriage, we were doomed. The desire to repair, restart, regenerate and rejuvenate our union. And the willingness to seek the professional help we needed. He did everything necessary for me to stay, everything I needed him to do before I even knew I needed it. He showed me who he is, and I believe him. And so, I began to stay.
Strike three never came hasn’t come; I’m learning to never say never anymore. We’re working hard to not take anymore strikes. Our stance is strong. Our eyes are focused on the redeeming power of love, not fixed on the perilous past. And we are painstakingly and patiently persisting with the effort it takes to make it all the way home.
This post originally appeared on Utter Imperfection.