While it’s nearly impossible to get a sense of how many people cheat on their partner (data is scarce because, well, people who are unfaithful aren’t always the most forthcoming), it happens. A lot. In fact, the rate of infidelity, per social scientists, has risen steadily over the past decade. That it happens is not a surprise; the why, however, is always a bit more surprising.
Jack, not his real name, and his wife got married pretty much right out of college, just after they learned she was pregnant with their first child. Although their marriage was good at first, soon, Jack says he was buried in law school, and they grew apart. He began to suspect she was having affairs, but couldn’t confirm it until their second child was born with exposure to herpes and had to be rushed to the neonatal care unit. Despite the fact that their relationship spiraled afterwards, they stayed together for another decade, having two more kids, while Jack carried out affairs mostly out of revenge. Eventually, they divorced, Jack went to rehab for a substance addiction, and won custody of their four children.
Here, Jack talks about what it was like to find out his wife cheated, what he did to get back at her, and why he wouldn’t wish such a vicious cycle on anyone.
How did this start?
When my ex-wife and I met, I was in college. I was sleeping with her friend at the time but got to know her well. Pretty soon, we were dating and moved up to Massachusetts together. I found out she was pregnant soon after. Two months later, we were married.
Pretty soon, I was in law school full time and working full time under the table. So, I would wake up in the morning when my wife and kids were asleep. I’d leave, go to school, go to work, go to the law library to do some studying, and then, by the time I got home, they were asleep. I also had to wake up on Saturdays and Sundays to make up for the hours I couldn’t work during the week. It was just crazy. I was super busy. I really didn’t know anybody who she hung out with or talked to.
When did you first suspect she might be having an affair?
By the end of school, I had some suspicions that something was going on on the side, but I had the Bar exam, so I just put it to the side. And after the Bar, we had a really good, happy marriage for about two years. But during that period of time, one of her friends who I did not really care for, came over to our house and said, “Hey, we gotta go out.” So my wife did and she came back early. I said: “I thought you were gonna be a little later?” And she said, “No, Jenna just needed me to cover up for her because she was having an affair.” It just all clicked at the same time. But when I approached her about affairs, she said it never happened.
Ultimately, you found out.
We were at this little pizza place, and I saw one of her old friends. I knew that they hadn’t talked because they had a nasty falling out. I went over, took off my wedding ring, and said: My wife and I are getting divorced. I think she was sleeping with these two guys. And then her friend said: ‘Yeah, and this guy, and this guy, and this guy.”
Well then I started to connect the dots. During her first pregnancy, she had a condition called polyhydramnios. They were doing a lot of tests on her, trying to figure out what was wrong. It’s usually indicative of a neurological wasting disorder in the child. So, they ran her blood and then they told her that she came back as exposed to the herpes virus.
At first, to me, that was no problem. I had HSB-2, the cold sore herpes, from wrestling from high school and college. It’s cross-reactive. But they were saying ‘No, this is a really high score for HSB-1.’
How did this exposure affect your son?
He had blisters all over his hands. He was fine neurologically, even though they said he was probably going to be born with a wasting disorder and live a short, painful life. But the blisters were bad. Two weeks after he was born, we had to rush him into the neonatal intensive care unit. And he’s got herpes from birth, which can be deadly in kids. At this point my ex was still saying “No, it’s impossible, it can’t be.”
This shit could have killed our son, and she lied about it, just so she would not expose the fact that she had an affair.
I imagine you were furious.
That’s what sent me spiraling. She neglected and put our kid in danger. Just for her own self-interest. So, after I found that out, I did file for divorce. But, I withdrew it because she begged me to stay. I guess my right-wing Christianity got the best of me and I said, Okay, we’ll try to make it work.
Did things get better from there?
We moved to North Carolina for a change in scenery. That was a bad idea. First off, my house didn’t sell quickly. So I had to stay down here for a year, and I was flying up every other weekend to visit my kids. While she was gone, I started an affair, and I became an addict. I think what triggered the affairs was just the fact that once it was confirmed that it absolutely had herpes, any sense of me giving a shit just went out the window. I was just like, you know what? Fuck this.
My wife didn’t know about anything that was going on. All she knew was that I was still in Florida and that was it.
I had a bunch of flings. Some one night, some a couple weeks, whatever. There was one really long-term affair. When I got up to North Carolina, my wife was pregnant again. I learned she was pregnant when I was going to my girlfriend’s house. I was left with a choice. I stayed and cut off the affair.
Why did you stay?
This was right around the time of the John Edwards scandal. He’s from Raleigh; that’s where we lived. I did a lot of bankruptcy law work and his wife was big in the bankruptcy bar. The joke we always told was, “If you cheat on your wife when she’s dying, or she’s pregnant, you should kill yourself.”
I didn’t want to cheat on my ex-wife while she was pregnant, so I stopped. That’s the deep-south morality for you right there. You can cheat on your wife — but not when she’s pregnant! As long as you take her to church on Sunday, you’re cool. It’s a confusing set of social values, for sure. But I started back up again after the pregnancy. Our daughter was born in August of 2010, August 22nd. So now, I had four kids, all under 18, with this woman, and I felt stuck. I was doing drugs and hit a real major depression.
How did you figure things out?
So everything was going down the drain. I know that I did have some affairs at that time, but from June to September was a complete fade-out. There’s nothing there; no recollection of anything. Because of that, in September of 2011, I checked into rehab.
Did things get better with your ex-wife from there?
No. One of the things they say in AA and NA is that if you’ve done somebody wrong, you’ve got to go make amends. But at the same time, people use that sometimes as an excuse to dump shit on people that they shouldn’t. You don’t have the right to clear your conscience at somebody else’s expense.
One day, I was in a pretty vindictive mood. I was at my ex-wife’s friend’s house. We were having an affair. My ex-wife was blowing my phone up, calling me an asshole. I took a compromising photo of the top of her friend’s head and said, “Leave me alone, bye.” And sent it. That was the end of that. The divorce was filed within a week, and here we are.
That is pretty vindictive.
When we would go into counseling, any time the counselor asked, “Well, what role do you have with this?” She would say she did nothing wrong. She absolutely refused to take any responsibility for how any of it went. When I found out that she cheated on me? I was devastated. Not because of the cheating, but also the lying, the deceit, the thing with my son. That’s what crushed me the most. I bent over backwards to help her. And she took advantage of it.
Still, that was a very petty thing to do. Now, some years removed, how is the co-parenting relationship this days? And how are you?
I am better than I’ve ever been, oddly enough. The divorce ended up doing a lot of positive things. No marriage with a drug addiction is easy. The divorce forced me to get to the point where I did not want to deal with her anymore, but if I wanted to ever see my kids again, I was going to have to stop using drugs. It got me to the point where I was actually willing to stop using drugs. And, it wasn’t easy, but it was still worth it. When she first started mentioning divorce, I was devastated, but I’m okay, now.
As a matter of fact, our mediator told me that I might be the worst husband ever. I don’t disagree with that. I did not treat my ex-wife well, at all. And, the bad thing to see is that she did remarry. She got married to a guy who has been arrested for domestic violence six times; drugs four times. This is one of the reasons I have custody of the kids. When she moved on, she moved on to just a worse version of our marriage.