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My Husband’s Affair Helped Save Our Marriage

Instead of sweeping things under the rug, we picked up the rug and shook it out.

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. And of course, for those in the relationship who are the cheated on, rather than the cheater, there are a lot of questions. And pain.

Stacey Greene* (not her real name) was married to her husband for 25 years. They had three children. And then, one night, she discovered that he had been carrying on an affair. What happened next was antithetical to what Stacey herself thought she’d ever do in the aftermath of an affair: she and her husband fought through the betrayal and worked on their marriage. It took a lot of time and effort, but it worked. Stacey even wrote a book about it, using her new pen name. Now, Stacey says that their relationship is better than it ever has been before.

Here, Stacey talks to Fatherly about finding out about the affair, and how she and her husband worked through it.

So, what happened?

We had what I thought was an ideal marriage and a pretty active sex-life. We were semi-dysfunctional as far as sleeping arrangements, though. I wasn’t always sleeping up in our bedroom. He claimed that he would hear me when I would get up to go to the bathroom. So I would often sleep on the futon downstairs. I went up like I always do to kiss him goodnight, and say goodnight. I saw him throw his cellphone under the sheets.

That might trigger an alarm or two.

I seriously laughed. Infidelity was the farthest thing from my mind, and he had one of those incredibly cheap flip-phones. He’d always told me and the kids, “Texting takes up too many of my minutes. I have to put my reading glasses on. I don’t know how to text.” The fact that he was texting somebody, I thought, was comical. So I grabbed it from him, he grabbed it back. We kind of wrestled with it. It threw across the floor, and the battery came out. I started laughing and I said, “You don’t even know how to text!” But the fact that he was hiding it so vehemently made me suddenly kind of realize “Oh. Something’s going on here.”

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I said, “Who is she?” He didn’t say anything. I asked again. He said, “Just someone I met at a bar.” He said it had been going on for five or six months.

How did you react to that?

I stormed out and went to sleep on the futon. I knew he wanted his phone back. I hid the battery in one part of the downstairs and the phone in the other. I woke up when I figured it was safe to put the phone back together and go into the downstairs bathroom and read the texts. And that’s what I did.  I read enough texts to know that it was definitely an affair. I went back to sleep and woke up at two in the morning and there was a written, two-page letter, waiting on my stomach. My husband is a man of very few words.

I think he really did have feelings for her, there was no doubt, but I think he still loved me. 

Did you read it?

I pretended I couldn’t read his handwriting and I made him read the letter out loud to me, because I wanted to see what his real emotional state was. He read it. He was tearful. I was tearful. We held each other. I think he really did have feelings for her, there was no doubt, but I think he still loved me. The best part of the story for me was that I was raised in a Christian home, and that was a huge, huge part of my life but not his. And yet, when I said, “Well, what are we going to do about this?” he actually said: “We can go talk to your pastor.”

How did that go?

It’s kind of funny. I think my pastor was very uncomfortable. He said, right up front “I am not a marriage counselor. I am just here to be a sounding board.” He talked to us together, but then he sent me way down the hall and just talked to my husband. Then he brought me back and sent my husband way down the hall. He brought us back together again and gave me a homework assignment. I was kind of surprised. I thought: “He’s the cheater. Why won’t you give him the homework assignment?”

And that assignment was…

To go have a drink and go out dancing with my husband. One of the reasons that he had cheated was basically that we really didn’t have the same interest in date nights. We had very few date nights. My idea of date night is a chick-flick and a dinner at a Thai restaurant; his is seeing a local band, dancing, and drinking.

We never really agreed on those things. I would go see chick flicks with my girlfriend. He would go to the bar with his guy friends. It dawned on me, in hindsight, that he wasn’t dancing with the guys.

So did you keep going to the pastor or did you attend marriage counseling?

We had gone to marriage counselors earlier in our relationship when the kids were little. And the marriage counselors never really helped. I was involved with a leadership organization. I had leadership books out the ying yang. I started pulling relationship and leadership books off of the shelves. We just started reading them. We learned different ways to communicate. We learned how to stop sweeping our issues under the rug.

I feel like we literally picked up the rug and shook it out. It was brutal.

He’s a different man. It’s the coolest thing ever. I shouldn’t say he’s a different man. He’s the man I married. He just stepped outside of that for a while and now he’s back.

What issues did you two have to work through?

He always viewed me as being judgmental and I always viewed him as being judgmental. We never knew that about each other. But I was. I looked down upon people who go to bars and who don’t do things that are more intellectual with their time. He looked down at me for always putting the kids before him; always putting my girlfriends before him. There was a lot of judgment that we weren’t aware of.

Then there’s the sleeping thing. We started sleeping in the same bed again. We started making sure that we had date nights. It was forced at first, but it became natural.

Before you found out about the affair, was cheating one of your “deal-breakers?”

Yes, yes, yes. It was always a dealbreaker for me. You always think that, until it happens to you. You always think: I could never stay with a man who cheated. Until you’ve been with that man for 25 years and produced beautiful children, and had a strong and active sex life and then you realize you don’t want to give up.

Maybe I would have felt differently if this happened in the first or second year of our marriage. But it happened so deep into our marriage, and I just felt like, five or six months isn’t going to trump the 25 years I had.

What, if anything, did you say to the kids?

We pretty much kept it from them. My son did confide in me later when I said something to him. We were alone one day, and I was driving him somewhere. I said, “So your sister tells me that you guys knew about that book,” because I wrote a book about the affair. He said, “Mom, your bedroom is right above mine. I can hear everything through that heating grate. I heard you crying for a long time. I didn’t know exactly what was going on, but I knew it had something to do with dad.”

I told him then what happened. The kids are very, very close, so I knew they all knew. The fact that they never disrespected me or their father, never brought it up or mentioned it. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that my kids are so mature.

Now, several years later, how do you feel?

Our relationship is so much better now. It almost feels bad. I feel like, damn, I could have had a do-over of the first 25 years. Because we had a good marriage. But there is a big difference between good and great.

He’s a different man. It’s the coolest thing ever. I shouldn’t say he’s a different man. He’s the man I married. He just stepped outside of that for a while and now he’s back.