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 reliable or 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. Sometimes cheating occurs because a close relationship with a co-worker went too far. Or an alcohol-fueled night ended in a huge, big-time, mistake. Other times, it’s not a mistake at all, but a conscious decision — a grasp at intimacy, emotional or otherwise.
Sean*, not his real name, fell into his own affair fairly slowly. Facing stress at work, he began confiding in a casual friend, who did not know much about his personal life, such as the fact that he had a wife. At first, Sean says it felt good to confide in someone who wasn’t his wife, because he didn’t want to stress her and their child out or put any extra strain on their relationship. Soon, however, the friendship became an affair — one that Sean juggled for more than a year until his ex-wife found out.
Here, Sean talks to Fatherly about the reason he cheated and why, if he could do it over, he wouldn’t do it again.
So what happened?
I was under pressure at work. I didn’t want to talk to my wife about it, because the situation at work was quite stressful. So I started confiding in another female friend. And then, it went from just confiding in her, to her and I starting a relationship.
When the affair began, did you tell your wife?
No. To be honest, I didn’t have any intention of starting the affair or leaving my wife. It just happened over time. I continued with the two relationships for, like, a long time.
What’s a long time?
Over a year.
Are you still having the affair?
My wife found out after just over a year. She left, and I continued the relationship with the person I was having the affair with.
What was going through your mind when your relationship with the other woman escalated?
I felt the conflict of having someone that I can talk to, that was outside of my relationship, without causing any problems to my partner. In the beginning, it was a relief to feel that there was someone I could talk to.
There were all of the pressures and expectations of the long-term relationship that you probably didn’t have with the person you were talking to.
The pressures I was under at work were life-or-death situations. I didn’t want to worry my partner with that. So I sought out another relationship. Having someone to talk to about what was going on was a relief for me, without having to worry my partner with that stuff.
Did the person you were having an affair with know that you were in a long-term relationship?
Did she ever find out?
Yes. When my ex-wife found out, they had a conversation, and my ex-wife told her that the whole time, she had been in a relationship with me.
How did your ex-wife find out about the affair?
I had hidden the new girl’s number under a different name in my phone. But one evening, when I was in bed, she went through my phone and realized I had been speaking to the same number on a regular basis. She decided to call it, and told the other girl who she was. Then, that was how they both found out about the truth.
What happened after the person you were having an affair with found out?
We broke up. A month later she called me and told me that what I had done was a very bad thing, however, she wanted to be with me, and thought we could try and work things out.
Is that what you’re doing now?
We did that for seven years. We broke up about 18 months ago.
Why did that happen?
She was concerned that there were too many other women that were close to me in my life, even though I wasn’t having any relationships with them.
I guess I can see how that would come full circle.
From my perspective, I just thought that because we were together for such a long time, she would overcome that insecurity. But because I spent a lot of my working life with women and a lot of my friends were female, she never got over the insecurity that I caused at the beginning of the relationship.
Did you ever feel guilty about the affair?
No. In the beginning it was the comfort of having someone to talk to. But I didn’t know how to end it. I was worried on a daily basis that my partner would find out, or that the girl that I was seeing would find out. I didn’t find the strength to tell either of them what was going on.
How did it feel to be really falling for someone else — for real — while being in a committed relationship?
It was hard. I was torn. I could tell the girl that I was having the affair with that it was over and continue with my long-term relationship on one side, but the biggest worry I had is that if I did that, she would find out about my long-term relationship and tell my ex-wife what I had been doing, and then I’d wind up alone.
Do you have any children?
I have a son with my ex-wife.
Does your son know about what happened?
He does. His mom told him what happened. He asked me why I decided to cheat on his mom. I tried to explain it to him the best that I could. But his mom also told him that I cheated on him, as well as her.
Do you feel like you did that?
I didn’t feel like it at the time. But I felt very guilty about it when he told me that.
How is your co-parenting relationship with your ex-wife?
It was very, very difficult for the seven years that I was with the girl that I had the affair with. Things got significantly better when she realized that we had broken up. A while after that, I started a relationship with a new girlfriend. My ex and my new girlfriend get on very well. I think it’s because the new girlfriend has no connection to the other woman or my ex. Things have gotten better, not only in terms of the communication between me and the ex, but also it allows me more time with my son. For the seven years that I was with the girl I had an affair with, my ex-wife made it very, very difficult for me to spend time with my son.
When you look back at the affair, would you have done it again?
Absolutely not. Absolutely no way. There was never any intention in the beginning to have an affair and in hindsight — and having the experience that I’ve had since then and the stuff that I’ve gone through with my son — no, absolutely, I would never do it again.
The lesson I learned is that even though I was trying to protect my partner from the worries and the stuff I was going through in my work, I think it would have been much better to tell her what was going on and deal with the worries that she might have with that. Other than doing what I did and ruining the relationship. To be honest, I don’t think that she’s gotten over what I did.