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, if couples choose to stick it out instead of calling it quits in the face of betrayal, there are a lot of questions. A lot of concerns. A lot of trust issues. And plenty of pain.
Miriam B* (not her real name) had just entered her second marriage with two teenage kids in tow. Feeling overwhelmed by the adjustment of not being a single mom anymore — and frustrated by her husband’s inability to tackle their issues — she began an affair with her coworker that lasted two and a half years. Although it was not an emotional affair, she was still ready to leave her husband. Until he agreed to counseling. When they began to talk and work things out, things got better. Things are better. But still, Miriam’s husband does not know about the affair — and she never wants to tell him.
Here, Miriam talks to Fatherly about how her affair began, her regrets (and her lack of regrets) about engaging in it, and why she will never tell her husband about what she did.
So what happened?
I worked for a law enforcement agency for over 15 years. In the process, I got married — it was my second marriage. I already had two kids from my first marriage. Me and my husband, we were practically newlyweds. We were about three or four years in. And then, I ended up having an affair with a coworker.
How did your affair begin?
My coworker pursued me for about two and a half, three years. We would flirt off and on, but of course, I would never engage him because I was married. I was never a person who was a cheater, or who believed in cheating in relationships. This was totally new for me.
My husband and I, like I said, we were kind of newly married. It was very new for me. I had been a single parent before getting married for the second time. I was used to being very independent.
And it was difficult to adjust to not having that independence anymore?
I was used to being the “man” in the relationship. I made more money, I was in school full time, I was working full time. I felt like a lot of the burden was on me. I was just not happy in the relationship. I was ready to leave. I had expressed these things to my husband: about how we just weren’t communicating the best. But he was being very passive aggressive, he was not addressing anything. He just thought everything was good.
Also, having been a single mother — and having been a strong, independent woman for so long, even while married the first time — it was so hard to let someone come in and give input, especially on parenting, when it’s not necessarily their children. It was very hard for me to let him discipline my children. Even just letting him make decisions for the family as a whole. I was so used to doing it, and having to do it, that I pretty much pushed him away. He just backed off and let me be in charge, which was a problem for me. I was used to a man being very strong, and authoritative. And he was not that. Not that he couldn’t be, but I didn’t even give him the opportunity to be.
It sounds like that pushed you to start cheating.
I ended up getting into this relationship with this coworker. I think it was partly because he stimulated me intellectually. We had the job in common. We had school in common; he had multiple degrees, like me. We loved to travel. We had a lot of things in common at the time that my husband wasn’t trying to accommodate me with.
Did you try to bring those things up to your husband at the time?
Anything I would bring up with my husband, he didn’t want to talk about it or do it. The answer would always be no. If I wanted to travel? No. If I wanted to go to dinner? No. So, my affair partner was someone I felt compatible with at the time, intellectually and physically. We began this affair. Again, it was really strictly a work thing. We worked long, 12-hour shifts, so we were able to talk and chat during that time. We would talk on the phone when we were off; we’d talk late at night, we’d meet up in hotels. That type of thing. But we didn’t see each other every day, or take trips together.
How long did your affair last?
About two years. I think my husband suspected something. He would say little things, and drop little hints. But he would never directly ask me. I would ask him, “do you think I’m cheating?” And he’d say, “No! Of course not.” So I’d leave it at that.
Did you feel guilty?
I knew, in my heart, that it was wrong. But I was planning on leaving him. So I planned my exit to leave my husband. I was preparing to move. I got a separate place. I was preparing to move from him. And he ended up moving with me.
How did that happen?
He agreed to go to marriage counseling. I couldn’t even believe that he agreed to it, first of all. Because, up until that point, he had been like: “No, we don’t need therapy, I’m not going to therapy.” What changed for him was that I was actually trying to leave. The fact that I went and got a separate place from him, that I had taken all of the steps to leave the relationship. That’s what made him say, okay, she’s serious.
How was counseling?
What surprised me was, actually, how open he was. Even though he’s my best friend, and we talked about everything, and I knew these things about him, I just got a different perspective when we went to counseling. About how he was raised, things he was taught about being a man from his parents. My expectations for him were different from what he had experienced and what he would believe.
That’s why we had so many problems and why we were headbutting. It opened my eyes. It made me go: “You have your way of thinking; he has his. You have to find a middle ground.”
So you realized you had some work to do, as well.
I learned to compromise more. I was not trying to compromise before. Getting married, there was so much change for me, and I just thought I was outgrowing him.
I learned to calm down and understand that just because I’m changing, doesn’t mean he has to change with me. Or at the same pace! You understand what I’m saying? I was ready to leave him because I thought he should be keeping up with me. Well, he’s the same person I met. He didn’t change, I did. So I was upset because I changed and he didn’t. And so, I had to be okay with that, and say, he’s okay. He’s happy. I had to learn how to be happy with me.
You talk now about this whole situation with a lot of clarity. Did you have it then?
No, not at all. At all. At the time, I justified it. It was very clear to me that I was not happy, I was leaving my marriage, I did not like him, I could not stand him, I did not want him to touch me, talk to me, anything. So no. At the time, I was definitely in tunnel vision. I was happy doing what I was doing. I felt no remorse at all, because I felt so disconnected from my husband. I actually had friends at the time who were cheating. That helped, as well. They’d be in my ear, telling me things that they were doing. It kind of egged me on a little bit.
Did you bring up the affair in counseling?
Nope. I have seen what exposing things, later, after the fact, can do to a relationship. I think it would bring us some unnecessary trust issues that I think we’ve already conquered. I think that it would hurt him so much, seriously, that I may even lose him. So, now, I would not bring it up unless he asked. Now, if he asked me directly, I would be honest with him. But I don’t think he’ll ask me. I don’t think he wants me to tell him the truth.
In retrospect, do you regret cheating on your husband?
Yes, and no. I do regret it — because again, I never wanted to hurt anyone, and especially my husband, but I never want to hurt anyone. Spiritually, yes. I’m very spiritual and I do understand and believe that having an adulterous affair is a sin. That’s my belief.
But also no, because I grew up so much from that. There were so many things I had to learn; as far as being a wife, being a mother, being a lady. It gave me a different perspective about dealing with clients, friends, or family, who are in this situation. I can relate on a different level now. Whereas before, I would have been like, “Nope! That’s wrong!” I would have been so judgmental and critical and have been in the past. So no. But that experience taught me a lot.
Do you have any plans to have affairs in the future?
I would not ever do this again. This has definitely been an experience. I understand how easy it is to get caught up. I understand how easy it is for it to happen. I understand how easy it is to be in a situation, and not exactly knowing what’s going to happen. I just didn’t know how I was going to get out of it. And before, I might have been judgmental, and said, oh, I would never cheat! But now, I can clearly understand how a person can get into a relationship and wonder: how did I get here? And how do I get out?
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