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January 31, 2020

How to Manage Infidelity As A Couple

Episode 144

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George’s wife cheated on him — twice. He still remembers the smell of the room they were in when she told him 13+ years ago. George joins us to share his story of how worked through  the infidelity and continue to grow as a couple. He shares his struggles, lessons learned and the ways in which his community supported them through the process. Many years later, they’re together and thriving just as they did in the early years of their relationship.

Please see a rough transcript of this episode below. 

Brandon: Welcome to the @SexWithDrJess Podcast. I’m your co-host Brandon Ware here with my lovely partner, Dr. Jess

Jess: Today we’re going to be talking about infidelity and moving forward after an affair.

In the past, we’ve talked about the fact that there are many ways in which you can hurt your partner. There are many means through which you can cause harm to a relationship. And that feeling hurt is a universal experience alongside the feelings of being let down, feeling alone and even feeling betrayed at times.

In a world that touts monogamy as the gold standard of relationships, however, we have placed sexual cheating at the top of the transgression hierarchy. Many view cheating as the worst possible thing you can do to your partner (perhaps with the exception of physical and emotional abuse).

But the reality is that cheating is common. Some research suggests that one quarter of us has cheated. I’d suggest that the number might be higher, because it’s difficult to even be honest with ourselves let alone to be honest with researchers.

But relationships survive and thrive despite cheating.

And whether or not someone has cheated isn’t necessarily an accurate measure of your relationship quality or fulfilment. You can be in a relationship in which no one has cheated and be miserable and you can be in a relationship in which you’ve both cheated in the past, worked through the causes and effects and be living in deep fulfilment.

We’ve talked about monogamy in the past and the challenges that it presents for many people — and strict or toxic monogamy, in particular, so we won’t get into that now. Instead, we’re going to delve into a real life story of how cheating can be overcome.

Joining us today to share his story of how he managed and worked through an affair in his relationship is George, who has been listening to the podcast and wrote in with his story.

George: I will start off with the good news first: We have been married for nearly 16 years now, we have 3 kids and a good home.  She is a stay at home mom and I work full-time. We have a great home and a dog to boot. I need to pinch myself sometimes because we are so fortunate to have what we have, to be together with each other and our kids and to have fulfilling relationships with friends and family.

3 years in to our marriage my wife cheated on me with her boss.  The emotion behind writing this even 13 years in the future is still very raw and palatable.  I can remember the smells of the tavern we were at when she told me.  She had 2 (that she told me of) separate encounters with him.  One in their office in Chicago, another on a company trip to NYC.  My heart rate is increasing in the telling now.

We were both working in lower paying, middle management jobs. We rented a crummy house in a nice community that was near where I worked and the train to the city where her office was located. We were in our late 20’s and we spent our evenings and weekends drinking with my friends, smoking cigarettes and giggling. In retrospect I was avoiding adulthood.

We had a lively sexual life, I thought, although she wasn’t in the mood as much as I am. Truthfully, she still isn’t as I am usually ready on a moment’s notice. She needs the set and setting just so. Conversely, an empty house without kids in it will do at this point! At any rate, I have always been attracted to her. Even now as we approach our mid-40’s she is a sexy women with a body I love to enjoy.

At any rate, I thought I was attentive to her. We went out on date nights, I held the door open for her, I celebrated the milestones, we visited her family a few states over, I helped with the household chores, cooking, cleaning, etc. I thought I was a good husband. I still do, in hind sight.

I wasn’t perfect and I was clueless about actually growing up. You know? Being a MAN, not just a 27-year-old boy with a job.  There was much more to being her husband that involved not DOING anything other than listening. So, one night when we were drinking at “Quarter Beer Night” at a tavern in the western suburbs of Chicago she laid it on me that she had cheated.

I don’t think I regret the immediate feeling, emotion that I had: I wanted to hit her. Hard. I didn’t. She had thrown the first punch and I didn’t have anything to counter with other than my fists. Again, I am biting my lower lip as I write this.

I got the two of us in the car, I drove to Chicago and dropped her off at home and I left. I called my dad and he picked me up at a corner in the Chicago Loop and I stayed with my parents for a few days. This was between Christmas and NYE. I was devastated.  I stayed in a spare bedroom with my parents while my sister and her husband were visiting for the holidays. I kept the lights off, I cried uncontrollably and I stayed in that room for 48 hours.

This is a real tribute to my parents that I had never had to deal with difficulty until I was 27. I wasn’t soft. I was wholly unprepared for the deception my wife had perpetrated. She went out of her way to lie to me about where she was and what she was doing. That still stings. I remember wishing to be dead. Not to stop living. Rather, I wanted to be free from pain. It was real and it hurt as bad as any bone break or muscle tear.

I called a friend who was divorced and asked for his attorney’s name and number. I never called. I strolled out of the room and told my parents I wanted to go home. Not to my wife. I wanted to go back to the other parts of my life. I was MIA from work. I love (and always have loved) my job and I was eager to return to work because it was as good a break from the pain as I could get.

She was also devastated. Not because she had cheated. Because she saw the wounds she had inflicted on me. She could live with hurting herself, not me. This is only by looking at the past that I came to this conclusion. I told her that if we were to stay married I needed to understand how, not why, but how she had brought us to this place. She had been in counseling for a year or two and we saw her therapist that first weekend I was home. We shared our story honestly with her and she indicated this was not for her to take on. Instead she referred us to a therapist who was better equipped with handling what we had done, to each other.

This second therapist over the course of several months saved our marriage. I still check in with her once a year (or more/less depending) to let her know that she saved more than our marriage. She saved our lives together and has provided life for our 3 children. Counseling, if you’re willing to engage in it and WANT to salvage the relationship is very effective.

She helped me commit to being a better husband (and person, by extension) and she helped my wife understand how her life, to that point, had been marred by mistrust and abuse in key ways. I am NOT blaming my wife’s infidelity on things that happened in her past. She was old enough to make better choices if she valued our relationship. However, trauma from her life at important developmental stages made her question her worth her entire life. She didn’t value herself enough in the right ways. That type of worthlessness wove itself into her life in insidious ways to great effect in our marriage.

During the counseling process I was NOT okay. I would break out crying and excuse myself from engagements with friends, family and co-workers who had no idea what was happening. I got in the habit of telling my wife “I’m OK” if I was thinking bad thoughts and able to handle it. I would be a mess if I wasn’t OK and she would try and talk to me, to soothe me. After a couple of months the tidal waves turned to shifting tides and ultimately they turned in to a calm breeze that occasionally grew to a gusty wind. Today, that betrayal still stings when I ruminate on it. It hasn’t left me.

More than anything I am still angry. Not because she cheated. I am angry that she felt the need to unburden herself at my expense. It makes me mad, even now, that she couldn’t stop it without hurting me in the process. I felt, at the time, like the point was to do it to tell me to hurt me. Now I just feel hurt.

I have never forgiven my wife for this. I wanted to hate her. I never did. I hated the thing she did, not her. I have come to terms with both emotions. I can hate something someone did without hating the person. It also isn’t necessary to forgive someone for betraying you. I’m not sure betrayal is forgivable? I know that loving my wife and the life/lives we lead aren’t dependent on forgiveness. Perhaps they are dependent on understanding? I have learned much and, even this many years later continue to learn from it.

I have never shared this story in writing before and I share it with you because perhaps some of your listeners (if you indeed read this) might benefit from my experience. Thank you for helping your listeners and clients in all the ways you help them, which is more than just in the bedroom. I appreciate all you do for everyone you reach.

P.S. When I first returned home we had sex immediately. I don’t know why. I needed to take that back from the other man, perhaps? I needed to feel that. I’m glad I did although I can’t explain what made that one encounter so necessary.

Jess: I believe there is such value in hearing other people’s vulnerable stories, because vulnerability is a universal experience. Feeling alone, feeling betrayed, feeling embarrassed, feeling ashamed — these are all universal emotions, but they’re difficult to talk about. Shame, in particular, is one that intensifies in private and I’ve been dealing with feelings of shame around something someone said about me online earlier today. I’m struggling with how to work through those feelings and I certainly don’t have all the answers. So I really appreciate George’s willingness to share and hope that you’ll consider doing the same. If there is a feeling or an experience that is eating at you, I hope you’re able to share with a loved one, a trusted confidante, a therapist or counsellor.

And if you do want to share your story with other listeners, please reach out. We have a podcast form on the website, fill out one here.

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