I couldn't really think of another title for this post because that's what we're talking about. Sometimes I get questions for Dear Sara that I feel constitute their own post, and this is one of them.
I was wondering if you could write a post about your feelings are cheating in a relationship. What constitutes cheating? Does it have to be physical or do you believe in emotional cheating? I ask because I asked my husband to leave the other night because I found out that he had been lying to me and frequently having the equivalent of phone sex with an ex girlfriend that he swore he no longer spoke to. He swears nothing else went on - but first of all - he lies - so why should I believe him. Second, does he actually have to sleep with her for him to be what I consider a cheater?
The great thing about me is that I have experience in pretty much all kinds of areas. That isn't even an exaggeration- it's just what it is. A lot of the things I've dealt with or currently deal with I don't blog about until I'm ready. And this post is about three years in the making. I also don't feel I should answer questions unless you know a little bit about what I've experienced because it gives me street cred. So here we go.
About three years ago my marriage went into a complete tailspin. Matt and I were really at a cross roads as it was and I knew that something needed to be done to fix our marriage but wasn't sure what we needed. We had Olivia who was almost two and we had been trying for a second baby. One day Matt came home from work to inform me he had been fired. Obviously shocked, I asked him what happened- I had assumed it was performance based or maybe he made a serious error at work, etc. No. He was participating in "unprofessional" behavior at work with another employee. Obviously a poor choice. I was angry. Even more so when he admitted that it wasn't the first time and that they in fact had basically made out several times, the first time being two weeks before our wedding. A lot of other awful things were also discovered by me in the few short hours after I kicked his ass out. My gut reaction was that I was not going to be made a fool of again and that a divorce would happen and would happen immediately.
I lost a lot of friends over the next few months based on the decisions I would later make. I agreed to go to marriage counseling with him because in the very least, I wanted to help him understand why he made the choices he did and I was mature enough to recognize I played a role. I still feel like he used my post partum depression as a cop out, but I recognize that it had to have been extremely difficult for him since I know I wasn't a super awesome wife or mother for about a year there. Counseling helped me realize that holy shit- I can be a very difficult person to live with and that I need to change how I communicate with Matt.
But I still felt like the relationship had run its course and I was going to file for divorce. The morning of my appointment with a lawyer I felt sick. Fearing the worst, I went to Target to get myself a pregnancy test and like an idiot I did it in the Target bathroom.
Obviously it was positive. And obviously I had a complete emotional breakdown in the bathroom of the Superior Target. Several employees asked if I was OK, is there someone I should call, etc. No, there isn't and no, I'm not OK. Although I had cried plenty the previous three weeks, those couple of hours (yes, hours) in the Target bathroom were probably my absolute low. The reality and fear of being a single mom of two is pretty awful. Financially it would have been difficult and I knew I couldn't keep the house, the van, the bills, etc. I knew that no matter what route I'd chose it would be horrible.
It was in that moment that I decided that I was not going to run away from a situation I helped create. Could I have been a better wife? Absolutely. Could I have been a better mother? Absolutely. Am I going to let something like this defeat me after all of the hard work I had put in to get us to that point? Oh hell fucking no.
I cancelled my lawyer appointment, sold a lot of stuff to pay for another four sessions of marriage counseling and I was determined. My OB appointment was terrifying because all of my labs were off the charts so they ordered an ultrasound. There were two babies there. Obviously they called in an ultrasound tech and another doctor to confirm, so Matt and I waited. To be honest, I knew it'd be hard to have another baby but two seemed downright impossible. And god help me, but I felt relieved when they told me I had already lost one of the babies. I was approximately 9 weeks along and one of the babies just didn't make it. The other one looked just fine and I eventually had Jackson. I really felt in that moment that whoever is in charge knew I couldn't handle that load with what I was already facing. My entire pregnancy was us in marriage counseling, me worried I'd have post partum depression again, and then right after? We swung ourselves right into bankruptcy because we never could catch up from his job loss. I could have been angry with him, but I decided I was going to stick with it. We'd get over it, we'd bounce back financially, things had to swing back into the "good" because that's just how life works.
Fast forward to now. Is it easy? No. Do I trust Matt? Not completely. Do I still struggle with his choices? Yes. Do I let them define me? No. What I can tell you is that our communication is much better. I think before we just assumed that we'd communicate when we had to but that wasn't the case. Do I believe I know the full story of what Matt did? No. But you know what? Matt says he told me everything and I decided that I have to start trusting him again somewhere. And that's where I chose to start. My biggest struggle has been to not let his past choices dictate where we are now. I don't bring it up. We said our peace in counseling and made an agreement that all of the bad things we've said or done are in the past. We can no longer use those things as fuel for a future fight. We just can't. But dammit.... it's hard. It really is.
Do I believe in emotional cheating? Yes. In fact, I think it's almost worse than actually having sex with another person. Sex is just an act, just a physical thing that doesn't need to mean anything. But to be emotionally connected with another person is a betrayal and that's hard. But there is always a reason a person chooses to do that with someone other than their partner- and it's because something is lacking for them. It's not always fun to have someone shine a light on the things you aren't great at, but it's the only way things can get better.
After having been through a variety of betrayals (this is just one.. trust when I say I've got all KINDS of experience!) I can tell you that they don't have to be deal breakers. But they are very hard to get over. One thing I always remind myself is that when you see couples who've been married their whole lives practically--- they've dealt with all of this too. My wedding vows says "good times and bad" and dammit- I've been through some bad. But I think it honestly has made Matt and I closer. Which is weird because you think it'd be the opposite. I know I have to work at our marriage every day and some days I really hate it. But I made that commitment to him and he made it to me. We try every single day.
One of my favorite books, Stiltsville, has probably one of my most favorite lines of a book ever that I think about all of the time:
"I held my husband in my arms and pressed my face to his face. I kissed his lips. I told him I loved him. I told him, Thank you, over and over. I told him, Thank you for my life."
And it's true. I think of all of the things I have because of Matt: two amazing kids, a beautiful (but ghetto) house, the luxury to have fun when I want to, and the freedom to be comfortable with myself. And so much more. All of the good things in my life somehow are connected to Matt and for that? I owe him the moon. I hope he can say the same about me. And that? That right there is how you know your marriage is worth fighting for.
So for those of you dealing with infidelity- I want you to know it can be fixed. People don't make bad choices for no reason- find that reason and fix it. Work together. It can be done.