Can There Be A Happy Ending After Infidelity?
Some years back, I had the opportunity to help David and Jadie, who struggled to recover from David’s infidelity. There were points when their marriage was ending, but they both plodded on. Through prayer and faith, they have made their relationship stronger and even more meaningful. They share their stories here in their own words.
DAVID: “Man’s restlessness to seek affirmation elsewhere can lead to disastrous consequences”
By the time I was 36 years old, I was out of a job, had young children to raise, felt generally dissatisfied and was losing my self-confidence. It was not hard to be tempted because I needed to feel affirmation of my desirability. In my younger years, I was flirtatious, but it never led to any extramarital relationship. But at this point in my life, the slide into the affair met with little resistance. My extramarital relationship was triggered by low self-esteem brought about by many diverse factors: losses such as my job, our life abroad, the admiration of others, financial resources; the abrupt repatriation and the gradual entry into midlife.
Sex with a woman who was not my wife gave a mixed feeling of adventure and fear. There was also remorse, but the situation constantly brought us together, and we could not stop ourselves. The sex became the source of affirmation of my virility. Reflecting now, I realize that men fall into this trap because of a lack of awareness of their needs. As men are wired to perform and demonstrate, we tend to seek external affirmation of our manhood. Career success, material wealth, beautiful wife or girlfriend, circle of friends all seem to be the elements from which we derive our identity, not realizing that what we need to do is look inside ourselves.
Other people may be adept at keeping secrets till they die. In other cases, they own up and confess. In my case, I couldn’t juggle for long reality and fantasy, truth and lie. Although with much trepidation knowing that so many changes will happen, and after much reflection and prayer, I gathered enough courage to tell my wife a few days before Christmas 2007. The saying ‘Truth will set you free’ became very relevant at that moment. There was a feeling of relief for me because I had been imprisoned by the lie for so many years. It was like living a suffocating double life. Needless to say, the discovery of the affair was traumatizing not only for my wife but also for the entire family. In one stroke, the image of the man of the house as somebody family members can truly rely on was tarnished, if not completely shattered. The entire family felt betrayed and shortchanged. How to rebuild the trust became my monumental challenge.
The idea that once confession is made, the one confessing can now lead a ‘normal’ life is a farce. I realized that as the transgressor, I had to painstakingly nurture the relationship and gain the trust that was lost. I had to patiently accept and understand situations when my wife would cry or throw tantrums with seemingly no apparent provocation. This difficult stage of saving the partnership and fortifying its foundation became my central objective. I realized later on that this particular focus, if not obsession, got me on course for the years that we were building our relationship.
JADIE: More words, more questions
It never crossed my mind that David and I would come to this point. He is my first love and we had gotten married when I was barely out of my kids, and going through severe financial struggles. David had resigned from his job, and opted to engage in part-time jobs.
It was after returning from his short stints abroad when significant changes happened. Unexplained absences. Constantly out of contact. Inconsistent excuses. Coming home late. Sudden provincial trips with ‘friends.’ He could be physically present but mentally somewhere else. He seemed to lead another life outside of our own. This was different from just going out with his drinking buddies. It went on for many years. I was plagued with worries and insecurities. I found comfort and solace in prayers. The more I prayed for him to change, the more that I understood that I had to change first.
On the 18th year of our marriage, one Christmas Eve, he confessed about his affair and its many entanglements. “I have something to tell you…I have a child, he is 6 years old.” My first reaction was Thank God! This is an answered prayer. I loved him more for the courage and sincerity he showed. There will be no more doubts about what was bothering our family. The next day, my world had turned upside down. The expectations that he would be filled with remorse did not happen. Instead, he mentioned that what he wanted was to get us to help him with the other party. This was another betrayal. A dam of tears broke and quickly spread its poison over our life. My thoughts were incessant: After neglecting us for so many years, he wants our help for these intruders? He expects those years of pain to be erased just because he came forward?
SKELETON OF A MARRIAGE
I stewed in the many questions his confession had created. I desperately needed answers to them. In my mind, he was not forthcoming. Doubts started to pile on top of each other. We fought almost daily. His answers led to more questions. I was emotionally hungry, angry, and very hurt. He was the one I used to turn to but this time he became the enemy. Our marriage was slowly losing its teeth. It had turned into an unrecognizable skeleton of itself.
Months later, I felt like I was dying, too. Depression held me in a tight grip. Everything became dark. Hopeless, I was on the brink of taking my life. I asked my thoughts to leave but to no avail. What do we do now? Where is he? Who is he with? What do they do together? Why her when I am the younger one? She is not even pretty or classy. What have I done to him that caused him to do this to me?
"‘WHAT DO WE DO NOW? WHERE IS HE? WHO IS HE WITH? WHAT DO THEY DO TOGETHER? WHY HER WHEN I AM THE YOUNGER ONE? SHE IS NOT EVEN PRETTY OR CLASSY. WHAT HAVE I DONE TO HIM THAT CAUSED HIM TO DO THIS TO ME?"
THE SLOW PROGRESSION
David knew he had made a big mistake. He could not bear being a witness to how it almost destroyed our family. I felt he also wanted to leave but at the same time his conscience would not let him do so. He was passive-aggressive and I would be confrontational. We agreed to talk things through, difficult as it could be. There were days when our conversation would go this way: “I saw a picture of you on a beach, but we were not there. Where was that?” His reply: “I really can’t remember.” Both of us felt frustrated. I think he was lying and was afraid that it caused more doubts.
On other days, it would be this way: “I hate you for bringing this child to our friends’ Christmas party! How could you do that?” No answer from him.
A fight ensued.
As time went on, there were changes to our conversations: “It is very hard for me when you keep asking questions randomly. Sometimes I can’t remember what happened. Other times, it can be too hard for me to tell you the truth. Or maybe I am not ready at the moment. Maybe it’s best if I set a time with you to let you know beforehand that I need to talk?”
What also kept us afloat were the dreams for our children. By this time, they were entering college. It would not be long before they would all graduate. Personally, I wanted to give them a family that could be whole despite any crises.
A CHANGE OF HEART
David eventually went through the arduous process of saying goodbye to all the other parties outside of our family. This to me meant that he had a change of heart by choosing our family over his own interests. At some point, I had to support the disconnection he was going through to make things as clean as possible. This was very painful for me as I had to personally deal with them, too. But I prayed for patience and wisdom, and that the Lord would keep me together.
HUMILITY AND FORGIVENESS
In time, I learned to look deeply into myself and see why our marriage went the way it did. His infidelity was a major mistake. But I contributed in many ways that had brought him there, too. For all my good intentions for our family, I did not see that he was getting lonely and depressed after he left his job. In my mind, I was standing in the gap by working for the family. But maybe to him, I had become a dominant person and added to his feelings of loss.
Learning to forgive a loved one who has committed a major offense is not easy. We had to understand our losses and its effects before we could start to forgive each other. I had to learn to see him for who he was trying to be, and not as an offender. Needless to say, he also had to forgive me for the offenses I had committed against him.
One day, I said to myself that faith would be my only reason to stay married. But the situation demanded that this must be the basic ground that we must stand on. Our conflicts need not automatically point to a separation. Instead, this was all a part of us trying to find ourselves.
It took many years before real healing started. Our relationship was not anymore under threat from both of us. Instead, it had time to be itself, unstained by the insurmountable demands we had put on it. Slowly, we learned to listen to the heartbeat of our life. Prayer and faith, indeed, is a satisfying resource. Marriage is like a river, after a turbulent spot, there is calm. And so long as it is kept alive, there is hope. We are still together to this day, more than ten years after this ordeal. Our relationship, by the help of God, has never been as beautiful as it is now.
"LET YOUR DECISION TO TRY AGAIN BE THE BASIC GROUND FOR YOU TO STAND ON. AGREE TO DISAGREE BUT TREAT EACH OTHER WITH RESPECT. THIS NEED NOT BE A THREAT TO YOUR RELATIONSHIP. IF YOU END UP FIGHTING A LOT, IT SHOWS YOU DO NOT KNOW HOW TO MANAGE THIS. AGREE TO SEEK OUTSIDE HELP, SEEK A PROFESSIONAL, IF NEEDED."
Both David and Jadie were not willing to let each other go. They knew that they needed each other to be able to recover. Against all odds, they held on to their family, constantly looking forward to the vision of what life could be. There are no instant solutions, just a continuous effort to growing each other. Theirs is a story of real love and hope.
- Prayer and faith are a satisfying resource.
- Any changes, whether positive or negative, can be stress-inducing. Both of you need to watch out for each other as emotions can become fragile.
- An outpouring of emotions is to be expected upon discovering/confirming infidelity, such as shock, a strong sense of betrayal, disbelief, fear of the future, doubts, anxiety, shame, paranoia, and trauma. You will feel conflicted, depressive, erratic, even helpless.
- Characteristics of Secret Keeping: It controls you; limits intimacy with each other and becomes harder to keep over time.
- Requiring information is part of a woman’s instinct at this stage. We become instant investigators, even going to the extent of hiring people to follow his every move. Some do media exposure. Others call his office to inquire about schedules. Ask yourself: “What will I do with the information?” “How will this affect us?” “Am I thinking clearly?” If the answer is no, stop.
- Letting go and welcoming: Disconnect with your old expectations, reconnect with a different version of the same person. Look for the changes in both your characters and put in work there.
- Set your boundaries but not as a threat. This is about limitations and flexibilities (areas of improvement). Examples: Let your decision to try again be the basic ground for you to stand on. Agree to disagree but treat each other with respect. This need not be a threat to your relationship. If you end up fighting a lot, it shows you do not know how to manage this. Agree to seek outside help, seek a professional, if needed.
- Patience is a requisite for a good relationship.
- Talk and talk more. Be resolute to discuss issues with each other. Be the safe person for your spouse. This means that you will not put him down, criticize or malign him. Your privacy is safe with each other. Agree to not keep any secrets from each other and what you can and cannot talk about with others.
- Allow your children to have as normal a life as possible despite the ongoing crisis. They need not be included in adult matters.
- Create the texture of your life together. You can be yourselves as individual people but when you are together, you can try to be as one.
- Forgiveness is a resource that you can bank on to put the two of you back on your feet. Without it, you will be filled with resentment for each other.
- Accept your spouse for who he is. Know that marriage is hard work. It’s like a flowing river—there are many spots that are rocky, still, deep, or shallow. You need to learn to ride it.
- Trust is earned, but it is never a one-way street. You respond by striving to give it back.
- Grow your love for each other daily. Always look for something to appreciate. When you talk to each other, mention his name often. Take time to pause. Be gentle. Give only kind words. Spend a lot of time together.
OUR EXPERT: Zenia Lim Panahon is a director of the Philippine Association of Christian Counselors. For more than 15 years, she has been coaching individuals, couples, and families. She also pioneers Pusong Pinay, a fun and interactive lecture series on the many facets of the Filipina. For more details about Pusong Pinay, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article first appeared in Working Mom Magazine December 2017 - January 2018 issue