The breakdown of my marriage wasn’t the biggest surprise, the biggest surprise was the timescale in which it broke down. Both in its quickness and what, to some people, felt like it’s slow painful death.
While I’ve alluded to my divorce a number of times in previous posts, I’ve never delved into the details too greatly. Partly because I was/am more focused on the present and my life now. But so much of where and who I am now was shaped by that experience that I feel it only makes sense for me to give more of that background that got me to where I am today.
Six weeks – weeks, not months, not years – after our wedding I found out my husband had cheated on me. In numerous fashions. The first being that before we were married he had slept with at least one other person. And that since we were married he had been texting a whole host of females – both known to me/him and strangers from online – with texts that would have been considered inappropriate even if he hadn’t been married.
The way I found out was… a mess. One Friday, not long after we were back from our honeymoon, and while I was still recovering from the gastroenteritis that had landed me in a Mexican hospital on said honeymoon, I got home from work and almost instantly he tried to pick a fight with me. It was so odd, it felt like it could have been a joke. He ended up storming out the house, but not before he’d changed clothes and made plans with his friends all within about five minutes flat. But what guys do you know that make plans that quickly?
Despite the unpleasantness of the whole situation, I was actually glad he was out the house because I was so confused and so it gave me time to figure out if I’d actually just completely lost my mind. This would turn out to be the first real example of gaslighting I can put my finger on.
[Gaslighting – to manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.]
I didn’t hear from him all night, until he finally came stumbling in the door at around 4am. Now, I’d seen him drunk before – neither of us had ever held back in our drinking around each other, which wasn’t always the healthiest thing for our relationship – but this was next level drunk. This was incoherent, couldn’t see, couldn’t undress himself, drunk. I let him sleep on the sofa until I gave up on sleep so moved him into the bedroom so I could go into the living room. After I moved his dead weight of a body to the bed, I undressed him and as I did so his phone fell out his jeans pocket.
I had never checked his phone before, the thought had never even entered my head, was simply never in my consciousness. Until now. His phone lay on the bedroom carpet staring up at me. I looked over at him, dead to the world and there was just something, a feeling I couldn’t explain, something felt different, something didn’t feel “right”.
So for a reason that can only be explained as gut intuition, I picked up the phone and took it with me through to the lounge.
What I didn’t know, or didn’t realise, was that what I would find would lead to the biggest shift in my world that I’d ever experienced. Even more so than when my parents divorced. Things can’t be unseen, truths can’t be untold, hurt can’t always be reversed. What is it they say? Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answers to?
Regardless of the outcome, I did want the answer. I hate being kept in the dark, I don’t like being made a fool of and if the choice is to know something shitty or don’t know at all, I’ll always go with the know something shitty option. My philosophy is; being blind to something doesn’t make it untrue so you may as well know the truth.
And so, sat on the sofa with the early morning Edinburgh sun (yes we do sometimes get sun in Scotland) streaming into our first floor flat, I delved into his phone and my life was changed forever.
Instantly I read texts to some girl the previous night suggesting that she travel through from Glasgow and he get them a hotel room. It was a back and forth, banterful, sexually charged text exchange which only paused at one point when she wrote “I thought you just got married? lol” and he replied with “Oh yeah, so I did”.
Can we talk about a punch in the gut? Can we talk about a stab in the heart? Can we talk about a pain you never thought words staring back at you could cause? There is no way to describe the hurt.
Over the course of the next few days I discovered about the texting and I had someone confirm they’d slept with him before we were married and they were still regularly in touch. In fact I’d only found out about that one when she sent through a very weird photo when I opportunely had his phone. Despite the number being saved under a guys name, I played along, replied as if I was him and then did the bait and switch and told her it was his wife.
He denied it all, told me none of it was true, until I would present him with yet more evidence in black and white at which point he would eventually admit it. But none of it was information he gave up easily. He made me work for every single confirmation – I had to go digging through months of texts, I had to keep his phone & text people as if I were him, I had to offer up suggestions of people he might have inappropriately texted before he would ever admit it.
And so, before the wedding photos had been seen, the wedding gift list delivery had arrived or the thank you cards had even been sent I was questioning whether I could stay married to my husband. It hit me like a train.
I moved to my Mum’s, gathered my best friends around, those same girls who had stood by me at the alter just seven weeks before, and told them what had happened. People rallied, work were understanding, he was desperately sorry, inconsolable almost. And me? I was numb. I could not understand how this was my life. How this had happened. How I could have married someone that would do that. And how I married someone that I didn’t know.
But I took my vows seriously. When my great-uncle had married us, in that cathedral in front of 131 guests, I had meant every word. Testing the strength of those vows so soon was never something I could have foreseen. But here we were and I had a decision to make. I made the decision that I personally felt was to do the only thing I felt I could do – stay and try to make it work.
The biggest difficulty I had with my decision was that in my naive days, before all of this, the days before I truly understood the depths of commitment and the extremes of life, I had always said if someone were to cheat on me there wouldn’t even be a conversation to be had, it would be over before the conversation began. I mostly said that in thinking about my parents marriage and how my mother put up with my father’s infidelity for so much of their marriage. Little did I know then that it wasn’t as simple as black or white, in or out, stay or go.
Context, feelings, emotions, logistics – they are all things that made that decision far more difficult, so much more complex and far more of a head fuck than I had ever anticipated back when I thought a cheating partner would automatically mean the end of a relationship.
I’ve been listening to a lot of Esther Perel’s ‘Where Should We Begin’ podcast recently and if you haven’t heard it, imagine being a fly on the wall at a couple’s counselling session where nothing is censored, emotions are raw and the complications of people, and relationships, and past experiences are laid bare for you to hear. It’s a brutal, often triggering, but beautiful listen.
A number of those sessions (each episode is a different couple’s session) talk to infidelity and in one of the sessions Esther says “the old shame used to be divorce, the new shame is staying when you can leave” and that smacked me in the face like a wet fish.
It’s a rock and a hard place. There’s still an element of shame tied to divorce (as I explored in this post) but Esther’s correct, there is also now shame with staying in a relationship when you’ve been cheated on. People presume you are weak of character if you choose to stay. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
With time off work for stress, I spent a lot of the weeks living at my Mum’s thinking. Questioning. Disbelieving. Talking. There was a lot of talking with people. Family, friends, work colleagues. I just remember it being turmoil. And I hated living at my Mum’s. Yes, it was comfortable and she was/is always an incredibly welcoming hostess to family or friends, or strangers, but I missed my home. I missed my bed. I missed having all my things. It was just an added layer of shitty-ness in an already shitty situation.
Eventually, lost in a world that was full of people constantly asking me how I was doing, of not knowing if I’d be able to move when I woke up in the morning because stress was taking over my body, of dreams so tormenting that proper rest was a long lost memory, of sleeping in my childhood bed but it feeling alien and unwelcoming, of people thinking they had answers for me, of me not being sure I’d ever have the answer to anything ever again, I made the decision.
My vows, my marriage, my husband deserved work. And I needed to know I’d done everything I could to live up to my vows. Mama didn’t raise no quitter and, for me, I knew going back was the right thing to do.