I never thought going back would be easy, but I could never have imagined how much it would tax me. To live everyday second guessing what your partner is telling you, trying to determine if they’re lying, looking for telltale signs of the behaviour repeating itself. Meanwhile dealing with the fallout of friends who think you made a mistake by going back, or had so vociferously made their feelings clear when you were separated that now they can’t backtrack the things they said about the man you’re giving it another go with.
We went to couples counselling, well, mostly I went. I think he joined for two sessions. I was familiar with counselling already, having gone after my parents divorce and then seeing a life coach before I got married. I’m not sure how much this particular instance helped but I felt I had to go because it was the right thing to do?
It took around six months for me to stop checking his phone. I did it almost daily for the first few months, and then slowly weaned myself off. I sometimes think I shouldn’t have gone back if I couldn’t not check his phone but it seemed like the minimum viable action to allow me to be present in the marriage but to also feel a tiny bit of peace.
And peace wasn’t something that was easy to come by. My brain and my thoughts and my dreams ran wild. I was in a constant state of turmoil, feeling like I wasn’t trying hard enough to make it work, not appreciating enough that he had seemingly changed, not fully feeling like myself. I wasn’t sure I’d ever feel like her again. In fact, I’m not sure I knew who she was by this stage.
We went to Vegas with some family for his 30th birthday in the March, ten months after the whole sorry mess had come out, 11 months after we got married. My aunt commented while on the trip that it was the most relaxed she’d seen both of us in a long time and it definitely felt like a bit of a line in the sand for us.
Then in the April we were in Portugal to celebrate his parent’s (some important coloured) wedding anniversary. It fell right around the time of our first wedding anniversary and so we didn’t get to properly celebrate our anniversary which actually felt like a bit of a relief to me, I didn’t know if the first year of our marriage was worth celebrating. Sure we’d made it but at what cost?
Instead we moved through spring, past the May date that was ingrained in my head from the year before, hoping there would be no random, unprovoked argument that led to a night of horrors. Thankfully not.
The only thing for me to deal with was a hospital procedure for an abnormal smear result that had come back. Hospital visits had never been something I’d experienced in the past, pretty much since I’d left the hospital as a baby I’d had no reason to return. Yet since I’d been married I had been to hospital twice. Can we say omen?
I’d been warned that after the procedure I would potentially not feel great and may experience some pain – both of which turned out to be true, not least because my body does not deal well with anesthesia. I’d been told I wouldn’t be able to drive and probably shouldn’t go to work and I was glad for the day off. But as I lay still snoozing in bed at the time I would normally be up and in the shower and instead was listening to my husband in the shower earlier than his usual allotted time because I wasn’t going first, his phone pinged with a message.
As I had finally grown able to do, I ignored it and didn’t instantly jump to any stomach churning conclusions. But as it did the usual iPhone second ping to remind you there’s a message, I suddenly thought that it might be one of the guys from his work. He managed a removal company and if one of the workers was texting to say they couldn’t make it in or there was a problem with one of the trucks then I knew my husband would want to know sooner rather than later, as that sort of stuff could really fuck up his days.
There’s something ironic in the fact that I only looked at his phone to make sure his day wasn’t going to be fucked up and instead it fully fucked up, not just my day, but my life. Again. Damn that motherfucking phone.
Opening up a text that came from a name that could have been male or female alongside the name of his company, making me instantly think it was a work text and so continuing to open it I was faced with a picture of a women’s backside in a thong.
Just staring back at me. At 7am in the morning. Some women’s half naked arse. On my husband’s phone.
I put the phone down, rolled back over and pulled the covers over my head. I couldn’t bear to deal with it. I almost, for a split second, thought about ignoring it. I was in so much physical pain already that the thought of dealing with something that I knew already had no good outcome was really past what I was feeling up to at that precise moment in time.
Instead I waited until he was almost dressed, then half sat up in bed and said “you got a text message while you were in the shower, I checked it because I thought it might have been about work, it wasn’t, it was a girls arse, I can’t do this.”
With panic flashing across his face he picked up his phone to look and then instantly tried to excuse it away as a joke from one of the guys. But I knew all the guys he worked with and I’d never heard that name before. Then he tried to tell me it was a contact he met through work and they’d obviously sent it to the wrong number. He told me I was being ridiculous if I thought a girl would just send a photo like that to him at that time on a Thursday morning.
Again, gaslighting in full effect. With no one around to validate you and the person you love more than anyone in the world standing over you telling you you’re wrong and have made a mistake, it’s hard not to start to doubt yourself. It’s funny what the brain can do to you, even as the memory of a lace thong is still burning a hole in your eyes.
But I really didn’t have the energy to fight him on it. I told him “ok, just go to work” and I could see he didn’t trust that it was ok or that in anyway was I accepting of what he was telling me. But I just wanted him out the house. I wanted to not have to deal with it. He finally left for work, promising to come back at lunchtime. As I heard the car drive away, I called my Mum and had her come over from work and pick me and a few suitcase up.
For the second time in 14 months of marriage, I was back living at my Mum’s.
This time, I told even fewer people. I couldn’t bear the questions. The judgement. The pity. I couldn’t stand having to dissect my marriage all over again. And so I kept going to work, I avoided most social situations and instead hibernated at my Mum’s, while she wondered how on earth her daughter was going to navigate this.
The second time felt more cut and dry. All I had to go on was one picture. I didn’t have all the mounting evidence of the first time, I hadn’t seen anything else. I hadn’t witnessed any other inappropriate behaviour and his constant denials and rebuttals that it had been in anyway what I thought really made me question myself.
I moved out, he kept telling me I was wrong, didn’t give me space, begged me to go back. And while not motivated by my vows so much, this time, I couldn’t fathom not going back due to mostly logistical reasons – negative equity on our house, credit card debt, weddings we were already booked to attend later in the summer. So because of stupid financial, travel, RSVP reasons I returned to my cheating husband for a second time.
And in that moment, I knew that as much as I was being judged by others for my choice, no one was judging me more harshly than I was myself. In that decision, I lost respect for myself.
What had I become?
I moved back in sometime in August, and at first it wasn’t too bad. I felt numbed by so much of it, I compartmentalised a lot of what had happened and instead tried to focus on something, anything else. But I was different. I was incredibly tightly wound, I couldn’t relax, I couldn’t enjoy anything. Life became more and more joy-less. Where I once found joy, I would often find tears. Escaping a room full of friends laughing, I would tuck myself away in a bathroom and allow myself to silently weep. For what? I wasn’t sure.
I continued, mostly in silence for around six months, but into the new year I started to notice that the anxiety which had been rising within me was becoming unavoidable. I’ve written about it in a previous post, but that feeling of the wind being physically taken from you when you think about this being the rest of your life. The startling realisation that this “normal” could be your only “normal” for years to come was literally breathtaking to me. And not in a good way. That was happening more and more often. I had started to have panic attacks in the shower before work. I would scream tears but no noise would come. I would fold into the corner of my shower, feeling trapped in a life that I had a thought would be my forever. I needed to be rescued and I couldn’t make a sound.
By the beginning of summer, I realised I had to get help. Paranoia was driving me crazy. And I truly mean that. I was so convinced that he was still doing things behind my back that I had begun to try and catch him out. I would feign being sick at work so I could go home and be there at lunchtime to see if he came back to the house. I would make the bed a certain way, with something specifically placed in a way I’d remember to see if it had been moved when I came home from work, so I’d know if he’d been in bed with someone else. And I started sniffing the seat belt in his car every time I got in. I told you, crazy! But hear me out…
The seat belt was the thing that gave my Dad’s cheating away. I remember he picked me up from school one day, which was an unusual occurrence, and I happened to smell the seat belt as I was pulling it across myself to put it on. And it was a perfume scent I’d never smelled before. In all fairness, it was lovely, but it wasn’t any of the perfumes my Mum wore. And I remember thinking to myself, for the seat belt to smell that strongly of a fragrance, the person wearing it must have been in the car a lot. Long story short, seat belts can be the downfall of a cheater.
Mostly my husband’s passenger seat belt smelled of me but it didn’t stop me having a quick sniff every time as I got in. And with every lunchtime stakeout, precision bed making or seat belt whiff, I was slowly losing my mind. It was absolutely the start of what could have easily ended up in certifiable insanity. I can entirely understand how people go there.
After one particularly tough morning when I wasn’t even sure I could get into work, I texted my Mum and asked if we could meet for coffee. Our offices were near each other and there was a perfectly placed Starbucks in the middle.
Sitting with our coffees at a little corner table, I explained to her how bad things were, the panic attacks, the resignation to a joyless marriage, the anxiety, and she was, naturally, shocked. Everyone thought we were doing so much better and in some respects I’m glad we’d managed to create that facade, I didn’t like the thought of people having to go through this with us. But I realised that it did however mean that if/when I told people about the reality, they were likely to be incredibly surprised.
I told her that when we were in the supermarket I wanted to wring his neck, for no apparent reason. I explained that I had begun to flinch when he wanted to have sex, that it felt like a stranger. And I noted that unlike in the beginning, I no longer felt safe in his arms. It was that last part that I was finding hardest to deal with. I longed to feel secure, protected, safe.
My Mum, having gone through a tumultuous marriage and, possibly, even more horrific divorce with my father, was well placed to offer good advice, which she did. She suggested I set myself a time frame. Be it two months, ten months, whatever I felt comfortable with. And in that time, to really be aware of what was causing me to feel the way I was. Was it solely what had happened in the past, or was it other external factors, that would usually just amount to a bad day.
While she knew I’d obviously been trying like a motherfucker to make it work, she wanted me to be sure that I’d done everything I could before I called time. But she was emphatic that if I knew I’d done that and I was still feeling this way, then I had to walk away, for my own sanity. I was aware that her having to say those words to me were hard. I know she believes in the sanctity of marriage, despite her divorce, and I know she would have have done anything for us to be able to work things out and stay together, she loved both of us even after all he’d done. But her concern, ultimately, was for me.
In my head I gave myself six months. It would take us to November and I hoped that for the first time since we’d been married we could at least make it through the summer, given that the first year shit had blown up in May and in the second year it had been June.
As chance would have it, summer wasn’t to be our favourite season and on the last day of July we returned home from a weekend away with friends. Having taken the Monday off because I wasn’t sure how late we’d be home, I wasn’t in any rush to get to bed. But he needed to be at work in the morning so while he unpacked, I settled onto the sofa with our laptop to go online, having been on an island off the west coast of Scotland for the past 3 nights.
Opening the web browser, I saw an unfamiliar login screen. To an MSN account. With an email address pre-populated in the login field. It was a nickname of his (that I’d always hated) from university. Wondering why he had an email address I didn’t know about, I called him through from the bedroom to ask him about it.
Had he come through and just admitted it was his email address, I don’t know how things might have ended up. However the story he tried to spin me was… incredulous. Initially, he said he knew nothing about the email address. Then he finally (we’re talking five, ten minutes here) admitted that he had previously had that email address but he hadn’t used it since university. When I pressed him as to how it had then ended up on a login screen on our laptop he proceeded to tell me that someone must have logged into it from our computer.
When I feigned shock that he was suggesting someone had broken into our house and we should call the police, as if I was believing a single fucking lie that was coming out of his mouth, he then offered that what must have happened was someone logged onto our wifi, then hacked into our laptop which was connected to the wifi, and finally password hacked the login to an msn email address he used to have at university.
Did he hear himself? Did he genuinely think I was going to believe a single word of that? Even if I hadn’t been working in the tech industry by this stage, I’m hopeful I still would have been aware that it was a big pile of stinking bullshit.
But that was his story and he stuck by it. In fact, he still sticks by it today. It’s fascinating to me.
I gave him every opportunity to provide the true story, to backtrack on what he’d just told me with no repercussions, if he would just tell the truth. But no, he was adamant. Deny, deny, deny. To the point that he stormed out the flat after about an hour of relentless back and forth, apparently hurt by the accusations I was levelling at him.
While he was out I made myself busy hacking into the email account that he insisted he didn’t know about, until he remembered, but definitely didn’t remember the password. I went through all the security questions, had to track down the backup email account, get that reset because it was an old email he definitely didn’t have anymore, reset the security questions and, not long after he’d returned to the apartment, finally I was in.
I didn’t say anything to him about the extreme password reset skills I’d just discovered I possessed and instead gave him one last opportunity to come clean. I vividly remember looking over the back of the sofa at him and saying “I don’t think you understand how crucial what’s happening right now is going to be to our marriage”. He yet again flat out denied there was anything else he wanted to tell me and took himself to bed.
While he was likely drifting off to sleep, I genuinely don’t think he was lying awake and concerned by what was going on, I started to delve into an online world that felt dark and secret and disgusting.
It wasn’t an email account per se, it was a type of MSN account I’d never seen. I didn’t even know MSN still existed at this stage but it turns out it did and my husband appeared to be a seasoned user. All of his friends on there were female, mostly women with profile pics of them in their underwear. There were also a few names of women I knew. Friends of his sisters, a woman he worked with.
There was so much information and I was taking screenshots and trying to get timestamp clarifications on things so I could put together a timeline. It was saying February, but was I just to presume it was February of that year? What if it was from his university days?
Writing this now, I’m aware it doesn’t fucking matter! Either way, it was fucking shady, he’d clearly lied about something and I didn’t need anymore proof. But for me I wanted to be sure. I wanted to be 100% sure before I effectively blew apart my marriage. For what I knew would absolutely be the last time.
I went from looking at the MSN account to Googling how to do a deep dive on your laptop’s history. I knew you could easily wipe the browsing history but I also knew that it didn’t completely clear it. I spent hours reading all sorts of articles and doing all sorts of things in the depths of my laptop. I was truly on a mission.
As I finally discovered browsing history that confirmed my inclination that he had been coming home at lunchtime, I also discovered that while he maybe hadn’t been coming home to have sex with people (though who knows), he had definitely been coming home to go on this MSN account and had also been partaking in dating sites.
I had a chilling realisation that this didn’t even hurt me. My overriding feeling was actually one of relief. Relief that I had a final reason to walk out, that I had validation that the choice I was about to make was the right one, and that finally I was going to be able to end this on my terms.
I barely slept, and as soon as I heard his car leave the next day, I called my Mum who was already at work. I gave her a brief overview of the previous night’s cyberspace investigation and asked her to ask one of her colleagues who works in IT, that I knew, if there could be any other feasible explanation for what I found. I didn’t even care that the guy must have been like “WTF, why are you pulling me into your family drama?!”
I sent her the details of what I needed to know word for word in a text which she relayed to him, ending with “can there be any other explanation?” Her reply came back “no”.
Trying to make a relationship work after cheating can be like being shot and the bullet being lodged in you. The doctor tells you that you could probably survive. So you try, with the bullet still inside, to heal, you hope it’ll just take time.
But you find that the long term effects of having that bullet lodged in you isn’t something you can live with so you choose to remove it. You know that in the act of removing it you’re going to cause yourself far more short term pain. When that bullet’s pulled out, the vacuum it created is soon going to be flooded with blood, pain and tears, and it could well kill you.
It was that day that I decided to remove the bullet and let the flood come.