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Picture this: You lie down for a short rest after a long day. About 10 minutes into your nap, you are woken by the sound of persistent knocking at the front door. You want to ignore it, but get up when someone starts leaning on the doorbell.
You open the door to someone you’ve never seen before, someone who asks if your husband is home. You reply, “No, he’s not, but I’ll be happy to give him a message.”
The stranger at the door says, “I was told to give this to you when he’s not home,” and hands you a large sealed envelope.
Puzzled, but still drowsy, you thank him and close the door. You walk back toward the bedroom, intent on finishing that nap. You glance at the contents of the envelope. They are copies of e-mails between your husband and a woman with whom he has clearly had sexual contact. You think, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming.”
You lie down and close your eyes. An instant later it hits you, and in that split second your life has changed forever. Nothing is what it seems and what was will never be the same again. There’s no more need for sleep – you’ve been unconscious for the past nine years. That scenario played out in my house nearly five years ago. Even now it seems more like something out of a movie than something that actually happened to me.
I have spent countless hours analyzing every second of that encounter with the stranger. I’ve spent even more time analyzing the marriage that ended that night. We listed the house a couple of days after my mysterious visitor came to call, and accepted an offer less than a week later. In 10 days I went from married, settled and oblivious to separated, shell-shocked and adrift.
People often say that the betrayed must have known, must have had some sense that their partner was cheating on them. The implication is that if they didn’t know they have no one to blame but themselves.
I can only speak for myself, but I’ve had two husbands commit adultery and I was oblivious – completely clueless – in both cases.
I find it fascinating, and at the same time deeply disturbing, that so many people blame the betrayed. Even more demoralizing is that we often accept the blame, and feel deep shame. The question people kept asking me was: “How could you not know that he was having an affair?” I always interpreted that as: “What are you, stupid?”
When I confronted my husband later that night, his first reaction was, “Well, that all happened over six months ago.” He told me he didn’t see what the big deal was.
Let me tell you what the big deal is. When faced with incontrovertible evidence that your significant other has betrayed your intimate relationship, one of the first instincts is to question every single comment, caress and encounter you have ever had with that person. Instinctively, I went inward. What the hell was wrong with me that I let that happen? How could I not have known? How could I choose such a liar and cheat as a partner? How many other people had he been with since we got together? Was everything a lie? How could I have been such a fool?
The first time it happened, in my first marriage, I reacted with anger. I told everyone I knew, and probably complete strangers as well, what a lying, cheating lounge-lizard my husband had been. Anger motivated me, got me moving, kept me fighting and probably kept me alive. The downside was that it also kept me from moving on. It wasn’t until the second marriage ended that I really grieved the end of the first.
The grief that I felt then undid me completely. I’d heard of people curling up in the fetal position and crying for hours, but had never done it myself until the day after the visit. I remember thinking, how can one person have so many tears? How can this emotional pain cause such a physical reaction? Even months later I drifted through my days, lost and puffy-eyed from crying. The sense of betrayal and shame was overwhelming. The simplest decisions flummoxed me.
Now, having moved on from that movie moment, I no longer take ownership for the actions of others. The men I married were responsible for their own actions. End of story.
A counsellor once told me that the key to healing is to keep telling your story until it is just a story. It has taken nearly five years, many hours of counselling, reading, reflecting and journaling for me to be able to tell my story.
I have come to realize that the actions of my two ex-husbands say much more about them than they do about me. They are mere bit players in the movie of my life, not the leading men I thought they were.
In her book Spiritual Divorce, author Debbie Ford writes of the value in seeing life as “the universe unfolding as it should.” Every person has his or her own path; relationships form when those paths overlap. Some paths overlap forever, while others merge for a while before becoming separate again.
I have come to view my life this way. I no longer wake up longing for what I thought I had. Now I look forward to the rest of my journey.
Elizabeth Haselden lives in Sudbury. Her name has been changed to protect the identity of her children.