Facts & Arguments is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.
At first I was angry. Then hurt. Then sad.
The sadness lasted the longest, and in truth it has never gone away completely – it has just morphed into anxiety of various degrees and colours. The anger comes and goes in waves, visiting on its schedule, and rarely calls ahead.
I am no longer hurt, however, which is kind of funny when you think about it.
Six months ago, my wife of six (mostly happy) years confessed to me that she had had an affair. I remember the exact moment she told me, though my memories of the event have taken on the texture of a vivid dream: vibrant and intense, yet somehow distant. This is familiar territory for anyone who has gone through this type of trauma. I know this because I have spent countless hours dissecting testimonials of "victims of adultery." Every human experience spawns a community on the Internet, and adultery is no different.
I've read from women and men from every socio-economic group and religious persuasion. They offered every type of advice and were rarely shy in sharing the intimate details of their cheating spouses' indiscretions. I didn't take any of their advice all that seriously, but I still found some solace in knowing that I was not alone, although knowing that you are not alone in misery rarely diminishes the misery itself, at least in my experience.
If the admission of an affair is like an atomic bomb, the subsequent discussions and mini-revelations are the fallout. The inevitable questions, the need to know specific details, became amplified in the ensuing days. Even if I could get over the physical act of cheating, I found it was the minor details that stung the most: the secret text messages, the phone calls, the coffee dates. What songs reminded her of him? What inside jokes did they share? Each question I had led to more questions, more fallout. I felt that every happy memory had become contaminated. I wondered if I could ever look at my wife or regard our relationship in the same way again.
What is the half-life of adultery fallout, I wondered. When will my memories become safe again?
Then it happened: We had our first post-revelation laugh together. We were sitting in the office of our marriage counsellor in the midst of a rather tedious conversation about attachment theory when I made a joke. The counsellor had said that he thought adultery was the worst betrayal and looked toward me, seemingly waiting for me to agree.
"Well, maybe not the worst betrayal," I responded after what seemed like an eternal pregnant pause. "Running me over with our car would have been slightly worse."
At that moment in the cold, sterile office of our marriage counsellor, my wife and I shared our first laugh together in almost three weeks. I had made her smile again; I was amazed I still had that power. One small aspect of our relationship had survived doomsday, and was now emerging from the shelter unharmed. Frightened, but unharmed.
My wife's smile had been what drew me to her originally. Coaxing smiles and laughs from her lips had been my favourite pastime ever since we met 11 years ago. I feel as though we share a special, if somewhat bizarre, sense of humour. The thought of losing that connection terrified me.
But if I am honest with myself, I took it for granted. Somehow, through the years of marriage and the trials and tribulations of raising two children together, we forgot how precious a sense of humour can be for a marriage. It's not as if we started arguing more. We just started laughing less. Our arguments no longer ended with a joke. We forgot to laugh at each other's flaws and just started pointing them out. Amusement gave way to annoyance.
Though not a distinctly human characteristic, I believe humour to be one of our species' greatest adaptive traits. It allows us to disarm unpleasant emotions, and gives us the courage to deal with frightening realities. And I have found it works even better than whisky for a broken heart, though I have so far found no scientific research to back me up. But please, take my word on this.
In the months since that day in the counsellor's office, we have shared many more laughs and still more tears as we work together to rebuild the charred landscape of our marriage. To say it has been tough is an understatement. But it has also been hilarious at times. So much so that my wife and I have managed to put together a six-minute stand-up comedy routine based on our experience with adultery (six minutes is the minimum requirement for a spot at our local comedy club's amateur night).
My dream is that one day, when we are famous comedians being interviewed on the red carpet at the Toronto International Film Festival and Ben Mulroney asks us how we got into comedy, we will look at each other and respond: "It's kind of a funny story."
Sean Curran lives in Ottawa.