How Our Relationship Survived Cheating

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The day I found out my husband had cheated on me was a very ordinary one. I had dropped the kids off at school, put in a load of laundry, and sat down at our kitchen table to tackle some long-overdue receipt filing. As I sorted through the crumpled stack, my mind wandered to what I’d order for dinner at the local restaurant my husband and I were heading to that night. The gnocchi, I thought. The gnocchi was always good. I was looking forward to a real conversation with Damien;* with three boys, it could feel like days went by without talking about anything other than soccer schedules, grades, and who let the dog onto the couch this time.

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My train of thought was interrupted by the receipt in my hand: a room service bill from the Dallas hotel my husband had stayed at a month earlier while on a business trip, and it listed $150 for one meal. He was overcharged, I thought, and just didn’t notice. But then I looked at the items on the check: two of everything—and a bottle of champagne. An icy grip crept up the back of my neck. Damien had texted me that night from Dallas to say he was turning in early and that he was looking forward to getting home. It didn’t add up.

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All day, I worried. I was sure there was some kind of explanation, but the gaping pit in my stomach said otherwise. As the evening approached, I went through the motions of getting ready for dinner. But I was dreading it. I had no idea how to broach the topic of the room service check. It took all my willpower to smile a welcome to Damien, kiss the kids good night, say good-bye to the babysitter, and leave for the restaurant without saying a word about anything. But as soon as the waiter handed me a glass of wine, I had to ask Damien what was going on. (Want to pick up some healthier habits? Sign up to get daily healthy living tips delivered straight to your inbox!)

I just blurted it out, and the second I saw his face drop, I knew. He hesitated. He couldn’t look me in the eye. “Honey, I… I am so sorry,” he managed to get out. The rage hit me right in the chest, but I felt strangely calm, like I was just watching the conversation and wasn’t in it. He told me he’d gotten to talking with a woman during a networking event that day, and he knew that the flirting was wrong but he didn’t think it would go further. It did. I went numb as he told me he’d had a few drinks and got caught up in the moment, that he kept telling himself he wasn’t going to sleep with her, but he just let it get out of hand. He almost winced as he said he’d forgotten what it was like to have someone pay attention to him like that. It had never happened before, and he never wanted it to happen again. Tears filled his eyes when he told me that he loved me and that he never wanted to hurt me or the family. He had, he claimed, not seen or spoken to her since and felt terrible about what happened.

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After the bombshell, everything was a blur, and I knew I couldn’t sit in that restaurant and eat gnocchi like everything was okay. We got our coats and headed home in silence. I couldn’t look at him, and my eyes were filled with tears. For the next few days, I just felt shellshocked. I cried, in great heaving sobs, when I could get away from the kids and Damien. I told my sister, who was as blindsided as I was. But I didn’t want to tell anyone else until I decided what to do. I felt incredibly confused: full of rage and completely shocked, but still aware of how much I loved my husband and how good I felt our marriage was—or had been. Sure, we had our arguments and our frustrations, but we’d always had fun together. We’d always felt like a team. If this had been an affair where he’d become emotionally involved with another woman, I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay in the same house with him for a minute. This hurt, but not as much as the thought of that did. Even so, everything felt dark. Still feeling lost a week later, I decided to take Damien up on his suggestion to go into couples therapy. He wanted to work through it, he said, and do whatever it took to repair our marriage

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I wasn’t so sure. In those bleak first weeks, I thought we’d never get past it. I became obsessed with this other woman, and I couldn’t help but ask Damien whether she was blonde or brunette, had bigger breasts than me, was better in bed… all my insecurities, essentially. Every time, he’d asked me if I really wanted to know. I didn’t. I realized that knowing any kind of detail would drive me insane—and it was irrelevant.

I didn’t know what to expect from the counseling, but our therapist helped us talk about what had happened more clearly and to accept that it was normal to feel a mix of emotions. Damien accepted full responsibility for what had happened. I cried when I asked him if there was something wrong with me, with our marriage. I knew we could have more sex, that I could do my hair the way he liked it more often, lose a few pounds—but I had always felt loved as I was until now. It felt like that trust had been broken.

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We continued to see the therapist for 18 months, and over that time my rage and grief ebbed and flowed. Some days I did scream at him. Other days I felt like I could live with it. I would think about going out and having my own one night stand to get back at him. The resentment hung over me. And the fear: that it would happen again, that there was more to the story. I even asked him if I could look at his e-mails. He gave me all his passwords. And throughout it, we kept talking. We didn’t have sex for 4 months after I found out because I couldn’t bear to have him touch me. It finally happened after a really positive therapy session, and while it felt more stilted and awkward than usual, the tenderness was still there. It felt like a huge relief to be connecting physically again.

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Ultimately, it wasn’t the kids who kept us together; it was that there was still love in the relationship—and there was a sense of deeply knowing him. I knew, in my core, that this was a mistake, not a personality flaw. And the fact that he was clearly in pain and willing to do whatever it took gave me a strange kind of hope. Eventually I decided I wanted to work through it, too. If that had been one-sided, we’d never be where we are now.

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Four years later, I still have pangs of anger over what happened. Maybe I always will. But I feel like, in a weird way, the cheating gave us a deeper understanding of each other. I accept that he’s not perfect—although if it happened again, I’d be gone. We took a really long, hard look at our marriage and realized that we needed to put more effort into feeling connected. Weekly date nights and kid-free vacations have helped, although I still can’t order room service when we stay in hotels. But most important, we’re laughing again.

*Names have been changed.

By Naomi Chrisoulakis

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