“Take your breath away.” It’s a sentence we’ve heard often. One that’s usually linked to something positive. Like in fiction when the groom sees their partner coming down the aisle on their wedding day. Or in real life when I saw this breathtaking sunset in Thailand.
But the moment I’m about to speak of was none of those things.
There was no beauty and there was definitely nothing awe-inspiring about it. There was just shock. Because at 6:36 am on the 8th February 2020, the thing that took my breath away was discovering that my (now ex) partner of 11 years had been having an affair.
There’s nothing that can prepare you for that moment. The moment when you find out the person you have shared a life with is not the person you thought they were. It doesn’t just shatter a heart. It shatters a sense of self. Because I always assumed I would erupt the moment I found out. After all, it’s how they portray it in the movies. You find out, you rage, you throw out their clothes and perhaps burn a few things.
But I didn’t.
I was shaking so much I was sure I was going to collapse.
But I didn’t.
I had a million things I wanted to scream.
But I didn’t.
I was calm. Weirdly calm. With hindsight, I think we can all agree it was shock, because it didn’t last long. But it lasted long enough that despite only having an Instagram username and minimal proof, within 30 minutes I had found out his affair partners’ name (and that of her husband), the location of the hotel she was staying at and her room number. And at the end of those 30 minutes, I was sat there with her opposite me, wearing nothing but the sheets she had just fucked my boyfriend on, trying to convince me that nothing had happened.
I should have raged.
But I didn’t.
The air smelt like sex and bullshit, yet I didn’t crumble. Heck, I barely reacted. I just sat there, emotionless. A feeling which lasted until I returned home and anger broke through. A feeling so unrecognisable it felt like molten lead pumping through my veins. Yet even that was fleeting. I burned hot then went ice cold. I felt numb. All the things I had wanted to say previously had gone. I had no words. It didn’t feel real, it couldn’t be, the actions didn’t match the person I loved.
And yet they did.
That feeling of numbness soon subsided and it felt like every emotion in the history of humanity came at me. It was overwhelming. I found myself stuck in some form of grief cycle and I was exhausted, so I called a therapist to help navigate the sh#tstorm I was facing.
She was the pinnacle of my healing process: my captain of coping mechanisms. She reassured me it was ok if I wanted to stay in the relationship, and it was ok if I wanted to leave the relationship. She helped me to identify what it was I was feeling, where it was coming from and she pulled me from my pity-party when I started spiralling.
My therapist was a total lifeline because the aftermath of infidelity is a minefield. Honestly, I’ve never experienced anything like it. I was still having emotions. But after the intensity, everything felt muted. Like watching TV on standard definition when you’re used to HD. The image was technically the same, yet it wasn’t. It felt like I was stuck on a fairground ride, flipping between dissociation and feeling nothing, to feeling everything all at once. And amongst all of these emotions, I lost my voice. I had nothing to say. I didn’t have any words, so I sought to understand.
I went to therapy, I read books, devoured blogs and observed support groups online. I was looking for some semblance of information to make it all make sense. But there wasn’t any. And then, 3 months later I realised I was fucking bored of it all.
Why was I trying to force myself to learn to be ok with something that I clearly wasn’t ok with?
It’s not like I didn’t know myself. Infidelity has always been a deal-breaker to me. I grew up with it. I’ve witnessed the effects it has on people. I’ve seen the aftermath and it was never something I wanted to witness for myself.
I knew that; I communicated that, and yet there I was ignoring that.
Somehow, after experiencing it for myself, I’d convinced myself that—despite numerous years of knowing where my boundary was— I owed it to myself and our relationship to try and work through it.
And it was the biggest sack of bullsh#t I’d ever told myself.
Because you don’t owe it to anyone to stay in a relationship just because you’ve spent a significant amount of time with them. Relationships are not investments, there is no sunk cost.
That’s not to say it won’t work out for some. I know people who have experienced infidelity, lived through it and come out stronger as a couple. I know people who have gone on to get married. And I know people who have experienced infidelity, lived through it and come out with their thoughts still plagued by it. Each experience is unique.
But my experience told me it was costing me too much.
Because it cost me my peace, and it cost me my words.
Today marks a year since I found out, and for the most part, I’ve kept quiet. Scared to share my story out of fear of oversharing or exposing my ex in some way. But I’ve realised that he doesn’t deserve my loyalty and I don’t owe anybody my silence.
It’s my story—and I’m finally going to start telling it.
The year I lost my words, is officially over.
If you’re reading this and going through infidelity yourself, I’m sorry. You didn’t deserve this and it’s going to be a tough road for a while. I tried to stay and work through things, and couldn’t. But that’s my experience. Yours may be different, but it’s for YOU to decide. Nobody else. There are numerous resources out there to help guide you through the emotional shitstorm, but here are a few links to things which helped me.
Not a site that will help save a relationship, but a site that may just help save your sanity. Includes numerous helpful resources for knowing what to keep in mind, from somebody who has lived through it and recognises the signs.
Affairs are a messy business, and once people find out about them, they tend to jump to instantly condemning the cheating party. But bad choices don’t instantly make somebody a bad person and this book takes a different approach to infidelity, looking at desire, the sense of self and why people choose to stray rather than talking to their partner about it.
A Reddit sub for those who are attempting to reconcile after infidelity. There’s no judgement here (which can often be experienced by those who announce a desire to stay with their partner), just a supportive group of people who have all experienced infidelity first hand.