I Missed These Signs My Husband Was Having an Emotional Affair
If I hadn’t ignored them, I could have confronted him before encounters between him and his coworker went from innocent to physical.
The evening my husband said he had something to tell me, the possibility of him having an affair was the furthest thing from my mind. But when Christian* sheepishly looked at me, then at his feet, then back at me, something inside of me knew.
“What? Are you cheating on me?” I asked, matter-of-factly and half-joking. I wasn’t expecting him to say yes. So, imagine my surprise when he did.
I asked him with whom. And when he didn’t want to tell me her name, I realized I already knew who it was. “Marissa,” I said emotionlessly. Now it was his turn to be surprised. “How did you know?” he asked. Meanwhile, I was asking myself, How did I not know? Why didn’t I see this coming? How could I have been so naive?
They say hindsight is 20/20. And that certainly is the case with Christian’s indiscretion. When I look back, the clues were all there. Here’s what I wish I’d asked him about before the two of them spent the weekend together:
His interest in her was sudden. Christian worked closely with volunteers at his job. When he started working with Marissa, he talked about her — a lot. I knew who she was, so it wasn’t strange for him to mention her, but in retrospect, this was a huge clue. For several weeks, he sang her praises. She was smart. She was good at what she did. She pooped rainbows and talked to unicorns. Christian gave me a front-row seat to his growing infatuation with her, and I didn’t recognize it.
We were in a slump. We were just over seven years into our marriage and had settled into a life of coexistence. We cared for the kids and our home but put minimal effort into our relationship. As a result, we stopped connecting emotionally and physically. It was in that climate that Christian and Marissa started messaging each other on Facebook, their exchanges progressing from friendly to flirtatious to intimate.
He became frustrated with me. On several occasions during their three-month affair, Christian acted annoyed with me or was mean to me. As he became emotionally invested with Marissa, he became even more emotionally distant with me, and his treatment of me reflected that.
He stopped talking about her. I can pinpoint when Christian and Marissa’s relationship crossed the line from innocent to inappropriate: when he stopped talking about her. Almost as suddenly as her name entered our home, it left. I wish I’d noticed. I wish I’d questioned why he stopped mentioning her.
He was uncharacteristically unselfish. Christian was not one to encourage me to do things for myself or by myself. But he was suddenly on board with my taking the kids to visit a friend one holiday weekend. His motives were purely selfish though. It was during that weekend that he and Marissa arranged to spend an evening together in her home and took their relationship from emotional to physical. Their encounter did not result in sex but came close before they stopped things and Christian left.
My intuition warned me. I had a fleeting thought early on that their relationship could be more than friendly. But with no tangible reason to suspect anything was going on, I dismissed it. In hindsight, my intuition was nudging me.
Then there were the obvious clues. Some clues should have alerted me. But when you love someone and expect the best from that person, it’s easy to explain away shady behavior before you question it. A changed Facebook password? Oh, maybe he forgot his. Late-night sessions on the couch scrolling through his phone? No big deal. Looking back at those clues — especially together — they were obvious. But individually, not so much.
Discovering His Secret
When Christian confessed, I was heartbroken. But I demanded he tell me every detail of their relationship. He told me about their conversations — how he revealed our marriage struggles to Marissa, and she shared her past hurts and the challenges of raising her daughter alone. Their feelings for each other grew with each text. (He probably made her feel like the sexiest woman in the world, as was his gift — still is.) Their relationship culminated that one night in her apartment, but there were other less-intimate physical encounters afterward.
Christian felt guilty and shameful about the affair. He ended his relationship with Marissa and came clean to his employer. We sought counseling to help us move forward with our marriage.
In the days, weeks and months following Christian’s confession, I experienced just about every emotion possible. Indifference: You enjoy your new life. Shock: Is this really happening? Anger: What the #@%&? Insecurity: What’s wrong with me? Fear: If I forgive him, will he hurt me again? I eventually got around to empowerment, feeling what Beyonce’s “Lemonade” so perfectly puts into words: “This is your final warning ... if you try this [mess] again, you gonna lose your wife.”
A Wake-up Call
Much like how a heart attack alerts someone about the impact of his or her habits, the affair was a wake-up call for us. While Christian is 100 percent responsible for his choices, the state of our marriage at the time left us both unfulfilled and the relationship vulnerable. Marissa paid attention to my husband. She listened to him. She made him feel funny and attractive, things he needed from me. Christian was tender with her. He made her feel safe. He stepped into the role of protector and provider, things I so desperately needed from him.
Christian’s indiscretion shone a light on the poor health of our marriage and showed us that we needed to prioritize it, something we continue to work on.
My road to forgiveness and trust has been lengthy and roundabout. In some ways, it still continues. I don’t think about the affair often, but when I do, it still stings. Knowing your husband stepped out on your marriage is a pain that’s impossible to forget.
I sometimes wish I could go back and relive the experience, so I could be smarter about it. But since that’s not possible, I focus on what I learned. My takeaway was not that I should put a wall up and always be on the defense. Rather, it’s to pay attention. If a loved one behaves in a way that’s different or out of character, there may be a reason. Don’t be so quick to dismiss it. And listen to those inner voices, no matter how small. Intuition often whispers to us — as it did in my case. Don’t wait for it to scream at you.
*Names have been changed.