A few years ago, I met up with my old college friend, Margot. She is now an architect living in Nashville, Tennessee. When we got together, Margot was ten years, two kids, one dog, and a pet goldfish into her marriage. She suspected her spouse had been cheating on her with a close family friend, but both the friend and her husband denied it. She spent the next several months wrenching her way through marital life, working, parenting, “yoga-ing” all the while trying to uncover whether or not she was right. She was the modern day Ladies Home Journal wife trying to “save” her marriage. Eventually, she ended up getting divorced. For better or for worse, it turns out, she was right… about all of it. Last weekend, I asked her if she’d share her thoughts about infidelity for this post.
“When I found out about the affair, it crippled my reality, my sanity, and my truth. It really sucked for a while. Even now, I have moments. It was a triple layer cake of betrayal, grief, and anger with a big ol’ dollop of self-pity on top. That’s the problem with being right. Sometimes, being right brings you to your knees, seething.”
What’s the most important piece of advice you can offer someone who has just learned of an affair?
“Get a shrink. Get a lawyer. Then, find two to five close friends and take cover in their wings. Don’t talk about it with anyone other than your shrink and your lawyer. And, for God’s sake, do not talk to your kids or their friends’ parents about it. When your child asks questions you don’t know how to answer, it’s okay to say nothing or say you don’t know.”
That sounds impossible. Why do you recommend it?
“You need a crisis plan so that you can survive and function. You will have to figure out a way to just shut it off, retrain the neuropathways in your brain, that kind of thing. Someone told me to move my furniture around and take a different route to work. I did it and I swear that helped me. The main thing to remember when you talk to other people is that nothing anyone says is going to make it go away or make it better. Usually, the advice of your loved ones will do little more than lather you up with anger or make your devastation seem insignificant. The good news is that time is on your side. And you are a helluva lot stronger than you know.”
“Eat ice cream. Work out. Do Yoga. Mediate. Get in nature. Hike. Nourish your body with healthy and delicious food. Force yourself to try new things. Forgive your parents for any past grievances, call them and ask for help. Let your mommy hold you. Immerse yourself in anything that will restore your trust in the universe. Go to a church or temple – not necessarily one you’ve been to before. When you start to feel angry or sad about what went wrong, don’t indulge it. Instead, think about what you want in your next relationship. Smile at strangers in the bookstore. Volunteer in a food bank or in a nursing home. Just get out of your brain. Also, keep tissues in your car because it’s a terrific place to cry.”
What is the most important piece of advice you can share?
“Surrender to the circumstance of where you are. Accept the disappointing truth that you are responsible for where your life is right now and where it is going.”
I’m a bit biased here. Are you saying you’re responsible for your husband cheating on you?
“Yes and no. For myself, I pretended I was happy when I was too scared to tend to the raw truth: I was hardly even satisfied with my relationship. Sure, he has integrity issues. Yes, so does she. They made their choices, but so what? The revelation that I let myself (and by extension my children) settle for something miserable for all those years, well, that was the greatest betrayal I have suffered – and it was at my own hand.”
Wow. Okay, back to this one, what’s your best advice?
“My best advice is to accept the situation, forgive your ex, forgive her, and most importantly yourself. Figure out what you want and put all your chips into where you are headed. In architecture, we have this term, “angle of repose”. It is defined as the maximum slope at which loose solid material will remain in place without sliding. As architects, we covet that unnatural element in our creations. But an angle of repose in a marriage is preposterous. My marriage was stuck and the affair was just the landslide I needed to knock us loose. Turns out to be the best gift of my life. I’m madly in love with a wonderful new man and had no idea a relationship could be so easy, fun, and supportive. And, my relationship with my kids has never been better. As a parent, all you really want are for your kids to be happy, healthy, and confident. And, I have that, now.”
And what about your goldfish and your pup?
“Ahem…well, the goldfish died. I’ll spare you the details, but we tried to go back and forth with it when the kids went back and forth. Disaster. Don’t do that. And, my dog, Otis, I do miss him. That still gets me, actually.”
Anything else you can share for our readers?
“Look in the mirror and admire your own beauty. Remember that you are not alone and it didn’t happen because of something you did or didn’t do. And, it wasn’t because of the way you look. (Hugh Grant cheated on Elizabeth Hurley, for crying out loud). Finally, remember that whatever hell you are living in right now, the cheater lives in his own private hell with at least nine circles of suffering.“