One of the hardest parts of moving through my husband’s infidelity for me is the memories that crop up unexpectedly and take my breath away yet again. Some memories are of things that I have found, texts of endearments and naked bodies, presents for these other women. Some memories are of things that we have done together as a family while the women lingered, obscure, in the background. When I look at pictures of our family vacation, for instance, a thought that goes through my head, never fail, at some point is Was my husband talking to one of those women that day? Was he sending them pictures? Was he making them a part of our memories? Was he making plans with them? These thoughts come unbidden as if they have a will of their own, as if someone else were giving them to me as some sort of awful gift. I want to eventually be able to look at our family pictures again, without the shadow of my husband’s infidelity creeping in. I hope someday that I can do that, but I am not there yet.
Most often memories of my husband’s infidelity will materialize when my mental defense are down. First thing in the morning when I am groggy and my mind is refocusing on the world, the memories of what I have found will surface unbidden. Sometimes, even when I wake feeling refreshed, I’ll think to myself “wasn’t there something….” and that’s all it takes for a vibrant memory to come back and sting me. Usually, I just force myself out of bed to the coffeemaker and begin the day–“the cure for grief is motion,” as Elbert Hubbard says.
So I try hard to push these thoughts and memories out of my mind, to stop looking at the pictures of his hands on another woman’s flesh and stop hearing my husband call another woman “his darling hummingbird” (one of my favorite animals, by the way, so that an extra pin through my heart). Somedays I can do this with relative ease, some days not at all.
There are a lot of memories, far more than I want. I wish I could get rid of them, but they are a part of my life now; I can’t unsee what I have seen. Yet, in a perverse way, part of me wishes I knew more, as if such torturous knowledge of the past can help preserve me from pain in the future, but I know this is an urge leading me towards self-destruction. This is, perhaps, one of the most difficult aspects of infidelity for me to manage. Fortunately, it is one that I at least have some control over. I came up with some principles for myself that I try very hard, even now, to adhere to:
- The explicit details of what exactly he did physically with these other women does not matter. That he touched them at all does.
- How many pictures of himself naked or role playing that my husband sent to these other women doesn’t matter. That he even sent one picture does. The converse hold true as well—how many pictures of these women he received doesn’t matter. The fact that he encouraged any to be sent does.
- Similarly, what pet names my husband and these women used for each other does not matter, “dearest,” “my darling,” whatever (except for the hummingbird one. That one feels like a personal slight). That they exist does matter. (Quite frankly, I wish I had not read the hummingbird one. It now coexists with my favor for the animal.)
- How much money was spent does not matter (provided it was not exorbitant). That any was spent does.
- The exact day of first contact does not matter. The duration of the relationship does.
The theme here is that knowing such things exist and actually seeing them are different matters. I don’t need to see to know they exist. I don’t need to see because I can never unsee. I don’t need to see because seeing can corrupt my personal pleasures.
A further principle that I would add to this is your partner should be willing to honestly and thoroughly answer any questions you have about what happened. What matters at this point is not what painful tidbits that s/he shares. What matters is your partner’s willingness to share completely and utterly without trying to hide anything else. My husband did not do this, and his failure to do so makes the process of reconciliation harder, even more than a year later.
The night that I first saw the text messages on his phone from his other women, I forwarded them to myself. I am not quite sure what compelled me to do this, except perhaps that I am one for collecting evidence. The next morning when I asked to see his texts so that I could better understand his betrayal, he handed over his phone. All that remained of the months and months of messages were the cute and funny memes that they had sent to one another. “See it was mostly harmless,” he said, trying to cover his tracks and minimize the damage he caused. I am not sure if he realized at the time that in that action, he was continuing and deepening his betrayal. Months later, I would discover an entirely new set of betrayals that he had managed to keep hidden, and I would be forced to start the whole processes of grieving our relationship again. His secret damaged us far more than the truth would have.
With infidelity, there is a lots to sort out, whether you chose to stay in your relationship or not. Most of the finer details really don’t matter. They are all hurtful. They will all haunt you and you cannot unsee or unhear. I saw enough to get a real idea of what was going on, but what I saw still haunts me every single day. I am thankful that I did not see more.