I did something I had never done before: I went through her phone. I found she had been having a torrid affair with the head shaver. Over time I learned, using computer forensic skills, that the affair had lasted for 3+ years and had included trips to Vegas and elsewhere. Two of her girlfriends often provided cover. There were receipts for hotel visits 1-2x a month, lewd venmo messages, pictures, texts, secret credit cards, etc. It wasn’t just that she was good and had help; I had trusted her.
While she was forced to admit the affair, it took repeatedly presenting evidence for her to stop lying about much of what I described above. She did volunteer that all the sex was without protection. It also became clear that she had been trying to get me to agree to buy a house near this man prior to my discovery — and has tried repeatedly since. I feel so betrayed.
To say I was floored is an understatement — it came out of left field. I thought we were doing well. We spent time together, are raising two teenagers together, share in household tasks (I do 99% now), and, I thought, loved each other very much. She says that she has been unhappy—AND that she is newly polyamorous.
Ok, now for the twists. I haven’t left. As I mentioned, she has terminal cancer. It may be in months or years, but she is dying. I vowed to care for her in sickness and health, and I honor that vow. I want my kids to understand such commitment, but I also made clear to them that this affair is not okay and that I would otherwise leave. I have been on the couch since September, caring for her without complaint. She tells everyone I am doing a great job of it. But, she is angry that I won’t sleep in the bed.
Twist number two: She refuses to stop the affair, even now. When she isn’t debilitated by chemotherapy, she sees him. I did move out for a time, coming back each day to care for her and the kids, but she attempted suicide soon after, and I came back to protect the kids and to help her. I can’t stand the idea of taking them from her or leaving them alone with her in such precariousness.
The kids and I are in therapy, btw; that base is covered. But, I am incredibly stuck. I alternate between bereft and crestfallen. Ideas? — Bereft and Crestfallen
Anyone who has spent any time looking at the internet over the past decade or so has seen videos or memes posted of people shaving the heads of their cancer-stricken loved ones and then bringing the razors to their own heads, shaving off their own hair in solidarity with their loved ones. Each is an image that is bound to tug at the heartstrings, guaranteed to elicit a reaction. Wrapped up in that single image of sacrifice, in that sole act of solidarity, are the big feelings that differentiate humans from so many other living beings on the planet. There’s love, loss, sorrow, grief, gratitude, resilience, and hope. It’s a beautiful act to witness and, I would think, a really powerful moment to embrace. “You’re not alone,” the act is meant to express. “I will walk this path with you,” “My love and commitment will help get you through this.” At its core, it’s a giving act, but in the bigger picture, the act, like nearly every other seeming sacrifice in life, is not a purely altruistic one. There’s a request in that act, too: “Love me back,” “Don’t leave me,” “Help me find meaning in all of this” (the “this” being as general as life itself or as specific as the experience of watching a loved one suffer). I see your enduring commitment to your wife, even in the face of so much betrayal, as a similar request – a similar kind of search for meaning in all of this. What if the answer lies, not with your wife or with your relationship with her, but in how you now pick up the pieces and move through the grief of losing what you once had.
You are grieving. You are in a stage of life that is not dissimilar to someone who has lost a loved one to death. You have been betrayed not just by being left, but by being left by choice. Losing a spouse to death might even be preferable except that you will likely experience that loss too and the unbearable implications it has for your children. I can understand the desire to change your wife’s mind – to make her choose differently, to choose you. If you could love her enough, commit hard enough, prove your devotion enough, she might come back and then – well, you’d still likely lose her to death, but you could more easily find meaning in that kind of loss. To lose someone you’ve already lost isn’t the same. But you have lost her. She’s not coming back. And your job now – the place where you find meaning in all this – is to not lose yourself, too. Or, at least, to find yourself now.
I can’t tell you how to find yourself again, but I know it begins with fully letting go of what no longer is reaching back for you, what’s no longer within your grasp. You’ll have to figure out yourself what the details of that look like, but it almost certainly involves the things you cannot stand imagining. It will mean reconfiguring how your family functions, what it looks like. It will mean embracing an act of sacrifice as an expression of love, loss, sorrow, grief, gratitude, resilience, and, yes, hope. You didn’t sacrifice your wife; that option wasn’t yours. But you can sacrifice the image you’ve had in your mind of what loving her looks like. You can sacrifice the idea you’ve carried of what commitments matter the most as measured by and to whom they’re made. What if the commitment to your own well-being is the most important? What steps do you now take to honor that?