Your Turn: “I Told Him He Could Sleep With Someone Else, But He Still Went Behind My Back”

Though only married for a few years, my husband and I have been together exclusively since I was 15 and he was 16 (we are now 32 and 33). He is a massage therapist and I am a homemaker, and we have three beautiful sons together. Two years ago I found out that he had been contacting people via email from classified ads offering “massages.” He told me at first that he was only looking for a massage therapist that could help him out, but he later admitted that he knew they were not legitimate and what they were really advertising. He also was adamant that nothing had come of the contact.

I’m a reasonable person, and I love him more than anything, so we ended up making a deal. If he felt like he needed to experience another person, I was open to it provided the following rules were met: He had to reasonably know the person, no strangers; he had to let me know around the time he planned on being with them; he used protection; and it was only one time, until further discussion. Everything went back to normal and he never spoke to me about taking advantage of the deal.

One year ago I discovered that he had created another email address–he gives me the passwords for every account he has, except this one, since I’m at home to take care of business–solely for the purpose of contacting people again from the same types of ads. I was extremely upset and told him that I couldn’t understand why he felt he had to contact these people and keep it secret from me when a perfectly acceptable deal was available to him. I was hurt and betrayed — not that he felt like he might want someone else, but that he was going behind my back to do it when he simply had to tell me. During the conversations we had following that, I told him that, if he ever did it again, I was going to leave. I won’t turn a blind eye to it.

In the last six months or so, we have spoken more about the deal and he told me he might have someone in mind. Then about two weeks ago I went to a camp-out with the kids and, since he worked late, he had the night to himself. We spoke briefly that night and then again in the morning. He told me he had had a hard time sleeping and had ended up going for a long drive, then falling asleep around 5 a.m. After he got home that night, I checked his phone (like I do every night since he is terrible at returning clients’ messages) and saw fifteen or so random numbers that he had texted or called. One number in particular had been messaged a total of twenty-one times, but the messages had all been erased. These messages took place from 3 a.m. to 5 a.m. I called the number and got no answer, but a few seconds later got a text saying that she was “available, but not until she gets in town in a few minutes.” I decided to go with it and asked if we could meet up. She responded simply with “Sure, how long?” Didn’t ask for a location, or a name, leading me to believe she knew who he was and they already had a location.

I left the messages up on his screen so that he would see them the next morning and then waited for him to say something to me about it. Two days later I finally broke down and told him I knew, that I had been waiting for him to come to me. I told him that he needed to leave so that I could have space to figure out what I am going to do, but he said that he didn’t have anywhere he could go, so he has been staying in the garage. I’m at a loss as to what to do. Do I throw away fifteen-plus years, or do I stay and become the fool? If I stay, is there any way to get the trust back? If I leave, how do we break it to the kids? I’ve been in a daze for the past few weeks, but he has been acting like it’s no big deal. I feel like a fool for even considering staying….but I love him more than anything and I waited to marry him because I do not like divorces and never wanted to have one. Any advice may help me in my decision! — Don’t Want to Be A Fool


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  1. What makes you feel like a fool? That you trusted him and he broke your trust? If you don’t have self-respect, no one will have any for you. If you want to save your marriage, both you and your husband have to want it and you should probably go to counseling. You alone can’t save the marriage if you don’t trust him. You need to find out what, if anything would bring the trust back and go from there. Good luck, be strong for you and be strong for your children, they need you!

  2. artsygirl says:

    LW – I am so sorry you are going through this. Your partner of over half your life has betrayed you not once but three times. Every time you have caught him, he has down played his involvement or made excuses. The fact that you went so far as to even offer him a ‘hall pass’ which I think would be outside the ability of most people, myself included, shows you were willing to do anything and everything to make your relationship work and he has thrown it back in your face. I guess it comes down to what you want. You can demand couples therapy or you can start the separation process. In my mind, the fact that he wants illicit sex suggests that it is the thrill of going behind your back which excites him rather than the actual act. I also think you have (totally justified) trust issues – I know you act as his office manager but the fact that you hacked into the second email account and contacted the number attached to the deleted messages means you already knew in your heart that he was being unfaithful. Think of how you want your boys to be raised. Do you want them to see a man that constantly breaks his vows possibly bring home diseases to infect you, do you want them to see a mother who knows that no matter how accommodating she is, she will always have to put up with infidelity.

    1. artsygirl says:

      You also might want to get tested for any STIs, I question if he only ‘chatted’ with prostitutes in the past.

  3. The answer to all of that is counseling. STAT. And if he doesn’t want to do it, do move on.

  4. You claim to be reasonable, but I don’t find reasonable to try to control your partner’s infidelity. It is probably the control that he is reacting to, among other reasons like his own disloyalty. Those “deals” don’t work in my opinion. He is either in the marriage or out. All this snooping and checking is repulsive – as is his entitlement to paid sex as no big deal.
    I would try a break. I understand perfectly that you can’t tolerate this situation and want him out. I would do the same. You can take an attorney and ask for an official separation, so that he has to find his own place. Then he sees what he wants: experience his sexuality or be in a marriage. After a while, it will be clear, I think, and you both will be able either to work on the marriage, or divorce.

  5. dinoceros says:

    Based on your description, it sounds like you are chalking this up to the fact that you two got together so early and that he needs/deserves experience with other people. That’s not really how it works. And I think the fact that he still is cheating or trying to cheat on you despite your permission to sleep with someone else shows that this isn’t about that. So, you can try counseling but be prepared that you may not regain trust in your marriage and likely may need to divorce. As for how you tell the kids, it’s like any other divorce. They don’t need the graphic details.

    1. She doesn’t know the graphic details, but the kids need to know that he cheated. Otherwise, this smooth talker will convince the kids that their mother threw him out on the street for petty reasons and possibly even claim that she cheated on him. This guy gets off on manipulation, so turning the kids against her will come naturally to him.

      1. Avatar photo Cleopatra Jones says:

        Nah, that’s just setting the situation up for each parent to blame the other for the failed marriage AND unnecessarily involve the kids. Not to mention, that would be really petty. He cheated on LW not the kids, so they don’t need to know anything other than:
        1. Mom and Dad are getting a divorce
        2. They still love the kids and will act in their best interest, always
        3. It’s not the kid’s fault that Mom and Dad are divorcing
        If the kids want more detail, she still needs to keep it clean and not start griping about the Dad.

      2. The approach you describe is certainly the ideal approach, but it requires that both parents be trustworthy enough to stick to it. He just isn’t. He’s used to manipulating her and this is another manipulation he is likely to pull.

      3. Yep. The scenario only works if the father doesn’t vilify his wife, setting her up to be the bad guy. And everything indicates he is not trustworthy.

      4. I disagree, the wife is entirely in control of her actions and character. If she takes the high road, she represents herself as a kind and caring role model. If the husband were to villify her:

        “Well your dad has his perspectives, I’m not going to speak bad about your father.” “I’m sad to hear your father feels that way and he’s hurt.” “This is of course not easy for you or any of us, the important thing is we both love you and are hear for you.” “Well your dad is free to express himself. We do our best to agree how to be good parents, we’re still seperate people.”

        Requires absolutely no agreement even if it’s ideal that they try. A good counselor can help the wife deal with this if it were to hypothetically happen

      5. I agree with you. My dad talked all kinds of shit about my mom when I was a kid. Most of it all lies, his ego was just hurt that she left him. So he was always putting her down, and it just made me hate my dad and feel protective of my mom.

      6. Again only if the kids are old enough to understand. For small kids it will simply be mom said, dad said type of situation. The last thing the LW needs are hostile kids. I am not saying she needs to badmouth father regularly but let her be honest.
        She can simply tell them that their dad did a wrong thing and that was the reason for breakup.

      7. dinoceros says:

        By graphic details, I meant anything alluding to their sex lives. The fact that she asked what to say implied to me that she was contemplating how to convey what actually happened vs. a generic divorce. But, no, I don’t think it’s typically recommended by anyone to tells kids that a partner cheated. i think that in certain situations if a parent is found to be lying excessively and in a malicious way, that it can make sense to clear things up with older teenage children, but preemptive oh telling them that dad cheated is the best way to create a huge conflict and make your kids feel like they are involved in it.

      8. artsygirl says:

        I also imagine a lot of the disclosure depends on the age of the children. Teenage or adult children should like get full disclosure but young children need to be supported and reassured. In all likelihood, as the kids get older more information will come out just by the nature of putting events and words together.

  6. I think you should just throw him out. He’ll find a place to go. He has proven repeatedly that he cannot be trusted and that 2nd and 3rd chances are interpreted by him, not as a chance to reform, but as confirmation that he can get away with cheating. Of course you can’t re-establish trust, because he has repeatedly proven that he is untrustworthy. That he cheats rather than making use of the deal you offered is proof that he gets a sexual thrill specifically from cheating on you. To him it is likely proof that you are under his power and he can cheat with impunity. He cheats specifically to put you down in his mind. I really don’t think you can solve this through counseling. You either accept a life with a cheater or you MOA, because he won’t give up the thrill of cheating. He doesn’t want to see you as an equal. He wants to feel superior and getting away with cheating is his way of doing this. I agree with the other commenter who said that this has absolutely nothing to do with your relationship beginning at a young age, causing him to miss out on sexual variety and experimentation. He likes the thrill of the risk and the power game playing out in his head. This would be true even if he slept with a hundred different women before meeting you. Cheating is an addictive fetish to him.

  7. UGH, I’m so sorry you’re going through this LW. You were so reasonable in agreeing to slightly open the marriage, and then he acted like a complete jack***. Unfortunately you gave him plenty of chances and I don’t think he’s going to stop this habit, and couples therapy is not a magic button to change who someone is.
    I don’t want any of this to sound like I’m saying it’s your fault, because it’s absolutely not. You were sooo reasonable the first time you caught him. He has no excuse. But my gut tells me that the fact that you two have been together that long may be part of the problem, but not in the way you think. Because you’ve been together forever you’re comfortable having all of each others’ passwords and constantly checking each others’ phones and acting like the other person is an extension of yourself. It sounds like a normal thing to fall into with someone you’ve been with since 15 years old, but it doesn’t create the healthiest relationship. I hear a dynamic where you’re kind of mothering him and he has kind of stayed like a little kid (i.e. the fact that he can’t handle his own work calls and you have to do it for him). I think going behind your back is less about the sex itself and more about rebelling against the control. Even the rules you set up for his hall pass, while completely normal to lay down boundaries, are set up for you to have some personal control – you wanted to know who the person was and exactly when it was going to happen. Again, not your fault and I think you acted normally and reasonably this whole time given the circumstances. But IF you decide to try to forgive him (and only you can decide that – you’re not obligated to leave because society says leave a cheater and you’re not obligated to stay because of the kids), you two may need to really re-examine the dynamics of your relationship and his motivation for doing this.

    1. I will add that I somewhat echo Ron in saying that the problem with giving him yet another chance, is that this could turn into some type of game for him, where he assumes you’ll never actually leave. But I think this is less about him being a manipulative sociopath that wants to maintain control over you, and more about him having fallen into acting like a little kid, and this is his way of rebelling and gaining a tiny bit of power. It’s pathetic, but I don’t think you need to start a battle of telling the kids he’s a cheating bastard. Other than this, we have no other evidence that he’s a terrible guy or that he’s a bad father. It sounds like their relationship was exceptionally strong otherwise, for them to even be able to maturely talk about making a “deal.”

      1. juliecatharine says:

        I don’t think there’s anything strong about giving lip service to a deal you have no intention of upholding–that is passive aggressive and underhanded.

    2. So sorry to keep rambling on and taking up so much space on the board. I just really feel for you and keep thinking about your situation. One other possibility is that he has a specific sexual kink that he’s willing to ask a prostitute to do, but not you (or the hall pass designee, who under the rules would need to be someone you both knew pretty well). I’ve heard that sex for a guy can be very different when it’s with someone they love vs. a stranger. This is tied in with the “rebelling against mommy” theory above though, because I think he probably feels a power over these “masseuses” that he doesn’t with you, someone he cares about and wants to please, and so it’s a completely different sexual experience. Either way, if you do try to stay with him, there are super deep issues to work out here and it will be an uphill battle, and it can only work if he’s SUPER open and self-reflective about what’s causing this.

    3. artsygirl says:

      I am in the same boat as the LW – not the cheating thing but I started dating my husband at 15 (we are 31 and 33 respectively now). I completely agree that the length of the relationship can be holding the LW back from making a break. When you are with someone half of your life, especially during your formative years, it means that your identity is literally wrapped up with the other person. You developed into an adult together, hit tons of milestones together, and half of your memories will include this person. Removing her husband from her life would shatter a lot of conceptions she have as a person. That being said, their relationship is likely unsalvageable in my mind. The fact that he is nonchalant about the cheating even now means he believes she will not or cannot drop him.

      1. artsygirl says:

        I will also add that the LW is probably torn because of her own situation. She is a mother of (based on her and her husband’s ages) young children. She works informally as his office manager but does not have a career and his career in the service industry likely means that his pay is sporadic and not high. I wonder if she was child-free or had a job, it would be easier for her to take the jump and kick her husband out of the house.

    4. Anonymous says:

      T I agree with you about their relationship dynamics. Rather unhealthy and stifling – I’m sure a grown man could figure out how to manage his business if someone stopped doing it for him. Whether or not the husband is rebelling against the control I can’t say but he’s definitely got the LW jumping through his hoops and she’s become his mother, much to the destruction of the relationship.

  8. juliecatharine says:

    He’s a liar, a cheat, and a sneak. You know this, you know he isn’t interested in change. Give him a week to find a place to live and call a lawyer. If he valued the relationship he has with you the first time you caught him would have been the last and only time. He doesn’t, he wants out but doesn’t have the nuts to say so.

  9. You don’t want to be a fool, but you walked yourself a good distance down that path by giving your husband permission to cheat. “Opening” up a long-term marriage only ever works when both parties are on the same page, and when the discussion happens openly and honestly prior to any shenanigans. Even then, it takes very strong, clear-headed, committed people to make it work, and it rarely does. Your stipulations and surveillance were also a fool’s game – how could any of this ever have gone well. Start from now. Get a counsellor. I doubt the marriage can be saved after multiple betrayals of trust (and however justified you feel, you acted in bad faith here too), but maybe you guys can honestly admit your issues and find a way to move on that is least damaging for your kids. Get a lawyer too. Your husband has moved on from you, you just need to accept your situation and act with dignity and in your and your sons’ interests at this point.

    1. I generally agree with what you say, but think that you along with a lot of other posters put too much faith in the power of counseling. Counseling can help a couple who are both basically honest, trustworthy people who have a disagreement or difference in goals that they are unable to work out on their own, either because they just aren’t great natural communicators or because they are locked into a position and don’t even understand the underlying reasons that have them clinging so hard to that position. I don’t think a counselor can turn an untrustworthy person into a trustworthy one or an habitual liar and cheater into an honest partner. In other words, counseling can’t improve a person’s basic character and give him favorable traits he lacks. If the counselor gets into things like should LW have given him the semi-open marriage out or continue to monitor his media, he’s going to see this as a free pass and leave the session thinking ‘Gotcha sucka! Now your chances of catching my bad behavior are zilch, and I’m going to show you for dragging me into this.’

      1. Avatar photo Cleopatra Jones says:

        I think the counseling aspect is so that LW can figure out who she is, what she really needs, and understands how a healthy relationship looks and feels.
        No one here thinks he’s going to turn into a trustworthy person with counseling but we do think that she needs to see/understand why his behavior is so damned untrustworthy. Sometimes when you’ve been in the foolishness for so long, it really is hard to see that there’s something else out there OR his behavior is unacceptable.
        IMO, a portion of the problem is that LW and her spouse never outgrew their 15 year old selves. It’s like they are still locked into that stupid high school relationship. Their behavior seems like the kind of stuff I hear from my kids in high school.
        Since they’ve never dated other people, she just accepts his foolishness and thinks she will get him back under control so they can continue with their ‘happy’ lives but it’s not going to work. He obviously wants to be with other women (which isn’t inherently wrong) but it is if he’s doing it behind her back.
        She has her whole entire life wrapped up in him, she can’t even imagine what it would be like to be with someone else or alone. I’ve seen this before in older family members, they would rather stay in a shitty relationship (pulling power moves to keep him in line) then to be in a healthy relationship because they think all men are the same, or they feel like they ‘love’ him so much they can’t be with someone else.
        If he won’t get counseling she definitely needs to by herself.

      2. Individual counseling for her could certainly help. I just don’t see any possible benefit from couples counseling with a guy like this. He will see this as an 80% cave on her part and a sign that she is desperate to save this dysfunctional relationship. He’s not going to change.

      3. dinoceros says:

        I don’t think that people necessarily think that counseling will actually solve the problems that various LWs have. But with our limited knowledge of situations, it seems safe to suggest so that they can determine for themselves whether things can be fixed. All we have to go on is typically a short letter or post. I’m sure a lot of people do both — get counseling AND end up up splitting up. But like you are saying, a lot of these issues really come down to what kind of a person they are.

      4. If you re-read my comment, I suggest counselling because they need to move forward together as parents, and that will be best if they admit their situation and split somewhat amicably/respectfully. They have to continue being parents, and minimize the harm to the kids. I also said get a lawyer, because I think the marriage is done.

    2. What could you possibly mean by “you acted in bad faith here too”? That checking his phone was just as bad as cheating? Or that being willing to discuss opening the marriage was somehow a “bad faith” act and she got what she deserved? And what is your basis for proclaiming that open marriages only work if discussed “prior to any shenanigans”? To me the start of “shenanigans” seems like the perfect time to reevaluate what’s not working in the relationship (so long as both people are willing to work through and move forward from the shenanigans). Side note – I’m loving using the word shenanigans:)

      1. What could you possibly mean by “What could you possibly mean by….”? What could you possibly mean by your first three questions? Stop using inflammatory phrases – it’s just argument bait. She acted in bad faith by giving permission to cheat but then snooping on his phone. No, of course that’s not as bad as cheating, but it is still bad faith and not conducive to re-establishing trust, if that was a goal. No, of course discussing opening the marriage is not in itself a bad faith act. However, you are not discussing opening a marriage when one person has already committed emotional if not literal infidelity. Then you are discussing mitigating that betrayal by changing the rules. And allowing one person to sow wild oats is not really the same as opening the marriage. And I really don’t think that after an infidelity is a good time to re-evaluate what’s not working in a relationship, because one person has already violated and disrespected the relationship. Feel free not to agree, but spare me the “what could you possibly mean” crap, because nothing i said is that far-fetched, just a little conservative, as it’s coming from someone who has been faithful in a committed relationship with very limited prior experience since he was 22. I’m on year 28 of fidelity. I have walked this road. I have desired and fantasized about other women. I have discussed these thoughts and desires with my most respected and trusted best friend, my wife. And we continue to have not only trust, but also relatively frequent, bone-jarringly sincere marital relations. That’s about as high-handed as I can manage to sound in print, but in person, i could add a sarcastic dismissive tone that i think you’d really overreact to.

      2. Sounding as “high-handed as [you] can manage” is a very strange goal, if we want to talk about overreaction. I did not intend my words to be a huge attack, sorry if it came off that way in print, and I don’t think they would have sounded that way in person. Please allow me to edit to “what did you mean by…” I just really don’t think attacking the LW for being at fault because of her values is productive, and it struck a chord with me. (The fact that she was willing to discuss an open arrangement suggests to me that she is probably not extremely conservative, so maybe you can’t really relate to her situation.) And no, an agreement to open a relationship within certain boundaries does not equal “permission to cheat.” And no, I don’t think checking the phone was even snooping here, because the husband knows she uses that phone to help him with work calls. I somewhat agree that maybe this wasn’t the best situation for them to calmly renegotiate relationship boundaries, but what was she supposed to do after she caught him the first time? Immediately start burying her head in the sand and stop checking his devices (even though that was there habitual arrangement) out of a huge show of trust, and then just never find out when he continued to cheat? Not address the issue at all after catching him cheating and not even discuss it and their relationship? Ironically I feel like she did absolutely zero things wrong, outside of a natural contribution to unhealthy relationship dynamics, and so I felt I needed to come to the defense of the LW a bit.

      3. Now that I think about this more, the fact that he was willing to leave evidence exactly where he knew she would naturally look (according to their agreement regarding electronic devices) I think is telling. He wanted to rebel and part of him wanted to get caught.

        But anyway, whatever agreement a couple comes to for how to run their relationship (as far as having each others’ passwords, opening the relationship) is not wrong, just because it’s not in line with your own values.

  10. Avatar photo Raccoon eyes says:

    The “I have no where to go” excuse is just that- another lame excuse, in what Im sure has been a loooooong list of excuses, if you really took the time to think about it. Even in your letter, you tell us that there is always an excuse or explanation for his shady-*ss behavior.
    The least of your worries should be where he goes. He is a grown man, right? Let him figure it out.

    1. I so agree with you; just another excuse. He was certainly able to find the means and wherewithal to contact/cheat with another woman, so I’m sure he’ll be able to use that same ability to find somewhere else to live. He’s just trying to bide time.

      The trust is gone. Get some counseling for yourself (you’re going to need to be strong for yourself and your children) and contact a lawyer pronto.

  11. He will not change. He “knows” you will eventually cave, and is waiting you out much like children do.

    From what I have seen, most cheaters never change — it is like an addiction. Those that DO change only do so after a major emotional event, like hitting bottom for some addicts. Perhaps getting fully kicked out, separated from his partner and his boys will suffice, especially when enough time passes for him to learn the grass is not greener at all but mostly weeds and thistle.

  12. you may think what he has to offer is so precious and rare that it is worth agreeing to anything to keep it. It isn’t.That sort of love is like the love a person has for a wonderful fulfilling reassuring special and marvellous drug which is going to kill you. Don’t let it. I’m so sorry that he has been able to hurt you so much already, don’t let him hurt you any more. This isn’t freedom, you didn’t want any of these terms, you just wanted his love, and that is not on offer without conditions which will undermine and damage you. If you can bear to, consider walking away now. Things will almost definitely get worse.

  13. LW – I am sorry to say that you need to bail and start to save your family. I love the term “Self rescuing princess” . I would start looking for a family friendly job, get your resume together, and start figuring out your next steps. Look at your financial situation, start interviewing lawyers, figure out child support and how much more you would need to make. If your children are under school age, look at day cares or your family. Focus on your family.

    Otherwise, set up a sexless situation with your husband because he could give you something really nasty with that kind of behavior. Save yourself.

    1. for_cutie says:

      Yes. This. Your husband has betrayed your trust several times, and you are in an unhealthy position to monitor his communications. This is toxic for you both. Make him leave and take some time to figure out who you want to be. Your sons will be far better off raised by a strong independent woman, than by a family where their father has no respect for their mother. Consider it doing your son’s future partners a favor and MOA. You and your sons deserve better.

  14. Bittergaymark says:

    Did he even sleep with anybody? Honestly? This rambling letter was hard to follow… But w hen I text people twenty times at 3 am we are sexting. Not actually having sex…

    1. “I called the number and got no answer, but a few seconds later got a text saying that she was “available, but not until she gets in town in a few minutes.” I decided to go with it and asked if we could meet up. She responded simply with “Sure, how long?” Didn’t ask for a location, or a name, leading me to believe she knew who he was and they already had a location.”

      that does make it sound like he had met this person previously at least.

  15. LW, I don’t think this marriage is doomed if both of you will do some soul-searching and take responsibility for your joint contribution to this situation – because you both have created this problem. From your letter, your husband seems to be functioning more like a child than one of the adults – while being the sole breadwinner and the father of a family, he can’t keep on top of his own phone calls and you have access to everything because apparently he doesn’t keep his own books? I’m not saying his behavior has been at all okay, but please consider if the two of you are functioning as a unit of equal partners or if you are the mommy and the boss of him, because it sure sounds like you are. Sneaking around is a classic passive-aggressive pay-back behavior by a weak personality who feels dominated. Think about it. You’ve been together since before you were fully fledged individuals – consider professional help to renegotiate the rules of your relationship. Good luck!

    1. unrelated to this letter @mimi but your comment made me comprehend (but not condone) the motives behind a friend’s partner recently cheating on them.

    2. I agree with this and T’s first comment above. Such unhealthy dynamics don’t lead to a strong partnership, just one in charge and resenting it or the one being looked after resenting it.

  16. This is why I think people should not get married and have children until they are fully grown up. People change a lot during formative years, in their teens and early 20’s. The person you know when you are young is not the same person you end up with later. PSA for the day: don’t marry when young.

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