I still remember opening a random email with the subject: "I'm sorry." The sender claimed to be one of the many women my husband had cheated on me with during our marriage. I knew, without asking him, that it was true. And when I confronted him, he confirmed my fears. I was hurt, angry, confused, sad, and also pregnant with our first child. In an instant my life gave new meaning to the phrase "it's complicated."
After having two kids, and trying again and again to make things work, I left my serial cheating husband for good. I'm so glad I did, too. I'm now in a really good place in my life, and am ready to talk about what happened without feeling traumatized all over again. I also want to set the record straight about a few things, because people who've never experienced this kind of betrayal just don't get it.
Finding out your partner has been cheating on you sucks, no matter what the context or duration. In my experience, though, there's a difference between finding out about a one-time affair and learning that your long-term partner, and parent of your child, has been lying to you and having sex with multiple strangers for years. When I found out I cried, threw up, and panicked. Was our marriage over? Was I going to be a single mom? Was I even safe? After all, I hadn't been tested for STDs since before we got married. I was pregnant, so not only was I dealing with an emotional trauma, but I was left worrying about my health and the health of my unborn child.
Then, to make matters even worse, there are the looks on people’s faces when they find out what was done to you. It's like they feel sorry for you and are trying to figure out what’s wrong with you at the same time. It’s humiliating, demoralizing, and condescending. People would ask me questions about my "rocky relationship" and the events leading up to my husband's cheating, like they thought I was to blame for his behavior.
So believe me when I say there are so many things I want everyone to know about me, my past situation, and my strength as a mom who left a serial cheater, including the following:
We Don't Tell Everyone What Happened
After I found out my husband was a serial cheater, I didn't tell very many people what was happening. It's personal, complicated, and embarrassing. So, most of our family and friends continued to think everything was great in our relationship. Every single time I saw my dad joking with him, or read a comment on his Facebook about him being a great husband, I felt sick.
We Feel The Need To Protect Them
I also wanted to protect him, which seems weird when you consider that he cheated on me. He was my lover and partner, though, and that didn't change after I found out he was having multiple affairs. While he likely stopped loving me a long time before I found out about his infidelity, I still loved him. You don't generally fall out of love with someone all at once. I also told myself that if people knew what he had done it would ruin his life and our chances of working things out. I didn't want my family and friends to think less of him in the future, but it was a pretty heavy secret to keep.
Leaving Them Is Difficult
I didn't know that keeping his cheating a secret and living a pretend "happy" life with him would make leaving him so much harder. People say things like, "cheating is a deal-breaker," and, "if you cheat, I'm done," but ending a decade-long marriage is so much more complicated (emotionally, financially, and literally) than these statements imply. It's not like dumping your high school boyfriend, especially if you have kids together.
We're Not Stupid
Guys, I'm not stupid. I knew something was wrong for a really long time, and way before I found out my husband was cheating. I just didn't want it to be real. In fact, I preferred to pretend that everything was fine, rather than try to unravel our messed-up relationship or acknowledge that the signs he was cheating were right in front of me.
It's Not Our Fault
I was not a perfect partner, for sure, but I also wasn't responsible for my husband's cheating. Can we please stop blaming women when their partners cheat? His cheating was his choice. Even if our sex life was crappy, and even if we fought, I didn't make him have multiple affairs. I didn't owe him sex or a smile simply because we were married to each other. That's not how healthy relationships work.
The Lying Is Worse Than The Cheating
For me, the lying was actually worse than the cheating. There was the initial series of lies — when he broke our marriage vows, and about the cheating itself — but also so many lies that followed, like when he promised to change and never do it again and get counseling and stay committed to me and our family. The cheating only compounded how often I was being lied to.
We Wish We Left Sooner
I know people have judged me for not leaving my husband sooner. I’m not saying they're wrong, because I wish I had left sooner too, but they just don't understand how hard that decision can be. Plus, if I had left the moment I knew he was cheating I wouldn't have my kids, and I don't even want to think about life without them.
When I finally did leave my ex it was hard — probably the hardest thing I have ever done — but it was so worth it. I was a way better parent as a single mom than I ever was when I was married to him.
We Can’t Really Explain What Happened To Our Kids
It's impossible to explain what happened to our kids, at least right now. They are too young to wrap their heads around what cheating is, and I want them to have a relationship with their dad.
It's complicated, though. For example, he's in a relationship with one of the people he cheated on me with, and my kids love her. I don't even know how to approach processing all of this information myself, so I certainly don't know how to help my kids understand.
It's Hard For Us To Trust People
Being married to and leaving a serial cheater changed my life and my ability to form and maintain relationships. I felt like my entire life was nothing but one big lie. I know, logically, that my current husband would never cheat, but sometimes my heart overrides my brain. It's hard to trust people — even the most honest, wonderful people on the planet — after going through something so traumatic.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.