When we used to watch crime dramas and thrillers together, I would always guess who the murderer was, or spot the criminals, long before my husband did. It baffled him. “How do you do that?” he would ask, and tell me how clever I was. However, when it came to what amounted to his crime against me, I failed time and again to recognise the clues. Was I naive, stupid, delusional… or just too trusting?
Despite the usual challenges of families and work, I considered myself lucky. We had a good, solid relationship. We were best friends. He adored me. Of these things I had no doubt. He would tell me daily that he loved me, constantly say how lucky he was and how happy I made him. We would miss each other if apart for more than a day. We rarely argued, never ran out of things to talk about and always supported each other.
On our 24th wedding anniversary we celebrated, as usual, by going away for the weekend – a few days in our favourite city with walks, meals out, a visit to the theatre and just time to relax. On our anniversary he said how proud it made him that we had lasted this long. We had raised two wonderful children, paid off our mortgage and, despite working hard, always found time for each other. I felt so happy when he suggested that next year, for our 25th, we should do something special and we even discussed renewing our marriage vows. If anyone had told me that day that we would be separated within two years I would have laughed. It was impossible. We didn’t just have a good marriage we had an exceptional one and we both valued it too much to ever let it end. We adored our children and our lovely little family unit was everything.
The change in him was rapid and dramatic
The following year we both started courses at around the same time – extra qualifications that would not only enhance our careers but also challenge and stimulate us. We both believed in lifelong learning and besides, it gave us lots to talk about. My course was short, just 3 months, but very intensive; his was longer but would require attendance at regular workshops and lots of homework. The change in him was rapid and dramatic. When we first started our courses we would enthusiastically discuss the content, our progress and our fellow students. Within a month he was not only less interested in my studies, but also far less forthcoming about his. At first I put this down to tiredness and winter blues, which bothered him every year. His uncharacteristic irritability was troubling and I started to wonder if he was suffering from delayed grief – he had lost his mother two years previously. When he became cold and withdrawn I was distressed and extremely worried, convinced that he was clinically depressed. I begged him to talk to me and pleaded with him to see a doctor but he would angrily tell me to leave him alone – there was nothing wrong. He would keep up appearances to a degree when the children were around but he was polite and formal rather than his usual warm, affectionate self. On one occasion I took him out for tea and raised the subject of our impending silver wedding anniversary. He bluntly told me that he had to work and that he didn’t feel like celebrating. He apologised with little sincerity and said he didn’t know what the matter was. He promised that things would get better and asked that I give him time and space to work things out.
He had become uncharacteristically secretive, spending more time out with ‘friends from the course’, coming home late and guarding his phone.
The months of loneliness and confusion continued. I just about managed to complete my qualification, but broke down regularly in private. Our silver wedding anniversary passed without any celebration. He worked. There was no card, flowers or even a mention from my husband. Of course I was upset and told him so. He said he was sorry and promised things would get better. They didn’t. He had become uncharacteristically secretive, spending more time out with ‘friends from the course’, coming home late and guarding his phone, whereas before we were open and had nothing to hide from each other. I occasionally questioned him about odd behaviour such as taking his phone to the bathroom and sleeping with it under his pillow. He would make an excuse, or tell me “You think too much”, leading me to feel guilty and wonder whether I was imagining how different he was. After all, on the surface little had changed. He was physically present and we were talking but conversations were superficial and I constantly felt disconnected. I enquired, without suspicion or accusation, about his new friends; what were they like and when could I meet them? He seemed reluctant and made constant excuses, which I accepted. A couple of my friends questioned whether he might be having an affair, but I immediately dismissed this idea as impossible. He was a man of integrity and I knew he would never do that. I was also certain that he loved me – he was just unwell but I was going to help him get better.
Things appeared to improve marginally for a while. I made an effort to be extra attentive, cooking his favourite food, running his bath, making his bedtime drink just the way he liked it. His mood softened but he was quieter and often seemed sad. I continued to be patient and sympathetic, especially around the subject of intimacy. He began sleeping in the spare room more often because he claimed he was restless and didn’t want to keep me awake. He was not at all forthcoming when I expressed concern about the absence of physical affection, but then I figured it was embarrassing for him; he is a very private person and I knew he would not agree for us to seek help together.
With our twenty sixth anniversary approaching, and both children due to return home after studying and working away, I booked a weekend break with the aim of reconnecting. I had high hopes. It didn’t go well. I wanted to talk, but he avoided conversation at every opportunity. When I finally sat him down and poured out how much I missed our relationship the way it used to be, he apologised uncomfortably but said he didn’t think things could change. For the first time I became angry. I told him that our marriage was in big trouble and that we needed to do something, that I was fed up and felt like I was unimportant to him. He agreed that we had a problem and promised he would try to fix it. He then told me to ‘lighten up’!
When we came home it was apparent after just a few days that nothing had changed and he had no intention of trying. I told my friends that I thought my marriage was over and, terrified, I consulted a solicitor. I lost sleep and weight, worrying that my children would hate me if I broke up the family.
What happened next seemed like a solution from the universe. I went to see a friend for the day and while we were having lunch I received a text from my husband, asking if he could call me. “Of course,” I replied. He wanted to ask me about a furniture purchase and the conversation lasted less than two minutes. However, I then received another text, arranging to meet. I dismissed it as a mistake and ignored it; the message was obviously meant for someone else. I didn’t give it another thought until I got home. He was cooking and greeted me cheerily, but seemed agitated. I casually remarked that he had sent me a strange text. When there was no explanation and he didn’t say who the message was actually meant for, I felt the first flutter of suspicion. I wanted to know who he had sent that text to!
He obviously trusted me completely (oh, the irony).
I went to bed as normal but didn’t sleep a wink. As soon as I heard him rise and switch on the shower I dashed into his room and grabbed his phone. It was charging on a shelf and it wasn’t locked! He obviously trusted me completely (oh, the irony). It didn’t take long to locate a string of texts between him and *** with endearments, declarations of undying love and numerous heart emojis. Shaking, I took pictures of as many messages as I could, replaced his phone and got back into bed. I felt numb with disbelief, unable to comprehend what I had seen. I couldn’t begin to process the inevitable consequences. I covered my head with the duvet for the next couple of hours then got up and on with my day on autopilot.
I had to wait until the following morning before I could confront him, as we had no time alone. I casually agreed to meet him for coffee after he had taken his father to a medical appointment. Queueing, ordering and finding a table felt so normal it was surreal. I finished my coffee before I spoke. “Do you think I’m an intelligent person?” I asked. “What a silly question” he replied; “You are one of the most intelligent people I know”. I took a breath and looked him in the eye, speaking as calmly as I could. “So why have you been treating me like I’m stupid?” He looked briefly quizzical, then his face fell. I paused for a moment, letting the question sink in, then told him I knew about his other woman. He couldn’t speak, so I continued: “I want a divorce, I want you to leave and I’m not going to waste another minute of my life on you”
A few moments passed. He opened his mouth and closed it again several times but didn’t speak. He eventually managed to utter “Yes, you’re right, I don’t know what to say”. My reply? “Sorry would be good”. I then told him he had a week to get out of the house. He said he didn’t feel very well. I got up and left. We told the children a couple of days later in a long, painful family meeting that I’ll never forget. He left soon after.
“I want a divorce, I want you to leave and I’m not going to waste another minute of my life on you”
Since then it’s been a rollercoaster. I’ve had counselling, life coaching and anti- depressants. I’ve punched pillows and cried bucket loads, often on the floor. I’ve definitely been through the ‘five stages of grief’ more than once. At times I felt I was falling apart, that my life was a mess and that I would never recover from the trauma. Two years later and I’m in a much better place. The children found it really tough but we pulled together and survived. Our much-loved home has been sold and I’m with a new man. I feel happy and grateful, if a little more fragile.
With hindsight I feel that I was naive, ignoring countless red flags and trusting without question. Would I have done anything differently if I could go back? Probably. I should have confronted my husband sooner and listened to those who advised me to consider that he was being unfaithful. Sadly, I feel that my faith in commitment has been tested and will never fully return. However, I wouldn’t change the way that my life is now. My new partner is loving, affectionate, tactile, adventurous and fun-loving – just like me! I have my wonderful kids plus a lovely ‘step daughter’ and a gorgeous pet cat, something I was never allowed to have before.
Life is good again.