Affairs are most often associated with 50-somethings in a Lifetime movie who are facing a mid-life crisis and decades of marital hardship. But what about me, a 29-year-old bride-to-be?
I caught my fiancé having an affair. Sometimes I still cannot believe those words, but it’s the truth, and the afternoon that I found him at her apartment, my life changed forever.
Let me back up a bit. My former fiancé and I were together for six wonderful years, one of which we spent engaged. From where I stood, we were the foolproof recipe for a happy marriage, and had seamlessly passed each important discussion point before we got engaged. I couldn’t wait to spend my life with him — he was my teammate, my confidant, my dinner date, my fellow couch dweller, my best friend, my laughter through it all. The belly laughs — those are what I’ll miss the most. That and the simple things. We were so good at the simple things.
The final weeks leading up to the climax of our relationship had been difficult. We had been “off.” Though I felt him pulling away and disassociating from me and our life together, he kept me on a string, pulling me in, and convincing me that we would get through the rocky period we were experiencing. But a woman’s intuition doesn’t lie, and something told me that my fiancé and partner of six years shouldn’t feel like a complete stranger lying next to me each night. His lack of engagement combined with some grade-A sketchy behavior triggered my red flags enough. I became my own P.I., and ultimately discovered my worst nightmare.
Though I felt him pulling away and disassociating from me and our life together, he kept me on a string, pulling me in, and convincing me that we would get through the rocky period we were experiencing.
Of course, the betrayal itself made me feel so utterly alone, but what compounded it was the fact that I knew not one friend or acquaintance that had gone through something similar.
I couldn’t possibly be the first and I definitely won’t be the last, so why aren’t we talking about this? Why isn’t there a guidebook for navigating through this incredibly painful and disorienting time? Even though I called off the wedding on the spot, I’m not an ex-fiancé by choice. I hadn’t wanted us to be over.
I’m not going to say I have all of the answers — far from it. But I am a testament that you cannot die from a broken heart (although you might Google it just to be sure), and that you can and you will move forward following an affair — no matter if you’ve been with your partner for one year or 10, live-in or married with children, or anything in between. You will survive.
You will survive.
Call In Your “Home Team”
First things first, gather the troops. I like to call this your “home team.” These are the people that are going to help you do everything from calling your wedding vendors to hiding all 2,743 photos of your partner on your phone. Don’t fret if it’s not an entire “team,” you just need one lucky shoulder to ugly cry on and a hand to drag you to the nearest watering hole for a stiff Tito’s on a random Tuesday night.
You have to tie up loose ends — and fast. Each separation or breakup is unique, so take it however feels best for you, but do your best to not drag this part out. If you feel that you can sit down and divide the kitchen gadgets without using a cast iron skillet as a weapon, then by all means, go for it. If you feel you can beg your wedding photographer for a fraction of your deposit back, then do it. That certainly wasn’t the case for me. For the situations and logistics that you can’t face on your own, your home team will be there to help. There’s no getting around it: breaking up when you’re cohabitating or in a committed relationship is hard.
Take it from me: now is not the time to be shy or humble. Now is the time to lean on your people and to take them up on their offers to help. You can’t do this alone and people want to help, so swallow your pride and let them be there for you.
Head vs. Heart vs. Gut
I’ll never forget the moment I knew. I looked at myself in the mirror as I was brushing my teeth the evening before I caught him cheating, and in that moment my entire world came crashing down on me. I just KNEW. As I stared back at myself, my gut said “it’s time to face the facts.” My head wasn’t ready and my heart definitely wasn’t ready, but in that moment, I vowed to let my gut take the lead, and within 24 hours I was standing on a street corner ending our relationship during 5pm rush hour. Super private.
One of the things that helped me move past those initial weeks of crisis was the realization and acceptance of just how different the head, heart, and gut are. My whole being was conflicted. I had to constantly decide which of those feelings I would trust at any given moment and gave myself the grace to take each decision as it came. Just remember, there is no wrong course of action when you’ve been through a traumatic situation, so please be patient with yourself.
What I will say, though: that nagging feeling in your belly? Trust it and don’t look back.
You Did Not Deserve This
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if long-term relationships were a cake walk? Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could float through each day looking at our partner with hearts in our eyes and a flirty smile saying “come hither, baby” after a 10-hour work day?
No matter how your partner tries to make you feel when you catch them cheating, remember that you didn’t deserve this. Cheating is never OK. You know what is OK? Open communication and hard work.
You did not deserve this. Repeat that again. A strong and worthy partner is one that faces conflicts and issues head-on, who never tires of communication and honesty, and who values commitment and respect. A strong and worthy partner is not someone who loses sight of these things or who runs to someone else when they feel that your relationship isn’t at the top of its game. You are not perfect, no relationship is perfect; regardless, there is no valid excuse for engaging in an affair of any type — neither emotional or physical.
You are not perfect, no relationship is perfect; regardless, there is no valid excuse for engaging in an affair of any type — neither emotional or physical.
For years I’ve worked on bettering myself, mostly through therapy, but also through some long, hard looks in the mirror. For years I worked on growing as a person to be a better partner, friend, sister, and daughter. So when I was faced with this situation, I didn’t question what I deserved. Anytime that shadow of doubt creeps in —“What if I had done more to maintain the spark?” “If I had done X, maybe he’d have stayed” — I remind myself that the what-if game is bullshit. Of course I can always do better. But at the end of the day, I was with someone who chose to blatantly disrespect me, our families, and friends in the most crushing of ways. There are no question marks here. Those are the facts.
I know I left it all on the table and I’m keenly aware of my own self-worth, so I won’t ever question if I caused my partner to cheat. I can walk away with my head held high. And you should, too.
I did not deserve this. You did not deserve this — remember that.
Take One Active Step Each Day
I’ve always been one to sleep through heartache. I never had any qualms about climbing into bed and relying upon prolonged sleep to help heal a broken heart. (Therapist, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry. We can talk about this during my next session.)
This time it was different, though. OK … maybe I spent one or two (or five) days hiding from the world. But overall, I genuinely sought to handle this one differently. I felt that I had to face this one head-on in order to maintain any semblance of normalcy and to give myself a fighting chance of not scarring my heart for a lifetime. In my mind, it was the only way to survive the heartbreak.
I vowed (oh, the irony of that word!) to do one small thing each day that made me feel like I was moving myself forward. Whether it was borderline pathetic, like getting a blowout so I didn’t have to physically wash my own hair, or leaving my apartment for fresh air after 48 hours straight; or something more monumental, like writing this article or signing the lease on my new apartment, I made sure to do one thing each day that challenged my natural inclination to hide from the world. Picking up a new TV series, learning how to cook for one, doing your makeup to go run errands, reading a new book, bar hopping with friends — anything counts.
You definitely won’t heal overnight, but you will at least have taken active steps to propel yourself away from the muddy waters and towards a more peaceful reality if you continue to put one foot in front of the other.
Accept the Silence
I remember the hardest, most grueling moments came when life began to turn again for my “home team.” I wanted to write letters to my girl gang thanking them for sticking by my side, while simultaneously wrapping my body around their ankles as they tried to exit my apartment, the full weight of my body dragging behind them like a toddler. I knew it was bound to happen, but when everyone was no longer operating in crisis mode and they got back to the swing of their own daily lives, it sucked.
That’s because you’ll feel the most alone in the silence. For you, the Earth won’t feel like it’s turning. Taking a breath will feel like a chore and you will wake up each morning begging for it all to have been a bad dream. The sobs will be so heavy that you’ll run to the bathroom in case you get physically ill again. You’ll feel every bone in your body ache. You’ll hear your heart beating so hard, you’ll wonder if it could explode through your ears. In those moments, you might not know it, but you’re healing.
You’re leaning into the silence, into the emptiness. It won’t be pretty and it’s certainly scary, but you have to go there (I mean really let yourself go there) in order to feel the depths of your pain. That is when the healing takes place, and no one else can do that but you.