Nearly 2 years ago, my husband started an affair. Just over 18 months ago, I found out about it. Since then, hell and high water has swept over me, but I have decided to stay.
I have had a lot of questions, and I have searched books, videos, blogs … anything that will help me to navigate this process. I found a lot of advice on how to get divorced. I found less about how to recover, heal and rescue the marriage. I found almost nothing about how to do that with a husband who is unsure if he wants to stay.
I want to create a space to share this journey. It will be completely anonymous. It will not be ordered or structured, because this process is far from that. It is a lonely, gruelling place to be, and if you are here too then I offer you solidarity and honesty.
This is the question we all want the answer to: How do I know if my partner is cheating? I wish there was a simple answer to this. For me one of the worst parts of the whole experience was feeling like I’d been a mug – knowing that I’d be lied to for 6 months and hadn’t noticed the signs.
The first and most important thing to say is, you’re not a mug! I’m not a mug. Repeat this to yourself. If your partner has had an affair remember that they were deliberately trying to cover it up. They were using everything they know about you and about your relationship to make it seem believable. They know which lies you are most likely to believe, which activities to use as covers, which stories to tell. This is what makes it so painful – it is easiest to lie successfully to someone who trusts you.
Everyone’s story is different, and I can’t tell you what signs might be there for you. And I am certainly no authority – let’s remember that I didn’t find out about the affair for a long time! Here are some of the signs that I have identified in hindsight.
1. Protectiveness of phone
My husband became obsessively protective over his phone. He never left it unattended; it was always in his hand or his pocket. He never ever left the house without it, or left it on a table or kitchen counter. Even if he stood up briefly to get a drink, he would take his phone with him. In our society this isn’t that unusual – we are all attached to our phones. But in hindsight I can see that it was excessive.
He also became very sensitive about me seeing or touching his phone. When he was driving and I offered to check his texts he insisted that I didn’t. When we were watching TV he would sit on the side that meant couldn’t see his phone over his shoulder. This is actually how I eventually caught him – I offered to put his phone on charge while he was in the shower (the one time he can’t have his phone in his pocket) and I saw a message from the other woman. You can be sure he leapt out of the shower as quickly as he could! But not quickly enough.
2. Missing chunks of time
This was a tricky one for me, as my husband works a flexible job where the hours vary from day to day, so it was very easy for him to say that he was working and I wouldn’t be suspicious. But looking back I remember numerous times where he wouldn’t give details of where he was or who he was with, he would just say ‘working’. Because I wasn’t suspicious I wouldn’t press him, but things became increasingly vague. I think he tried to avoid actual lies wherever possible, and preferred to lie by omission. So instead of making up an elaborate story he would just give as little information as possible. This way he could justify it to himself, as he hadn’t actually lied.
3. Acting out of character
This is hard to quantify, but if it happens, you’ll know. The best example I can give is one morning I woke up to find that my husband was deep-cleaning the oven. We have been together for 10 years and he has never cleaned the oven, let alone unprompted. He generally avoids all cleaning. This was very strange behaviour. Looking back, I suspect that his girlfriend was cleaning her kitchen at the same time and they were having a ‘let’s do it together’ moment. Maybe he just had a moment of madness, I don’t know. But it was weird.
4. New hobbies or interests
After years of dragging my husband out on walks, he suddenly developed an insatiable desire for long walks (alone). At the time I was surprised but pleased, as I always wanted him to exercise more. I was a little hurt that he didn’t want to go on walks together, but I believed him when he said he wanted some time to himself. Later I discovered that he used these long walks to phone his girlfriend for hours at a time.
He also became very keen on watching certain TV shows at certain times. We have Sky so we can record programmes to watch later, but he wanted to watch them at a specific time. Similar to the oven thing, I now suspect that he was watching it at the same time as his girlfriend and texting back and forth about it.
This type of thing felt very invasive, as it feels like I was unknowingly complicit in the affair. I agreed to watch the TV show, thinking I was doing something with my husband, but instead I was facilitating their date night.
5. Change in appearance
This could take many forms, but the standout moment for me was when my husband started shaving his body hair. Looking back, this is a real ‘face palm’ moment where I think ‘How did I not suspect something was up??’ But you don’t. You just don’t. At the time I thought it was a bit unusual but I just went with it and thought maybe he’d seen something online or was just bored.
Other forms this could take could be a new scent, a new style of clothing, or a new interest in body shape or fitness.
6. Going to bed late or getting up early
Lots of couples go to bed at different times, but you know what’s normal for you. I remember questioning my husband once when he went to bed really early and also slept in really late, thinking this was a bit odd, but he brushed it off. However, he was using this time to text his girlfriend. I should add, we were sleeping in separate beds at the time, and so the time he spent in his room at night was completely his own – the perfect situation to carry out the affair via his phone.
Trust your gut
A big part of deceit is causing the person to doubt themselves. You start to wonder what is true and what isn’t. You get confused.
Trust your gut. If your gut is telling you something is off, then don’t squash that feeling. You don’t need to act on it right away, but acknowledge that it is there, and keep your eyes and ears open. There can be all sorts of reasons for someone to behave strangely. Money worries, debt, gambling, drinking, illness, depression, job loss, bereavement, shame. It might not be an affair. It might not be anything at all. But your gut has an excellent radar for when things aren’t quite right. Listen to it.
If this has happened to you – you are not a mug
I’m not writing this as a suggestion for what might be happening in your marriage. I can only reflect on what happened in mine. I wouldn’t want anyone to become paranoid or obsessive about looking for clues.
As I mentioned at the start, this is a deliberate, intelligent effort to conceal information from you. It is tailor-made to hit all your weak spots. This person knows you intimately, and they know which lies you will swallow and which areas you won’t investigate. It is cruel to hear but it is true. So please remind yourself that you are not stupid, you should not feel ignorant or blind. I try to remind myself of this, because I feel like an idiot when I look back on those times.
Finding out that my husband had cheated on me and lied to me was a horrendous experience. My emotions were all over the place and I felt raw and desperate. However, I hadn’t expected my body to rebel as well. Over the next 12 months I experienced a range of physical symptoms. At the time most of these were new and unexpected, and I often didn’t notice or identify them immediately. However, looking back I can see patterns that I now know are common reactions to trauma, stress and anxiety.
1. Loss of appetite
When my husband started telling me about the affair, we were eating pizzas. Two huge, delicious pizzas with soft, doughy edges, gooey cheese and high-end salami. Right then, my appetite dropped off a cliff. I couldn’t eat the pizza, and for the next 6 months I was off my food. I just didn’t feel hungry – it was like my stomach shut down.
I lost a stone during that time (I was quite slim to begin with) and I often felt weak from lack of food. I would try to remember to eat but it was a constant battle. Some days I would have cravings, which I think was my body telling me I needed certain nutrients (yogurts – I needed calcium; chicken satay – I needed salt or protein). I tried to eat whatever I felt I could stomach, and not worry too much about ‘proper’ meals.
Disordered eating is a very common response to stress, and in a way I was prepared for this one. Some people overeat and some people undereat, and I am definitely in the second category. But this was a whole new level for me.
My brain also came into it. A little voice in my head would say ‘well, at least I’m thin’. This gave me a tiny hit of self-esteem and pride – my husband didn’t want me, but at least I was thin. This was not a good place to be, and I am grateful that it didn’t develop into something more serious.
2. Dry mouth
One morning I tried to make sure I had some breakfast, and thought ‘what could be easier than a piece of toast’. I dutifully made the toast, buttered it, and took a bite. I chewed and chewed, and it became sawdust in my mouth. I couldn’t swallow it; my mouth was so dry. In the end I had to spit it out into the bin. I have since discovered that stress, in particular adrenalin, can cause a dry mouth due to lack of saliva in your mouth.
It was around 10pm when my husband broke the news to me, and we argued until around 2am. He went to bed in the spare room and I lay awake for the next 3 hours waiting for the sun to rise. Luckily it was spring and light started to creep in at around 5am. As soon as it was light I got up and wandered around the fields near my house in a daze.
From that day onwards, I have experienced every type of disordered sleeping.
Inability to fall asleep – I lie awake for hours with awful thoughts and images running through my head. I would dread going to bed, knowing that I wouldn’t sleep.
Waking in the night – The most common time for me to wake is 4:30am. I have no idea why, but that seems to be my witching hour. If I am lucky I can fall asleep again at dawn. If not, it’s a long wait until the day starts.
Waking early – In the early days, if I was lucky enough to fall asleep I would usually wake early. I would feel disoriented for a moment, wondering why I felt so sick, and then reality would hit me like a punch in the gut.
Nightmares – I have always been a vivid dreamer and I have relived the affair many times in my dreams.
My sleep has improved in recent months, but I still experience lingering issues; I don’t know if I will ever sleep ‘normally’ again.
When I was lying awake at night I became very frustrated that my neighbours seemed to have some kind of generator running. Then I stayed at a friend’s house and thought it was a very odd coincidence that their neighbour had a generator too. Then the penny dropped and I realised maybe the humming noise was inside my own head. I haven’t experience tinnitus before, so I did some research and discovered thatstress and tinnitus are closely linked. While cause and effect are not entirely clear in the research, for me the tinnitus developed during a time of extreme stress, and has slowly improved.
I don’t generally suffer from eczema, but last winter I developed two very itchy patches, one on my ankle and one on my back. I did some research and discovered, guess what? Eczema can be caused by stress. The excess cortisol triggered by stress can cause your skin to be more oily, which can lead to eczema. It may have been a coincidence, but it can be added to the pile of new symptoms I experienced last year.
I have had thrush only twice over the previous 15 years, but in the last 12 months I had it three times, along with a case of BV. To me this was a noticeable increase in a short period of time. I have since learnt there is a strong link between stress and vaginal infections. When you are stressed your body is less able to maintain the correct balance of healthy bacteria, and a vaginal infection is more likely to occur.
As a side note, sexual health in general is very concerning when your partner has had an affair. (I may post about this separately in the future.) When I had vaginal itching I became very anxious about it, and I went to the GP or health centre every time it happened, in case it was something serious. I was fortunate that it wasn’t.
7. Night sweats
Another new one for me, I frequently woke in the night coated in sweat. My chest would be literally dripping and I would have to wipe it with my t-shirt. The most common cause of night sweats is the menopause, which doesn’t apply to me, and the second most common cause is anxiety. Bingo.
8. Panic attacks
During the most traumatic incidents, such as when my husband disappeared with the car for 3 days and wouldn’t answer calls or texts, I experienced panic attacks. For me this included shaking, crying, chills, nausea, heart pounding, weak legs, and feelings of desperation and despair. I feel fortunate that I only experienced this a few times.
Facing these physical effects made the journey even more difficult. As things have calmed down over the recent months, most of these symptoms have subsided. Knowing that others experience these effects was really helpful for me on this lonely journey. If you are experiencing any unusual physical symptoms please know that you are not alone.
I think about the other woman a lot. It is strange that someone I have never met is such a huge part of my life. I wonder what she’s like (what she’s really like, not what my husband says she’s like). The affair lasted around 6 months in secret, and then bubbled on for several more months on-and-off (more on that in another post). In that time I expect she heard a lot about me, and I certainly heard a lot about her.
I find myself wondering, Would we be friends if we met in normal life? What’s she like when she’s with her mum, her friends, her boss? Is she good at her job? Is she kind? Is she confident?
She knew that my husband was married, and I find this hard to get my head around. Is she a terrible person who would knowingly destroy my life? Is she naïve? Is she wracked by guilt? Is she really good at putting those kinds of thoughts into a box and forgetting about them?
I will never know the answers to these questions, and I try not to spend too much time going down that mental rabbit hole or looking her up on social media. But she will always be a part of my history, now, and I have to come to terms with that one way or another.