Months after my then-fiancé proposed, he revealed that he'd been unfaithful for the last four years of our relationship. I was devastated — my happily ever after had turned into my worst nightmare in a matter of seconds.
I can remember it so clearly. It was a gorgeous summer day and I was about to hop in the shower when my phone rang. The sound of his voice sent chills down my spine. He told me to come to his house because he had something to tell me. My heart sank to the bottom of my chest — I thought he was going to call off the wedding. What could be worse than that?
Once I arrived, he walked me to his bedroom and sat me down on the bed. I stared at him blankly as tears streamed down his face and he told me about his infidelity. I felt numb. I'd trusted him with every fiber of my being for the last four years; gave him every part of my soul.
My reality was shattered, but I couldn’t process the thought of leaving him. The wedding venue was already booked and his parents had just bought us our dream home. 250 invitations were in the mail and all I could think was, “What's everyone else going to think?”
I could feel his pain as he looked at me and told me he couldn't marry me unless I knew the truth. I convinced myself that, since he came to me and was honest, it wouldn’t happen again and we could still have our dream life. So, I decided not to tell anyone, and we moved forward with the wedding.
As my dad took my hand to walk me down the aisle on the big day, the little girl inside me wanted to fall into his arms and cry. I looked into his eyes and saw how proud he was. I couldn’t break his heart.
That was the moment I knew I would keep this secret forever.
But one year into our marriage, my husband did it again. And then, again. I expected things to get better, and every time I realized nothing was going to change, a piece of my soul left the relationship. Four years later, I finally gained the courage to leave.
I felt a sense of pride when I walked away, but I had no idea who I was anymore. Leaving was only the beginning. Some of my most difficult moments came over the next six years, as I worked to find my new identity and fall back in love with myself.
Here are four things I now know to be true looking back on my dysfunctional relationship, and my hesitancy to walk away from it.
1. Your fear of judgment and criticism is worth nothing compared to your happiness.
I was raised in a very traditional home and my family struggled once I left my husband. They didn't want to tell people because it was shameful and we had portrayed the perfect life for so long. No one knew the depth of what I had gone through behind closed doors, yet everyone seemed to have an opinion about it. But, at the end of the day, it was my divorce — not theirs. No person should ever make you compromise your own happiness. Other peoples' opinions are reflections of them, not you.
2. The way you allow yourself to be treated is a reflection of how you value yourself.
High self-worth and self-love are key factors in attracting the right people into your life. I was very secretive of my ex’s unfaithfulness because I did not believe I deserved any better. He provided a nice lifestyle, and from the outside we were really good at keeping up with the Joneses. But on the inside, I was empty and lonely.
Healthy boundaries and expectations are important tools in maintaining your value and making sure you're as happy on the inside as you look on the outside. Relationship boundaries should include mutual respect for each other’s opinions, needs, and feelings. There should be a fair amount compromise, but you should never compromise yourself. You have to take the time to learn about yourself, what you stand for, and what you need from your relationship.
3. It's not about what's being done to you, but what you're doing to stop it.
If I could go back in time, I would tell that girl sitting on the bed that she was worth more. That she deserved a man who respected her, valued her, and fought for her before he looked the other way. I would tell her it’s not too late to leave.
It goes with the old saying, “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” You have two choices in life: be the victim or the victor. You only have control over yourself, so use what has happens in your life to propel you forward instead of allowing it to hold you back.
4. You are worth fighting for.
You will find your happiness at the end of living life for everyone else, and at the beginning of living it for yourself. Some people think that working through a struggle is what makes you strong, but sometimes the hardest thing to do is walk away. Sometimes achieving growth and happiness means moving towards the life you were designed to live and leaving the past behind you.
I stayed in a relationship with an unfaithful partner for so long because I didn't want to disappoint the people who were invested in us — including myself. It's not easy to walk away from everything you thought your life was going to be, but the strength and courage it takes to do so already lies inside of you. You just have to set it free.
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