It has been a decade since I married my cheating husband. I was madly in love when the man of my dreams dropped to one knee and asked me to be his wife. That was the happiest day of my life. Everything I had planned for my future was falling seamlessly into place, and the only thing I had to do was say, "Yes!" There wasn't anything in my life I had ever been more sure of.
It was a few months before our wedding was going to take place, and he called and asked me to come over. I knew by the sound of his voice that something was terribly wrong. I jumped in the car and headed straight for his place in a panic, my mind spinning profusely out of control. When I arrived he sat me down on the bed and told me there was something he had to be honest about if I was going to take his hand in marriage.
He continued on to tell me that for the last four years of our relationship he had been unfaithful. Not with only one woman but with many. My entire world fell apart in just a few short breaths, and my hopes and dreams went with it. On top of the thought of losing my happily ever after fairy tale I was overwhelmed by a massive burden of shame at the thought of, what will everyone think?
He promised that he had made a mistake and he loved me too much to ever hurt me like that again. And so I stayed. One year into our marriage, history repeated itself and while he was away for a friend's bachelor party he found himself in another woman's bed—not just once but five times that weekend. When he got home my gut told me something was wrong, so I confronted him, and he told me the truth.
He begged and pleaded for my forgiveness, once again promising that he had made a mistake and he loved me too much to ever hurt me like that again. This time there was even more at stake—he was my husband. Overcome by the oh-so-familiar burden of shame, this time I found it harder to process the thought of leaving. And so I stayed.
If I could go back and talk to that innocent girl, this is what I would tell her:
1. Don't believe in his empty promises.
I was in love with this man. He had come to me and was honest and promised he would never do it again, and I couldn't help but convince myself that I needed to believe him. Watching him beg and plead over and over broke my heart, and I felt convinced I needed stay. I held onto every ounce of those promises, but they were empty. He said those things so I would believe that we could move past it and things would be different, but he never took serious action to change anything.
2. It's not you; it's him.
Cheating is not a mistake. Cheating is a choice. You're never going to have all the answers or fully understand why someone you love is capable of stepping out on you. What is important to understand is that when someone cheats, it is because there is a void in their life they are trying to fill. Until they address this void, the foundation of the relationship cannot be rebuilt.
3. You'll never really get over it.
Once my husband and I had our endless conversations where I tried to understand and he begged for forgiveness, I would tell him I forgave him and we would get right back into normal routines. We would go on vacation and buy new things to cover up this emptiness. The saying that "you can forgive but you'll never forget" is so true. It doesn't matter what you do; you will never forget it.
4. It will never be the same again.
There is something in that split-second moment when you find out about infidelity that changes your relationship. Yes you can work on it, but you will never have the purity, the trust, the confidence, and the faith that you had before. A lot of relationships go through ups and downs that change their dynamics, but that is not what I am referring to. There is a significant difference between the day before you found out and the day after.
5. Staying is a reflection of your self-worth.
From the outside, my relationship was picture perfect. And looking back I realize that I was so concerned with my image that I ended up sacrificing my own value and happiness to protect it. I didn't love myself enough to stand up for what I truly deserved. I believed that staying made me strong, when really I found my strength the day I left him.
6. You deserve better.
I would tell that wounded girl that she deserved better. She deserved to be with someone who was faithful, who valued loyalty and commitment just as much as she did. She deserved someone who acted with the utmost integrity and respect, someone who loved her despite her faults and wanted to cherish her for the rest of her life. She deserved someone who loved her the way she loved him.
Infidelity is a prevalent issue in many relationships today. Since my divorce, I've learned that other people are going to make choices that change your life—but you have control over how you respond. Now that I know this, I can approach my current marriage with the experience and wisdom necessary to build a healthy, lasting relationship.