I had an affair with a co-worker in my office (hereafter referred to as ‘H’). I’m not proud of saying that, quite the contrary, I could fill this entire post with a list of feelings and emotions about which I feel about myself. Feelings such as guilt, remorse, contempt, disgust, shame, embarrassment, fear, loathing, humiliation, and derision to name just 10.
I suppose it might go without saying that one would feel one or more (or even all) of those feelings and emotions simultaneously after cheating on my wife but, in and of themselves, they’re just words and probably don’t mean very much if, like my wife, you’ve been on the receiving end of a cheater’s actions.
Part of taking responsibility for one’s actions, I believe, is to be transparent about why I feel remorseful (for betraying my wife and the vows we took on our wedding day to be faithful to her), why I feel shameful (for discarding my values of family, honour, and loyalty), or why I feel contemptuously about myself (to look in the mirror and see in front of me a person I never wanted to be: a cheater, a liar, a fraud).
My wife asked me to write this entry not to talk about how I feel about myself, though, but to talk about what I did and provide my perspective on it. For clarity, therefore, I should say my perspective is of an unfaithful spouse attempting to reconcile his marriage.
So, what happened? I had an emotional affair. I didn’t intend to have an affair. I didn’t intend to do betray my wife. I didn’t intend to betray my wedding vows. I did, though, and missed, overlooked and blatantly ignored, all the warning signs that, if I hadn’t, might have prevented me from doing so.
I bet you’ve heard these words over a hundred times (probably in about two or three conversations): I didn’t mean to have an affair. It sounds like a load of tosh, doesn’t it? I didn’t accidentally do what I did, of course, but I didn’t intend to, either. It started, as I expect most emotional affairs do, like a friendship, or so I thought.
I’d known H, prior to our friendship beginning in earnest, for about six months (give or take) in which we’d had a couple of business meetings and said hello to each other in passing. The friendship (and I hate calling it that), however, began in December (2017) when I asked H to peer-review my job application for a position close to her area of our department. I didn’t, however, think of it as a friendship and in January (2018), I saw H looking tearful with a co-worker in a public area of our office. This, it seems, was the beginning of the end for me, my wife and our lives as we knew them.
I received a message from H apologising for the fact I saw her in that light. I can’t remember (betrayed spouses: please bear with me when I say ‘I can’t remember’ – sometimes, as it is, in this case, it’s genuinely true) exactly what it said verbatim or how the conversation evolved from there, it was this conversation in which I discovered her own marriage was dissolving and she had separated from her husband.
Though I didn’t at that point consider us to be friends in any meaningful sense, I did feel obligated to offer support to another human being in crisis (yes, I do recognise this and other subsequent ironies in this entry). I’ve made numerous mistakes in my life but it’s only the months succeeding that event I wish I could take back and have a do-over: a door had been opened for me to care about H and I walked right in.
It didn’t take long (days if not hours) before H was sharing with me intimate details about [the separation of] her marriage, its impact on her and, crucially I think (in hindsight), the impact on her daughter (‘E’). I didn’t at the time, think of this as anything as one person reaching out to another for support and I felt I could, having supported my own step-son (‘C’) through a separation with his father, offer H some insight. It didn’t occur to me that it was odd that a near stranger would be telling me these things or leaning on me.
My Mental Health
While intimacy was being built between H and me I was experiencing a personal crisis of my own in which I was experiencing self-loathing more than I had at any other time in my life (I’ve lived with depression and anxiety for over half my life). I’d started a technical position in which I had zero prior experience (I forgot the fact that’s inherent in an apprenticeship) and a part-time degree with a plummeting self-esteem and the emotional stability akin to a car with its brake lights cut speeding down an icy country road.
My wife, a trained mental health professional whose known me for over five years, spotted this before I did and recommended I re-engaged with therapy – but that sounded hard and I’d failed to engage in therapy twice before.
Not only did therapy sound like hard work but H, based only on how I’d been providing her with emotional support (with zero knowledge of me, my past, or the mental health issues with which I live), was supplying me with endorphins in the form of flattery and (e.g. “I couldn’t cope without you”) ego-boosts (e.g. “I wish you had a single brother”) which didn’t require any effort on my part at all.
Being in an influential position in my workplace, H also played an emotional crutch for me when I was experiencing ‘imposter syndrome’ as I navigated the first weeks of my new position. It was incredibly helpful to feel like I had the support of a member of my department’s senior management team on my side when I’d never felt so alone in the workplace.
It was these two pillars of disfunction on which H and I’s friendship was built.
You’re probably going to have heaps of questions when I talk about how H and I’s affair was built from that friendship. Why, for example, didn’t I ask my wife for support? why didn’t I listen to my wife when she became concerned? or why did I not take H’s flattery as early warning signs when there were plenty of them staring right at me in the face? I’ll answer any questions openly and honestly in the comment section or by email but please, for now, try and resist the urge to ask questions as you go along.
Warnings & Red Flags
The early warning signs were showing extremely quickly: H and I were texting each other at an increasing pace by the day (especially out of ‘friendship hours’), we were spending more time together at work, we were sharing intimate details about how our lives to one another (while intimacy between my wife and I was decreasing), I wasn’t being open with my wife about the friendship and it’s likely, had the situation had been reversed, I would have had the same concerns my wife had expressed to me about the friendship, it made her upset and paranoid she told me tearfully. ‘We’re just friends’, I said. ‘There’s nothing to worry about’, I said. ‘I’m in control of the situation’, ‘I’ll tone it down’, I said.
Wrong. I can’t articulate now how much I look back on those moments and cringe.
While I was adamant I was innocently supporting H through an incredibly difficult period in her life (one I’ve seen my wife go through before we entered into a relationship) and rationalised those early warning signs in that context (H was sharing with me intimate details about the impact of her separation on her daughter, so I was merely offering personal insights from my own experiences), I was laying the foundations of a relationship with another woman and it was fun.
I hate saying it was fun because it’s almost impossible to look back on it now as anything other than an abomination, but it was fun to receive flirtatious comments when I felt incredibly low about myself, it was fun to be told I’m performing well at work when I really didn’t feel I was, it was fun to feel an emotional connection to a person when I can count the number of good friends I have on two hands. Those things quickly created a rush to which I very quickly became addicted (there are many parallels there but now’s probably not the time for that).
I was viscerally unhappy. I think that was obvious to anybody around me (not least my wife) but what was obvious only to my wife was that I wasn’t doing anything about it. I wasn’t talking about it other than to deny it. I wasn’t, for example, looking for help, I wasn’t accepting the help I was given, and I wasn’t looking for ways in which I could help myself. I wasn’t present in any part of my life and my feelings of loneliness and isolation were heightening. I was worried I’d made the wrong decision (to take on my new position) but that created another layer of anxieties and H was there to tell me ‘it’ll be ok’ and that I had made the correct decision. It was as easy as that. ‘It’ll be ok’, she said.
The bond that was forming in our shared vulnerabilities (H’s vulnerabilities around her relationship/marriage of her entire adult life breaking down and my vulnerabilities around my struggles with mental health difficulties and professional insecurities) as I arrogantly ignored every single concern my wife raised about H and I’s relationship, meant little did I know/think/see (or even want to) I was sleepwalking into our affair. I can’t look back in anything other than shame at the ways in which I casually bypassed H’s more inappropriate comments about me as her trying to deal with adjusting to single life, justified the time we spent at work together because we discussed business matters, and the flirty emojis we shared as, well, I don’t have anything for that one. I was a dick. I behaved like a dick. I can’t use some emojis now as they hurt my wife too much.
It didn’t end there, though. While what I was and did do was inappropriate and wrong, I feel had I taken control of the situation then I could have prevented what came next. Part of the anatomy of an affair, though, I believe, is the subjugation of control over oneself. While the affair, in hindsight, really started there it truly went beyond the pale when I started inviting H into the difficulties my wife and I were experiencing at home (not least due to the behaviours I was exhibiting as a consequence of the affair, as well as the existing challenges my wife faces to live with me in the first place) by sharing them with her.
I invited another woman who was at some level (whether as a rebound, or as a genuine romantic interest) interested in me to pass comment on difficulties my wife and I were having, and that H and I were exacerbating. Urgh. Not only was I sharing intimate details about my wife and I’s marriage, though, was I taking every opportunity with which I was presented to criticise my wife about, for example, how she supports me (ignoring that my mental health issues have been a constant in our entire relationship and I was refusing her help anyway), and how she parents (ignoring a) that she did a great job raising C by herself and b) her breathtakingly stressful job in which she was working punishingly long hours). I painted pictures of our relationship which were not the truth and painted me as a victim.
…. & Bondage
At that point, looking back, the affair was like an aeroplane tail spinning towards the ground at unfathomably high speeds and it only got worse. H and I never slept together. We never made plans to sleep together. We never made arrangements to sleep together. The affair did, however, involve sex soon after H told me she wondered what it would be like for us to be together. I knew she meant sex but I played dumb and she quickly confirmed that. We regularly started talking about sex. What we would do together. What we liked. It was also fun.
While I took no gratification, pleasure or joy in denigrating my wife it served a purpose for me, & being desired by another person played into my long history of seeking external validation from third parties, continuing the flow of endorphins to which I had become addicted. Each instance H and I would engage in sexting felt like a another type of hit, she was eager to please, and, whilst I knew intellectually it was wrong, I don’t feel I had any semblance of control over myself from hour to hour, let alone day to day. I was living a double life in every sense of the word and I experience enough difficulties living a single life (read: the life I should have been living with my wife and family).
This continued for a period of about 10-12 days before everything came crashing down around my wife and I at a rate of knots. Discovery. I could write thousands of words about discovery but the one word that particularly springs to mind is failure. Or, to use two: abject failure.
Discovery Day One
I’ll never forget the date, day and time at which our world began to fall apart. I was sat on the toilet without my telephone when my wife opened an app called Viber with which H and I had been sharing private, self-destructing messages to each other for a period of, I think, about one month. One month in which everything H and I said to each other destroyed itself at a pre-determined (by either H or I) interval. This was also a period after I had destroyed the records of H and I’s conversations on WhatsApp. Heaven knows how much I wish I hadn’t been so arrogant, disgusting and stupid. We moved to the app at her suggestion, she told me to hide the conversations we were having from her ex husband.
I’ll never forget the sound of my wife’s heavy breathing as she climbed the stairs. I’ll never forget how, in desperate hope that I hadn’t been caught and could use this experience to end the affair (though this sentence itself has taken longer to type than I had to think), I asked ‘are you OK?’. ‘Are you OK’, I said’. ‘Are you OK?’ ‘Are you fucking OK?’ What the heck is that? I was asking ‘are you ok?’, ‘I can’t breathe’ she said, when I entered the bedroom she asked me to read the last messages between H and I. I refused. I knew what they said. They were some flirty and sexualised messages ending with ‘I love you’ from me to her, and her to me. My wife left the house to be sick in the street. I didn’t know where she was or how she was when I texted H to tell her I ‘didn’t need to worry about my marriage’, we had been found out. Heaven knows that was only one of many lowest ebbs in this story.
The truth is the next few weeks are a blur to me. That is to say, while I remember the anger, rage, sadness, hurt, and sheer devastation that I’d caused but I don’t remember many intimate details about this time other than I acted the way I expect every unfaithful spouse reacts when found out (e.g. denial, self-deceit, anger, minimalizing etc.) Worse still, the affair during this time didn’t stop.
It stopped in the sense that my wife asked me to stop talking H and I did for the day but I re initiated contact the next day using a work based messaging service. H and I weren’t flirting or sexting with each other, but we were still talking to one another as I remained embroiled in the toxic nature of H and I’s affair and succumbed to pressure from H to “find another way” in which we could both talk to one another (I would be asked this question at least once a day and, still, I didn’t take the opportunity to just say no).
Discovery Day Two
While my memory of the period between those days is hazy, I know one more thing for sure: I didn’t make any effort to recover from the addiction I had developed to the endorphins (derived throughout my affair from the way in which H would say flattering things to me, tell me I didn’t need therapy, tell me I was great at my job and found me desirable sexually) from which I was now going cold-turkey. I didn’t do anything to recover my marriage. I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t know how to start. I didn’t know how to start starting. I didn’t know I was addicted. I didn’t know I needed to recover. All I knew was I needed to make a binary choice at a time I evidently wasn’t capable of doing so. I knew this because I was continuing to talk to H. I still saw her and spoke to her at work. I did this knowing my entire life was at risk and I actively chased and carried out actions that would destroy my marriage. I wish I knew what it was from which I needed to recover.
While I don’t remember much about what H and I were secretly talking about following the discovery of our disgusting affair, I was talking to her in direct violation of what my wife asked of me if I wanted our marriage to continue. I was doing this on the day at which my wife indicated to me she was willing to put her wedding ring back on and commit to our relationship, where I foolishly, impulsively, and, without thinking, emailed H to ask how she was from my personal email (rather than the secretive channels from which I’d previously been contacting her). I know she was experiencing a rough patch but, gosh, I can’t put into words how stupid that was.
I felt a rush of remorse after I hit send on those emails and deleted the traffic as it went out and as it came back in as my wife took my phone upstairs to help her find hers. Of course, I tried to lie my way out of it and, of course, I failed, and I was kicked out of our home. This time with a specific goal: figure out what the hell I wanted from my life.
In My Mums Spare Room
The choice was simple: do I want to rebuild my marriage, or do I want to end my marriage? It sounds simple as it’s binary but, during the four days in which my wife gave me (without parenting or any other responsibilities) my overriding feeling was that I was staring at my demise down the barrel of a shotgun. My primary response to fear prior to this point had always been to run away. I didn’t know how do that.
I spent the week mind mapping what I wanted from my life (I’m a visual person and this method helps me a lot) creating a pro and con list of my wife, my affair partner and being single. I spent the darkest week of my entire life producing a mind map in which I reduced my wife, my step-son and the only period of my life in which I’ve been happy [my relationship with my wife] to an arbitrary list of pros and cons. I can’t articulate how disappointed and ashamed of myself. I also spent the week talking to H and blanketly ignoring and/or dismissing my wife.
I think my internal rationale/justification at the time was that I was trying to convince myself I wanted nothing to do with H anymore (of course I would say that, and, of course, I wouldn’t think about the impact that’d have on my wife, wouldn’t I?) despite the fact during this week, when I was supposed to be giving considered, unbiased thought about the future of my marriage and life, I was also actively talking to and texting H. I didn’t even wait until I got to my mums, I was messaging her on the walk over there. I was actively pressing the self-destruct button and digging my grave further and further and until the point at which it was do or die.
Discovery Day Three
I will also never forget the day in which I told my wife I wanted to be alone and, in effect, end our marriage and the way in which I did it. It was the single most callous thing one could ever do, and I will take to my grave the abject level of shame I feel towards myself for doing that. I reduced my wife, our relationship and our family down to a set of pros and cons on a mind map. Yeah, I did that. I didn’t stop there, though, did I? No. The first thing I did after I told my wife I wanted to be alone was to text my affair partner and tell her I’d ended my marriage. I really did that. I really was that person. After telling my wife I wanted to be alone, I failed the next step in that, I never ended my affair.
My wife and I continued to argue to the point where my wife gave me one final chance to decide if I want our marriage or not, so I went back to my mum’s house where I’d spent the previous four nights (of course, I had to message H on the way, didn’t I!?). I continued to talk to H and flirt the evening and night away (I can’t stop cringing as I write this) which complicated things further but, eventually, I came to what I think, then and now, that what I wanted more than anything else in the world was to reconcile my marriage with the person I truly love and start to rebuild it into something special again. That meant ending my affair with H, starting to take the consequences of my actions (and how they impacted my wife) seriously and be the man that my wife deserves,
The End of the Affair
For the life of me I’ll never why I didn’t (as with pretty much all of this story, really) I didn’t take any steps to back up and/or document the end of my relationship with H. I will never, ever able to prove to my wife that I ended the affair in the way in which I did (and that I wasn’t, dumped and told to ‘fuck off’ by H as she told my wife in the hours afterwards). I will never be able to give that closure to my wife and that’s as regrettable as anything else in this sordid story.
There’ll always be a part of me that truly despises myself for what I did to my wife and child. There’s no two ways about that. What I do know, though, through the love and grace of my wife, there is hope that we can remake our marriage and build something special again. I love her. I love our child. I love our animals. I love our family. I know I didn’t behave like I did but throughout my affair and, I think, throughout my life, I didn’t really know what love is. I know that sounds corny, but I truly didn’t know, or understand what it meant to be a compassionate, empathetic and loving person. I know I failed myself. I know I failed them. I know I let them down. I know I betrayed them and every other horrid thing I did to them, but I do love them. I will fight for them. I will continue to fight for them. I will fight to develop myself as a person. I will continue to fight to actually live a life based on compassion, empathy and love – rather than just say I do.