Brock and I have been talking a lot about marriage lately – our own, others and just marriages in general. Last night, on the drive home from the last holiday party of the season, he asked, “If your ex had come to you and admitted he screwed up, would you have wanted to stay and work on the marriage?”
“It depends,” was my initial response. “If he came to me towards the end, after years of lies and betrayal, it would have been too late.”
“Yeah,” Brock uttered in agreement.
“But if he had come to me early on, before it went on too long, then I would have tried to make it work.”
“Makes sense. I know I would do anything I could to save our marriage if there was a problem.”
And I believe he would; he’s not the type to try to hide from a problem.
But then the conversation took a different turn, discussing what happens when a spouse screws up once. We both agreed that in that case, we would not want to know as long as the offending party accepted responsibility, addressed the underlying issues that led to the infidelity and ensured it never happened again.
In other words, if the spouse made a mistake in judgment rather than possessed an error in character, we wouldn’t want to know about the situation as long as it could be remedied and a repeat avoided.
I feel weird even writing those words. After all, the secrecy and lies are what ultimately tore apart my first marriage. And the thought of my spouse withholding such sensitive information causes me some distress.
But knowing it wouldn’t be any better.
These mind exercises are challenging for me. I’m one of those people absolutely built for monogamy. Hell, I even turned my cheek the first time Brock tried to kiss me because there was another man in the picture. When I am in a relationship, I develop a sort of tunnel vision where I don’t even recognize other men as potential partners and, if I ever feel an attraction to somebody, I make sure that I am never in a situation that could lead to making a bad decision.
So I struggle to even imagine how someone who has overall good character can make a mistake that leads to infidelity. But I know it happens. Even good people can make bad decisions.
It’s what you do after that defines you.
It was a strange conversation to have with my husband, essentially laying out a roadmap of what to do in case of infidelity:
1) Set yourself up to be successful; avoid potentially dangerous situations.
2) If you screw up, take responsibility and fix it (STD testing, counseling, etc.).
3) Don’t reveal to simply alleviate guilt. And never, ever shift the blame to your partner.
4) If you need help, get it.
It felt odd to talk openly about these worst-case situations, especially because in my first marriage, any talk of infidelity was simply, “Don’t do it.” (And we see how well that turned out!) But we’re all human and humans can make mistakes.
It’s what you do after that matters.
That doesn’t change the fact that I desperately hope this remains nothing but a thought exercise!
How about you? Are there situations where you would rather not know?
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12 thoughts on “When Would You Want to Know?”
I agree with you — if he owned up quickly and thoroughly, I think I could get past it. But, also like you, when I’m with someone, I’m in it. I was in a sexless relationship for years and I STILL didn’t cheat, so it’s just really hard for me to understand infidelity.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m actually putting myself at risk by thinking I could never cheat…almost too cocky in a way. I just know the thought always makes me feel so uncomfortable.
Strange, I read and enjoy your articles as if I could ever “imagine” a relationship again, and sometimes I allow my imagination to take over, but always later put the brakes on…I kept waiting for you to mention STDs and you did. BTW, good luck with your new man….
I was very lucky to escape my marriage with my physical health intact (although those weeks waiting for test results were hell). It’s interesting – the financial betrayal has been more difficult than the sexual/emotional since it is the one that continues to impact me.
Be patient with yourself. I spent a lot of time imagining relationships again before I ready to actually try it in real life. It takes time.
I struggled with this question from a slightly different angle early in my recovery. Rather than wondering what it would be like if I hadn’t found out, I wondered what it would be like if I hadn’t told her that I found out. When I confronted her about it (in a calm and quiet way) she left and never came back. For a long time, I wondered if I could have pretended I didn’t know and opened a door to somehow reinforcing the marriage. I fantasized about what would have happened if I’d planned a honeymoon-like vacation away from her affair partner.
2 years later I don’t think that any of that would have changed things. And it wouldn’t have been different if I had never found out either. Her affair partner was a co-worker that she spent more waking time with than she did with me – a recipe for disaster. A year after she filed for divorce they were married.
There is such a huge difference between a brief infidelity (primarily driven by physical attraction) and an emotional affair (especially with a co-worker). Maybe I wouldn’t want to know about the one-time mistake scenario but the emotional affair isn’t something that can be glossed over – especially if the person continues to be part of your spouse’s life on a regular or daily basis.
I completely agree with you about the difference between an emotional and physical affair. Two different animals.
One of the aspects of infidelity that is so difficult to accept is how much of the power rests in the hands of the betrayer – if they do not want to stop the extramarital relationship or work on the marriage, there is nothing the other person can do.
Ah the tunnel vision. Yes, I have that too. It’s making it incredibly difficult for me to empathize with my wayward spouse.
I’ve been asking myself lately if I would prefer not to know about the affair. Unfortunately, I am too early on in the process to know for sure. Besides, I can’t change it now right?
There is a lot of pain that goes into infidelity. If I were in a new relationship and it was a one time thing, I’m not sure I’d want to know, but what you said above is paramount. The underlying issues must be addressed and repeat avoided.
I think any straying is worth an STD test. It takes six months to test for HIV, last I checked. Unless you have a platonic marriage, you should explain why you refuse intimacy with your spouse, or require protection if it was not used before. I am also very lucky to have come out without any health issues, but I am not gambling anymore with these kids to support. If I ever have a relationship again, I have a right to expect healthy behaviour from my partner, and the truth as it happens so I can address the underlying issues and protect my health. I have a right to decide if I want to continue the relationship once the game has changed so significantly.
I am also like you regarding monogamy. I cannot imagine cheating. No other man even looks attractive. I have no idea how it was possible for my ex.
Yes! Protecting your partner’s physical health is critical.
My “infidelity” was a little different than traditional cheating. You see, my husband and I are non-monogamous and agreed to have an open relationship. It was quite alright for us to have lovers. But we were supposed to put each other above everyone else. I allowed a bad situation between my husband and me to cloud my judgment. I thought, for a brief moment, that I could be with my lover instead of my husband. I told him I wanted to divorce. I immediately regretted it. A few days later, I begged him to forgive me and asked if we could still work on our marriage. He said he’d have to think about it. That was over a month ago. I don’t know what he’s going to decide, but I hope he can forgive me for my lapse of judgment.
Hope so too! I’ve always thought the emotional and communication aspects of an open marriage have to be so difficult to negotiate.