I laughed it off at the time.
My then-husband had recently become enamored with a particular style of Calvin Klein boxer briefs after years of mainly going commando. Since I was off school for spring break, I took on the task of tracking down several pairs for him so that he had enough to last a full week on the road.
I had read that a sudden change in preference of undergarments was a potential sign of an affair, but the thought that this man who was always so attentive and complimentary was seeing somebody else was laughable. I dismissed the idea as rapidly as it came to me.
And then, months later, the truth hit with a surprise uppercut. The husband-of-the-year had disappeared into the arms of another. And he took his new boxer briefs with him.
Until I saw the evidence of the infidelity, his potential cheating was like Schrodinger’s Cat – until the box was opened, he was both faithful and unfaithful. I could both drive myself crazy by assuming that he was cheating or I could find false comfort in the conclusion that he was faithful.
And neither position of mine would have altered the facts surrounding his infidelity.
One of the most challenging truths about trust and fidelity in a relationship is that you have limited influence on the actions of your partner. You can choose wisely, be a loving and present spouse and be alert to possible signs of cheating. And then you have to find acceptance in that in between space, where infidelity is simultaneously a possibility and out of the question.
After being cheated on in my first marriage, I was concerned about finding the balance between awareness of potential issues in my new relationship and also trust in my partner. My concern was that I would err too far on the side of suspicion, looking so hard for signs of cheating that, even if my partner was faithful, I would be living as though I was being betrayed.
I heard recently about a woman who knows her husband is cheating on her. Instead of making a decision about the future of the marriage, she is instead constantly monitoring his location. I can understand this reaction. By keeping tabs on his whereabouts, she is maintaining a sense of control in a situation where she is quite powerless. She can’t keep him from seeing his girlfriend, but at least she knows when he’s at the girlfriend’s house.
I understand this reaction, but the thought of living in that space makes me shudder. It must be horrible to know the details of the infidelity but be unable to alter its course. This false control becomes a distraction from the true source of power she does have – the decision if she is going to continue to tolerate this dynamic.
Other people are prone to snooping with the excuse that knowledge is power, assuming that if they just know enough about their partner’s life and interactions, they can stop potential infidelity before it starts. It is a nice thought, that information is sufficient to shape the behavior of others. But, like with the illusion of control that comes from relationship insecurity, it’s a false comfort.
You will never know everything about your spouse’s life or history. You can spend all day together and they could be engaging in a secret online romance or you could have a long distance relationship where everything is aboveboard. Insisting on knowing everything is off-putting and creates an environment where your spouse is tempted to hide in order to avoid the constant questioning or to claim a reasonable amount of privacy. On the other hand, a total disinterest in information gives a sign of disinterest and even implied permission to act poorly.
There are times that I miss the sense of security I had in my first marriage, a certainty that he would be by my side no matter what.
And then I remember how that ended up.
I traded security born from willful ignorance for an acceptance about life’s impermanence and an appreciation for today. An exchange I feel good about.
A few years ago, my now-husband found a type of underwear he loved. I looked from grading one evening to see him opening up a package from Amazon with multiple pairs. After admiring the view as he modeled a pair for me, I paused for a moment, remembering the similar scenario several years prior with my first husband.
Even though the immediate facts were homologous, the circumstances were completely different. Perhaps most importantly, I was no longer afraid to consider and confront the idea of infidelity in my husband (if I thought that it was a possibility). If I had been honest with myself ten years ago, I probably would have identified other facts that might have indicated that something was going on. When I considered this possibility with my second husband, I landed on a complete lack of evidence of infidelity. Furthermore, I had become quite uneasy towards the end of my first marriage, a current of anxiety of unknown origin coursed through me constantly. Whereas in my second marriage, I have never had that same vague sense of dread.
If certain signs have made you suspicious about your partner’s behavior, you have some decisions to make. First, what do you want to do with this information? You can pretend you didn’t see it (not advisable, see my story for reasons), you can gather more data or you can confront your partner with your concerns. Here’s the hard part – once your brain has considered this possibility, there is likely little that your partner can say to completely alleviate your fears. That doesn’t mean that they are cheating; it means that trust has to operate on both faith and facts.
If you learn that your concerns are valid, are you prepared to set some boundaries? Maybe you are willing to try to work through this if your partner is on board or perhaps this is a deal-breaker for you. If they deny the affair (and you have proof) or they refuse to end the infidelity, what decision will you make?
I caution against remaining overly suspicious for the long term. It won’t lessen the chances of an affair (in fact, if anything, it can encourage it, “If you’re going to accuse me of it, I might as well do it.”) and it will only serve to make you miserable. If your concerns appear to be unfounded, consider the possibility that they have more to do with your own insecurities than your partner’s actions. And if that’s the case, transfer your energy from your partner’s activities to your own thoughts.
If infidelity is Schrodinger’s Cat, I refused to open that box in my first marriage, stubbornly believing that as long as I didn’t look, my marriage was still alive. Now, I take the occasional peek in the box to ensure that all is well, but for the most part, I operate from a place of trust. Because living a life of suspicion means that I am allowing myself to be a perpetual victim of infidelity. And that’s not the life I want to live.