I hear you. It’s gruesome to know the person we love was involved in an affair for so long right under our nose.
I didn’t learn of my wife’s affair until it was clearly and actually over for five years. That’s its own kind of awful. But your questions were about staying for the kids and how could someone be in love, or at least be in relationships, with two people at once.
My wife’s AP was my (our) best friend of over twenty years. In the beginning, it was a digital/sexting affair carried on from a distance of 800 miles. At the very beginning she told him she loved him "with all her heart" and that she was relieved that she had finally decided to divorce me to be with him. She didn’t bother to tell me that, of course. Vestiges of that early promise haunted the balance of their affair as they vacillated between "we’ll be together soon" and the reality of logistics and remorse blocking an actual exit from the actual marriage and public entry into an actual relationship with him.
About a year into what was a three year affair, he moved to where we live and they carried on for another two years. I believe he moved here to execute their "happily ever plan." She denies signing on for that plan at that time. I think she probably did have an existential crisis when the affair became "real" with his arrival in our day to day life. What began as a digital affair with a remote prince charming became an actual affair with a real live man who was in our home and around our kids. It was easy to compare me in real life negatively to the "perfect" digital prince charming who could be whatever she needed from afar.
But when he moved here, that comparison could no longer happen. It became "real." I was actually the father of her children, the man who’d loved her since high school, all that. He was actually a selfish, broke drug addict living in his sister’s basement with no prospects to be anything but that. Nonetheless, the affair went on for two more years under those conditions. I believe even now that if he’d moved here, gotten his life together, gotten a good job and a home for her join him in that she’d have done it.
A huge part of my pain now is wondering, even now, did she stay for me, for the kids, both? Would she have actually left me if he could have provided a landing spot for her that was reasonably comfortable with most of her life intact? These questions plague me.
I know her decision to stay at the time was hugely about the kids. She hated me. She treated me with utter contempt. I have a very hard time seeing any evidence that she loved me at all during her affair. Your question points out to me that indeed trying to be in two relationships with two men was in fact extraordinarily stressful to her. I bore the brunt of that stress it seems. On a good day, I can muster some empathy for her under those conditions, notwithstanding that they were entirely of her own making. Not every day is a good day. Some days I just remember how shitty she was to me for so long.
I cannot comprehend the compartmentalization, the self-deceit that she engaged in to do what she did. It is mind boggling. But for the fact that I’ve read so many stories here very much like mine, very much like yours, I couldn’t believe it could happen at all. But it did happen. She did manage to live this ridiculous duality for over three years.
I wish I could tell you there’s some obvious path forward that answers these questions satisfactorily and provides some relief from your pain. The best I can do for you is this: what he did is real. You can never know with certainty the answers to these questions. Did he stay for the kids? How can you love two people at once?
Your brain and mine do not work like your husband’s and my wife’s. Or maybe they could work like that but so far they haven’t. I don’t know.
The "laws of physics" applicable in upside down affair world are incomprehensible to those of us who’ve never gone through the looking glass. When I try to apply my logic to the decisions she was making the calculator always returns an error like a broken formula on an excel spreadsheet. No matter how many times I mash that button the error isn’t fixed.
My advice to you is this: accept what happened, accept that you cannot ever really understand it, accept that you cannot know whether he stayed just for the kids or not. Demand that your husband be the best husband he can be now, in the present, or divorce him if he can’t or won’t be that man. That’s it. It’s very simple to say, and very difficult to do. Ask me how I know.