DD was two weeks ago, on Feb 16, 2023.
WH came home late, woke me up and said, "I need to turn on the lights. I have something horrible to tell you."
I have flashed back to this moment many, many times.
WH only told me because the OW had been caught by her own BH. He admitted this right off the bat, he admitted that it was an EA and a PA. The Journey from Abandonment to Hope book refers to this stage as a shattering. I’m sure all BSs here can relate to the feeling of the world exploding with you in it.
The A had been going on for a month. I knew something was wrong. He was textbook: distant, disinterested in me emotionally and physically. He didn’t take care of our twin sons (not even 2 yet) nor our pet. My only respite was that our social calendar had really taken off--really for the first time since the birth of the boys. I self-identify as a "non-shy introvert." Normally weeks full of activities with others really wear me out, but the events, big and small, were very soothing. We had game nights with friends. Binge-watched tv shows. Went to concerts. I share this because the OW set up the majority of these gatherings. She had been pretty omnipresent in my life recently and seemed to really want to be my friend. She even invited me out on Valentine’s day--my only real indication that she and her spouse might not be doing so well. I now have to look back at this bright spot in my life with complicated feelings. I have said to many people in my support system: "She didn’t have to pretend to be my friend."
When he confessed, I was angry and I expressed it. It was incredibly therapeutic. WH has a fragile ego and I've had to present anything that could be construed as criticism with absolute care or he would become volatile, vindictive. I felt untethered to his ego, absolutely absolved of all responsibility for the care and the keeping of his feelings, and told him everything I'd struggled with through our marriage without a filter. He was childish. He was lazy. He couldn’t handle the responsibility of being a father. During sex, he made me feel like a masturbatory vessel. He was incurious, unimaginative. I interrogated him about the sex with the AP, and what on earth he was thinking. I asked vulgar questions. I called him names and told him he could go to hell.
We are American expats living overseas. Family is everything. Literally, everything. Our marriage status is tied to our visas, our housing; even our contracts (and the insurance, benefits they provide) are issued to us as a married couple, not as two individuals. Our friends are largely coworkers because our employee provides us with housing on a private compound. Even though I had behaved myself, I could lose everything. The boys are in free, world-class daycare that is on-site. I love my job. I love my coworkers. I have an incredible community around me and friends that have stood by me through the ups and downs like struggling to conceive, being pregnant with two giant babies, a birth that almost took my life, dealing with debilitating postpartum depression. And my WH, who clearly did not have the capacity to weather the storm of babies/toddlers, had done something supremely selfish that could make it all evaporate in an instant.
I had always told myself that I would leave if he cheated. Then again, I never, ever thought it would actually happen to me.
These last two weeks have been a marathon. I know that the "Newbies: Important Information" thread (beautiful thing that it is) says that it’s not a race. I had glossed over that the first time that I read through that post. Now it really resonates because I am so exhausted.
This has been very hard on my body. I sincerely have no appetite. If I force food down, it comes back up or goes through me. I have lost a pound a day. I’ve been managing with one/two bite portions at meals. I spoke with a nurse early on and she said I didn’t need to force feed myself. She promised the appetite would come back. I had been "Obese Class II" at the tail-end of my pregnancy (nope, we don’t need to derail the conversation with debates about BMI or why TF 30 pounds of baby/baby supporting fluids counts towards that number) but was on the verge of merely "Overweight" on DDay. The weight loss has gotten me into a healthier weight, but in an unhealthy way. I still can’t help but admire my reflection in the mirror. I look a lot younger. My pre-pregnancy clothes all fit again.
Oh. Let’s go back to the beginning again. I’m also exhausted because WH has gone to the US. My mom flew over to help, she’s here for a few more days, and I have a live-in nanny. My workplace is currently closed, and the amount of helpers in my home has been amazing. Still, the thought of being a single mom overseas is daunting. Toddlers are a force of nature. The nanny and I have been completely worn out after months of my WH being neglectful. I have wondered if my WH will ever come back or if he’s content to be a deadbeat dad and let his job (and therefore my job) go down the drain.
He's not here because he was medevac-ed to the USA. The day after DDay, I told WH that neither the nanny or I had gotten any sleep, so he needed to watch the boys for the second half of the day. The boys were crying in their cribs. I went to see why he wasn’t getting them out and found him trying to hang himself in the guest bedroom. I saved him. Well, I don’t know if I can say that, because I discovered that his feet were flat on the floor and he was completely in control of his air intake. He was also making loud gagging noises, which require air. This attempt on his life doesn’t ring true. When I realized he could stand, I stopped struggling against his weight and told him to stand up by himself. I didn’t call the police: suicide and its attempts are illegal here. I called my support system. They whisked him away and nobody bothered to update me on what was happening to him. I had to call around to get any information on the whereabouts and condition of my own husband. I’ve noticed a lot since then that people seem to err on the side of undercommunicating with me. It’s frustrating. Tell me too much. Give me agency to decide what I do/don’t need to know.
About 24 hours later, he had gone to a doctor for "suicidal ideation" (again, suicide is illegal here and he was advised to tread carefully) and the doctor still wanted to admit him. Therein lay another problem. Another secret he’d been keeping was that he had relapsed. Drug use is absolutely forbidden here and anyone found guilty is sentenced to death. If they admitted him, they would run a blood test and then he would be delivered into the hands of the local law enforcement. I was amazed to find that I had no interest at all in indulging the fantasy of my WH being executed, even when the wound was so raw. So, our supervisors made the choice to medevac him to the US. I got to learn of this after many other people knew what was going on: both the choice to medevac and the drug relapse. I am angry at how robbed of agency I have been. Won’t someone acknowledge my right to have knowledge, and that, when it comes to sharing information about my husband, I should be first priority?! Don’t they see the painful crisis I face that is largely caused by secrecy and the withholding of information? Let a woman have some dignity, people!
This brings me back to my state of being. I am acutely aware of the horrible shape my body is in, and I think that’s because my mind has found a lot of peace. The peace has come from a lot of focused work.
The information I had was that my WH had been pursued by the OW, who was simultaneously trying to build a friendship with me. He said that she had come into his workspace (we're all coworkers--me, WH, AP, and her BH) and confessed her love for him, and then he'd been swept away. I asked if he loved her, he said he didn't and hadn't said so. (Gross, so he was leading this girl on?) He said that he had broken things off with her a week ago. This made sense, because he had been significantly better to me in the last week. He was attentive, he visited with me at work, he romanced me on Valentine’s day and we had sex for the first time in many long months (which ultimately became a terrible thing; I had not consented to unprotected sex with a non-monogamous partner). I had a renewed sense of self-respect that I initially didn’t recognize as the upswing of a horrible, toxic relationship cycle. On my own (or so it seemed at the time), I had realized that I deserved very basic things: socks without holes, a smartwatch with a working screen, pants (with pockets!!) that fit my changing body, a phone case that didn't fly off my phone at a moment's notice, a workspace that helped, rather than hindered, my productivity. I did some shopping (earlier I'd felt guilty about having new/working things because I was very concerned about saving money), I went to work early and rearranged my space. It was good. It was a potent dose healing, weirdly timed before a hurricane of hurt.
On DDay, I told him I didn't care if he decided to get with the OW on an official basis, because he and I were 100% done. He was hospitalized in the US, and after he was released, I called him and walked that back. I had discovered I was done with this internalized idea that the leaving spouse doesn't deserve anything. I told him that I deserved help with our children. I told him that if he felt genuine remorse, I deserved amends. I told him that his affair was cheap fantasy. He couldn't handle two kids, but the AP had two kids of her own. Were they going to get together, making him responsible for four kids? I watched on my phone screen as he experienced a real jolt of fear. I asked if he had made contact with her since he left. He admitted he had. I told him I would not absolutely not cooperate with him unless he were to write what I would later find out is called a NC letter. I wanted screenshots. I wanted proof that she was deleted from every possible form of contact. He obliged. The NC letter was good--all he missed was a mention about my hurt. Wasn't surprised that he made it all about him.
I had been watching his personal email. For the brief period he was around after DDay, I demanded his phone and read through his WhatsApp. He'd been so careful to delete their messages on there--both the message itself and the notification that it was deleted. For hundreds of messages. The dedication to it was shocking. He refused to tell me the content of the messages, other than that they were flirty and romantic. Again with the withholding of information. Are you kidding me.
After some mulling, I asked for his Facebook login. Between my sending the message and his consenting for me to get on to Facebook, I'd already gotten on using an old computer of his. He was still friends with her on Facebook, even though he'd sent screenshots of her being blocked on Messenger. He acted confused (a response that usually indicates guilt) and said he'd send any proof he needed that she was gone. Screenshots of Facebook, messenger, WhatsApp, email. He said he wasn't on Facebook proper ever, just messenger, and told me to unfriend and block her. To his credit, it did give some sort of warning about the block itself only applying to this account [b]on Facebook[/b].
I'm not stupid, though. I am an uncanny reader of people, especially him. His change in the last month was subtle. He had already been distant and self-centered and just a pain to be around. But this last month (in the early stages of their A) I had told him, "I don't know why, but I think we are on the brink of divorce. Something's really wrong." He brushed me off. As soon as the conversation was over, he acted like I hadn't said it. I told him the next day that I felt a bit gaslit because that sense of "something's really wrong" was still present. Anyway.
I had been watching his email since DDay. He hadn't received anything of interest to me. But he had said in the aftermath of the Facebook friend whatever that he wanted to prove he wasn't emailing her. What would a screenshot of his email prove, anyway? He could easily delete any messages he sent to her. But had he deleted--? For the first time, I checked his sent box and found an email to the OW, sent on the day of his Medevac, assuring her that they were going to get through this and that he loved her. He told her to contact his parents, who would be "cordial." Unfortunately, the word "cordial" instantly became a trigger for me.
I sent a screenshot of the message to him and his parents. He refused to talk to me at the time, saying he was exhausted from a day of hard conversations. With the time difference, it was time for him to go to bed. He was really so good at setting boundaries for me but ignoring any boundaries I set for him. I urged him to get on and face me immediately instead of making me mull it over all day while I was watching our children. He left me on read.
We had been batting around the idea of him cohabitating with me until our employer decided whether we could keep working for them. The medevac had been on our employer's dime and we both wanted to quit making waves while they considered whether or not to forfeit our contracts. Ha! What magical thinking! I spent that morning packing up his stuff.
Then, I jumped into research mode. I found this site. I read through the relevant articles in the Healing Library. An acquaintance heard of my husband's attempt and was reminded of her sister's XH. She gave me resources on narcissism and trauma bonding. I figured out how to search for the word "affair" on his Facebook messages. I surrounded myself with information, in defiance of people who thought I wouldn't want to/couldn't know. I was able to find out for myself and/or deduce a lot of the details.
She had come to him and said, "I'm in love with you." He had said, "I feel the same way." They'd immediately started spending all the time they could together. Our coworkers had noticed that they were constantly together, but had figured they must have a joint project. The EA quickly moved into the PA. He told a friend he had never had better sex. They took advantage of her BS being away a lot and had sex in her bed. Our houses are very close together. They'd felt guilt. They'd agreed to end it over and over again, but the official breakups were immediately followed by a dramatic reunion that resulted in sex. She had not been on birth control. They did not use protection. He had contacted a lecherous family member, I'm sure expecting him to be an enabler. The family member told him to stop ruining his life, end things, confess, and fight to avoid the fate he, the family member, currently suffered: life as a divorced dad with two kids who had decided they didn't want him in their lives any more than necessary. He contacted another friend who was a much better enabler, who romanticized the entire thing and asked my WH to put aside his shame and explore the passion that had been awakened in him. Even with this, my WH had opted to "quiet quit" the affair, which meant there wouldn't be make-up sex, and had reached out to his 12-step sponsor, who enforced the language of lust and infatuation versus real love and also counseled him through the first steps of recovering from relapse. WH had gotten back into drugs, even stealing my legally acquired ADHD medication, during the affair. He'd also started vaping (he quit smoking 10 years ago, just before we were married). WH was good to me for the week after he quiet quit. The OW was horrible to her spouse and children during that time. The OW had been discovered because she hadn't been as careful as WH. She had been giving friends daily updates on the affair and her BH found them and couldn't look away as he read through the complete, detailed account of their relationship and the sex.
It was a lot to process, but processing is a thing I like to do. This helped me make more discoveries and make peace with myself.
-This A was an expression of each partner's intense self-loathing.
-There's no need to try to unpack why they did this. Logic had no place in this relationship. My WH had to silence the logical part of his brain with drugs.
-My WH didn't love the AP. In the country we live, adultery is illegal (for women only) and becoming pregnant outside of marriage carries a truly cruel penalty (jail time until the child is delivered, then execution, with the child disappearing). She would go back to the US before this happened, of course, but then what? BH has not shown himself able to be a father to his current children, and terminating a pregnancy is not always an accessible option in the US. He didn't care about that. He acted in a way that could cause her mortal harm. It's not a contest, but that level of betrayal might even be worse than what he put me through.
-The gratification of their relationship was short-lived and immediately followed by their inner turmoil, a cycle that repeated often in their short A. These were not people who were "having their fun." They were torturing themselves and each other. They were lying to each other about who they were, what they had.
I told WH about what I had found. I was direct, calm, kind. If he was lying about it to protect himself from my anger, that was a waste. DDay was a bombshell, the other little revelations were annoying, momentarily painful, but my anger had been expressed already. Moreover, I could forgive the affair. We'd both had sex with other people before we got together. My brain could compartmentalize the intimate knowledge he'd gained in the last month alongside the intimacy he'd shared with previous partners. He told me that the sex had been good in the moment, because it boosted his self esteem. He needed to feel powerful. She'd told him that his body (he is obese) was perfect and sexy. That fueled his fire. He admitted, though, that it was "empty calories." I can get that. Like a beautifully decorated cupcake that turns out to taste horrible and makes you feel gross after eating it. The beauty and appeal is all surface level. I told him that he deserved to feel the kind of gratification he sought, but in a situation that was based on reality and trust. I told him it must have been painful for the fog to clear and see that they were lying to keep other as hard as they could. I told him that none of this was my responsibility. He'd made horrible choices and missed out on the support of a loving, compassionate partner. I told him that it seemed that the A seemed to be supremely unpleasant even while it was happening. The "fun" in the affair seemed to only last as long as a bite of a nasty, overdecorated cupcake. His selfishness and cowardly refusal to face his real life had betrayed him spectacularly. I could see he was going through that, and therefore see his humanity. I could never forgive a villainous mastermind, but I could forgive a human. I admit I put him in an easy position, to agree with the feelings I assigned to him so we could be on good terms, but he said that it was all true. He said he was afraid to tell me the truth and was blindsided by my empathy and compassion. He said he never expected forgiveness, ever, and that it showed him what an idiot he'd been to stray from me.
I've been open with him, too, about the uncertain state of our R. The immediate thought of separating came as an immediate relief. We were in a codependent cycle that had bled me dry. I had been working in IC and dabbled in a 12-step program for people in relationships with addicts. I suddenly, completely understood a key concept I had been struggling with: yes, I couldn't change him, I got that in concept, but what I didn't get was that my exhausting efforts to be good to him were a waste because I didn't need to subject myself to someone who wasn't committed to the lifelong process of recovery. I had already been moving in that direction when he'd become so neglectful of our relationship. Even before DDay, I had responded to the neglect by digging into myself, considering my values, asking myself what I had needed. I had not tried to control him as he spiraled, I just told him what my boundaries were and when he owed me an apology. Then DDay happened. I think that's why I found my mental clarity so quickly. DDay was an interruption to a process that was already happening, a related interruption that made it easy to transition back into working on myself.
My mental pendulum of feelings about him continues to swing back and forth. I am pursuing a legal separation that can hopefully get my job contract un-intertwined with his. I am having conversations with lawyers so I understand the ins and outs of foreign custody laws and child support.
Right now, WH is truly working his ass off. He has surrounded himself with people who will NOT enable any of his toxic behaviors. He attends multiple 12-step meetings a day. He has to do a lot of intensive outpatient work to certify that he is fit to come back abroad and work. He has come forward with insights about himself and how his choices have affected me through our marriage, even in the good times, and now, in the really bad times. He listens. He is respectful of the boundaries I set. He has been cooperative with my efforts to sort out our finances. He admits that he struggles to tell the truth, that he is finding it takes multiple tries, because he is addicted to exaggerating, omitting, tickle-truthing. I take what he says and does with a grain of salt. If this is manipulation, I'll find that out soon enough. If this is real, then he is showing all the signs that he truly wants to be a better person.
If I fall into magical thinking, I find myself wishing that a year from now we could be married still, and that he would be completely honest with me, respect my boundaries, and pursue me instead of neglecting me. These things are so hard for him, and even as I indulge in this fantasy, I know that there are many real people on this planet who would have no problem meeting these expectations. They are not a lot to ask, and they are what I deserve.
I spent 10 years waiting for him to grow up, to respect me, to be honest. I will not be surprised if he doesn't end up changing at all. If that is the case, my kids will be protected and so will I. If he changes enough to stop being a hazard to himself and those around him, I would love to keep him in my life as a coparent and friend. If he can just do those three things I listed above, I would be interested in staying married to him, but in a relationship where the toxic, codependent cycles are put to rest. I will not stay around to ground him (both in the emotional way and in the sense of what a parent would do--our relationship has definitely spent time in the unhealthy dynamic of me acting as a parent) and I will not problem-solve on his behalf if he abandons his own recovery, as I have done before. Next time he shits the bed, he cleans it up by himself.
That's a lot in two weeks. And a lot while trying to be a semi-composed mama and support my own mother, who is feeling equally betrayed and sorting through feelings of her own, even while she helps me. I still have some free-floating anxiety (of course!), I still get triggered daily, but so much of my mental turmoil is just gone. Now, though, I'm finally able to hear my body's cries for help.
I feel like this still qualifies for the Just Found Out board. I don't know what my next steps are, other than I have to take care of myself. I needed to tell my story. I would love to hear insights and advice.