Answering The Question: Should I Stay or Should I Go?
"If my husband ever cheated on me, I'd put his crap in the front lawn and have the locks changed before he got home." Sound familiar? Maybe you've said something along those lines before or maybe you've heard someone else express exactly how they would handle a cheating spouse. I think it's really easy to look at someone else's situation and quickly determine how we would react if we were in their shoes. It's easy because it's just theoretical. In fact, I was one of those women who thought I knew exactly what I would do if I were ever to be cheated on. I would be eerily calm about it, but I would ask him to exit my life stage left because he obviously wasn't good enough for me. Wish him the best with his new fling and never give him another thought. In theory, that sounds nice, but when I was hit with the real life, smack you in the face, pain of infidelity, that's not at all how I reacted.
I will never really know why I didn't just kick him out, but I suspect it was because I really did love him. Because I really did want to spend my whole life with him and because there was no part of me that really wanted to believe that my entire future could be derailed just like that. At the time, I was 30 years old and I remember my best friend asking me on the phone, "Are you afraid to leave him because you feel like it's too late? Like the thought of starting over is more terrifying than the thought of staying?" She was right. I was terrified of starting over. I was terrified of every aspect of leaving him, but more prevalent than the fear was the crippling self doubt and sudden feelings of inadequacy that seemed to seep into the very core of who I was. They ate away at me, slowly eroding my confidence and self awareness. Of course, I didn't see that happening, I just knew that I was hurt and I needed to fix it. That's really all I could see.
If you've been through a betrayal in a relationship of any sort, you probably found yourself at one point or another saying, "I just wish that things could go back to the way that they were." There was nothing I wanted more than to erase from my mind the knowledge that my husband was in love with another woman. I even looked into hypnotherapy at one point, desperate to just forget. What I knew in my heart though was that things could never go back to the way that they were. Things would never be the same. It's like hammering a nail into a piece of wood. You can pull it out. You can even fill the hole and paint over it. But then you have to decide if you are ok with the fact that the hole will always be there because actions cannot be undone.
Over the course of six years I went through so many different stages. I chose to stay and trust that he would stop, all the while remaining completely paranoid. Then I chose to "allow" him to do it so that at least I didn't feel like I was being played a fool, which made me feel like an option instead of a priority and led to a time in my life where I felt I had completely betrayed who I was and what I wanted in life. Then I chose to say "no more", even met with her to beg her to just let us be, but the truth is that I knew full well it wouldn't stop. This is when I chose to just become numb. I worked hard at just not caring. Of course, the less I cared, the worse things got. He was spending multiple nights a week at her house and the truth was that I welcomed the time alone now. It wasn't like in the beginning where he would leave for a work function that I knew she would be at and I would spend the evening watching for the door to open, just wanting him to be home so that he wasn't with her. I was now in a place where it still hurt like hell, but I was able to numb it. To quickly find a reason to not care or to pour myself into something else. This was especially true when I was pregnant. I put together dressers, painted rocking chairs, hodge podged things all to focus my energy on what was good in my life. It numbed me enough to be surface level happy, but inside I was losing more and more of myself every day. I knew that when our son was born I had three months until her son was born. Those were three months that he wouldn't spend the night at her house. Three months that our son wouldn't remember, but I would know that he had them with just the three of us living in the same house and being a family the way I so badly wanted it to be. I hated the thought of him having a broken home and me being the one who made the final call to break it.
Here's what they don't tell you about staying after infidelity. It doesn't all suck. Yes, there is a cloud of suck that hangs over your head, but for us at least, there were still really good times. Enabled, possibly, by my ability to numb myself to the bad and my desperate desire for things to just be ok and paired with his lack of desire to ever talk about the deep things. He was more than happy to ride my train of numbness and denial if it meant neither of us having to make any really hard decisions. We laughed a lot, we talked about politics(this was fun for us), we had fun with family at holidays, we both adored being parents and we did what we could to cling what good was left at that point. I don't think either of us really new how to fix the damage or if it could be fixed, but neither of us had the courage to face that reality or do anything real about it. I think those good times are what make it so hard to make the decision to leave. Wouldn't it just be easier if everything was terrible all of the time? The decision would be a no brainer. I remember wishing he would just tell me he didn't love me. It would hurt, but then I would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was no hope and I could move on.
You may read my story and think that there is no way in hell you would have put up with any of that and you may be right, but I never dreamt I would either. Even now, it's almost like an out of body experience thinking back on those times. I have had to release myself from the guilt of staying. The guilt of being too weak to stand up for myself and what I deserved. The truth is that there isn't a right or wrong way to react to infidelity. Every act of infidelity is unique and the way that you choose to deal with it is personal. What I can tell you from my experience is that I learned more about myself and what I am capable of through those years than I have in all the previous years of my life. I chose to stay and that didn't make me weak, but it did teach me things. One of those things is that I wanted more for myself and my son. I wanted him to have a mom that was self aware, confident and not numbing herself from pain, but allowing it to better her. Then I chose to leave, not because of the infidelity alone, but because I realized that it wasn't possible for me to be that woman for myself and my son while in that relationship.
There isn't a timer that's been set letting you know it's time to leave now. There's no magic eight ball that can tell you if you will ever trust again. You can and should talk to your friends, but they don't live your life, and as much as they may love you, it's not their decision to make. This is your journey. It may feel like a hellish journey right now, but trust me, if you will let it, it can be a catalyst toward a metamorphosis into an even more amazing you. It took me six years to get to the pivotal moment where I realized: Whether you stay or whether you go comes second to who you want to be. Decide that. Work on being that person and I promise that the answer to "stay or go" will become clearer than ever before. Whether it takes you six years or six seconds makes no difference and there is not guilt or pressure. There is no right or wrong answer, just the question, "Who do you want to be?"