parenting with a broken heart.

You might be surprised to learn that what hurts most about infidelity isn’t picturing your husband with his hands on another woman, although don’t get me wrong—that hurts. Worse, far worse, is hearing the things he said to her.

They say that for men, the sexual betrayal of infidelity is the worst part. And, as the cliché goes, for women it’s the emotional betrayal.

I guess it’s true, because what tore my heart out was this: Before the fifth and last time my husband had sex with another woman, trying to convince himself (and her) that he wouldn’t go through with it, he said to her, “There’s no place I’d rather be right now, but….

I thought my heart had been broken before. I survived the crushing disappointment of eight failed in vitro cycles. I listened as a psychologist confirmed my unspoken fear that our oldest child was mildly autistic. I held my son as he was plagued with years of painful health problems, and worse, when kids didn’t want to play with him at recess.

But nothing in my life—nothing—hurt more than hearing that my true love told another woman there was no place he would rather be than in bed with her. 

Why did he even tell me this? If you’re wondering, you most likely don’t frequent the world of “affair recovery.” You probably don’t know that Ira Glass’ mother, for some reason, was the leading expert on adultery in the U.S. until her death. She wrote a great book, and I sincerely hope you’ll never have occasion to read it.

The current thinking on surviving infidelity is that the “betrayed spouse” should ask any question that comes to mind, and the “betrayer” has to answer it. I asked where, when, what positions. Of course I did. But more than that, I wanted to know how this happened, what they said to each other, what he was THINKING. 

The Irish, my people, aren’t fans of self-pity. It feels self-indulgent to mourn as I’ve been mourning for the last eight months, since what the affair recovery community calls “D-Day.” That’s the day my husband came to me with tears in his eyes and handed me a written confession.

My best friend and I call it “being Irish about it” when she prefaces the news of her daughter’s scoliosis diagnosis with the disclaimer that many children have worse diseases. She should be glad it’s not cancer! I’m so Irish that I tell myself my pain is a “first world problem.” I have a husband who loves me, who is sorry, who didn’t love the woman he had sex with. We have three loved and wanted children together. We have so much.

But I carry my pain with me everywhere, often thinking of Cheryl Strayed’s unbearably heavy backpack at the beginning of Wild. When can I put it down?

I started a new job after six years as a stay-at-home mom, 40 days after D-Day. Apparently my heartache is invisible. My six-month performance review spoke of my professionalism, my sense of humor, my friendliness.

The job was heaven sent, allowing me to be somewhere else—someone else—at the darkest time of my life. I never dreamed it was possible to be emotionally distant from my children until those terrible 40 days. I hardly knew they were there. I never missed a carpool, or a bedtime, or a doctor’s appointment. I never neglected them, not once, but my mind was a million miles away. The job gave me new things to think about, a distraction from the repulsive images constantly replaying in my mind.

What would you do if the man you love betrayed you, but was really, really sorry? Would you throw him out, as I once self-righteously said Elizabeth Edwards should do? 

Probably not. More likely you’d go to lots and lots of therapy, with him and alone. After the kids were asleep you’d rage at him, sob in his arms, sometimes have quite a lot of sex with him—to keep him close? To make sure he still wants you? Who knows? 

My husband is still the same person, the same good father to our kids. We laugh together, we watch House of Cards, we hold each other. He does innumerable loads of dishes because I soothe myself by cooking, as I always have.

I don’t want him to leave. It would hurt more than this.

A priest we love and trust told me: “You will be astonished at your capacity to heal.” But when? We ache, but the kids don’t seem to realize it, and I hope they never will. 

Guest post bravely offered by Ellen Carter.