My husband (37) and I (32) have been together for a total of 6 years. We met in Oct 2012, dated for 4 years, were engaged for 1, married in August of 2016, and 3 months later we found out I was unexpectedly expecting. I’ll never forget that moment, he threw his arms around me and we both cried tears of happiness. We weren’t expecting to have kids that soon, but what the hell, right? We were in love, we had bought a house in 2014, and life happens when it happens. Well, a very difficult pregnancy and a hard 4th trimester later, and you could say the times have been trying. But never did I think it would be the end. Our baby girl is now 18 months old and the best thing to ever happen to us. The thing you need to know about us is that we’ve always been on the go. We met, fell in love, he moved in, we got a dog, yada yada the whole thing. Things have moved fast, but it was never bad.
So, needless to say I was pretty floored when I came home from work on the last day before the holidays, and he told me that he wanted a separation. I was/am devastated. I fell apart on the living room floor as he played with our daughter and made her dinner. I tried to ask questions, tried to understand, but where most people would be gentle, he was detached. He told me he loved me, he just wasn’t in love with me. That I could go out and cheat on him and he probably wouldn’t care. That there was absolutely no one else. That this isn’t new for him, he just didn’t know how to deal with it. That he didn’t know if he wanted to even try to fix the marriage. Because for him, the marriage wasn’t happy. (outside of 3 months, the marriage was basically me being pregnant and having a baby, so.. it was stressful, I get it, but that’s not what the rest of marriage would be?) That we’ve had issues for awhile but we never fixed them. When I asked what “awhile” was, since we’ve only been married 2 years and some change, he gave a timeframe that lined up with the baby. All of it – lines up with the pregnancy and the baby. So, to me, this is the clear change that has shifted us. Yes we had issues before, but they seemed to have been accelerated by the baby. He has confirmed that marrying me was not a mistake. He has said that he was the happy married guy, that finding out I was pregnant was the happiest he’s ever been. So what happened according to him? I wore him down. My pregnancy wore him down. He became the caretaker and I was the patient. I controlled him after the baby was born because I had postpartum anxiety, and couldn’t handle being a SAHM, so I needed a break and would hand the baby off to him. I’d ask when he’d be home from his bike ride because he needed to help with xyz. According to him, he felt like he could never leave the house, and he felt suffocated. Having a kid clips your wings some, especially in the early months. But for him, his autonomy comes first and it was all too much, all too stifling. And here’s the thing: I looked back on our chats, our texts, old emails, everything I could to gain objective clarity on how I treated him, what I did wrong. And I admit I was controlling. Could I have been better? Sure. I was drowning in baby spit up and breast milk and I still had residual ailments that hadn’t fixed from the pregnancy, (pelvis misalignment and carpal tunnel and blood loss to name a few!) So, I decided ok, yes, controlling I was, but I was also just trying to survive. I didn’t think my needs and the baby’s needs were going to break the marriage that had literally just begun.
The last 2 months have been a total rollercoaster of emotions. We went to 2 sessions of couples counseling, but he decided he wasn’t in the “headspace”, and continued the therapy alone to work on himself. I later found out it was because we were going to a pro-marriage counselor and he didn’t want the marriage to work, so he didn’t want to go to someone who would steer us in that direction. Wow. He believes he’s been very clear this whole time. But he has no plan and he went from needing space and telling me he didn’t want a divorce, to saying there’s no chance to fix this. He hasn’t moved out, but rather exists in this space where we float around as roommates. He sleeps in the basement and hates it, but not enough to be actively looking for a new place. The main thing he wants to honor is to keep our daughter’s schedule exactly the same. He doesn’t want to lose out on time with her, and yeah, I don’t either. But the fact is, he will. We both will. She will have a parent 50% less of the time than she did before, and there’s nothing that breaks my heart more than that. I never imagined this would be me, and I guess no one does when they’re walking down the aisle. But the thing I don’t understand is if he’s so miserable, and so CONVINCED this is the end, and there’s no fixing it even though he hasn’t tried and we’ve only been married 2.5 years, why isn’t he high tailing it out of here? He’s dragging his feet. I will not make this decision for him, so I don’t want to keep asking, but like, what gives? Saying you want out, and actually doing it are two different things, I guess. This is his home, his life, but he’s been so miserable apparently, and now he’s free. So go be free. It kills me, but go.
The thing that doesn’t make sense, and I don’t think is fair, is that at night, he just leaves. He doesn’t do bedtime with the baby a lot of nights. He doesn’t leave every night, but when I would ask, he would get defensive. So my heckles went up about there being someone else. He works remotely though (which also killed us when I was a SAHM, too much time in each other’s space) and so he doesn’t have a lot of contact with outside people. So at night, sometimes he just goes and hangs out with friends, or drives for hours, or i don’t even know, but he’s gone till like midnight. He just doesn’t want to be in the house, but he’s hanging out with male coworkers I’ve never met staying out late, completely different behavior than he’s ever done in the past, even pre-marriage. I do want to believe him that he’s not cheating, mainly because I started to press more and he’s more open and willing to share where he’s going and with whom. His mother also cheated on his father and I think there’s something sacred to him about not doing that when kids are involved. At this point though, he is doing everything else just like his mother did, so who knows. I sure as sh*t don’t. Edited to say: when he got frustrated one time, he said “I honestly wish there was someone else because then there’d be an explanation. But there isn’t someone else. My life is a dumpster fire, I don’t need to make it more complicated than it is.” Another time he said something about not wanting to be reckless about his choices. So maybe that’s why he’s taking the process slowly. Maybe I’m a complete idiot and he’s cheating. I can’t leave to see where he goes at night because I’m home with the baby.
Tonight I said the ball is in his court. I don’t want to make decisions for him but I can’t live like this. I want him to stay and for us to work on our marriage for the sheer fact that 1. we haven’t and 2. we owe it to the tiny human we made, and the commitment we made to each other, and 3. I want him to understand that life is full of seasons, and some are just harder than others. I want to look back and say we tried, and we made it, not we didn’t try and now we’ll never know if it could have been ok. But if he doesn’t want to work on it, then there’s no hope. There’s no convincing him. And as he so eloquently put it “I shouldn’t have to be convinced to stay married to you.” Ouch.
It takes two people to get married, but only 1 to get divorced. I feel like I failed; that I handled my first time being pregnant wrong. That maybe if I had been easier to deal with, or complained less, or maybe if I didn’t ask him to be my support so much, then this would all be different. I look at happy families on social media, my friends who are announcing their second pregnancies, and I well up with sadness. I went to Carter’s and saw a toddler shirt that said “Everyone Loves a Big Sister” and it made me think how that’s not in the cards for us. We were planning a life, even actively looking at houses 2 months ago, and now I’m…here. How did we get here. He doesn’t wear his ring, and so I took mine off, too, but I didn’t want to. I just didn’t want to look like a fool. Our marriage ended before we even truly began as a married couple. After 7 years and the life we started to build, it really sucks to feel like the person you chose forever with doesn’t choose you back, and worst—won’t even try.
I was so lost and confused and had no idea what was going on, blind to that deep voice buried down in my gut telling me something was definitely off. Well, on February 22, I found his old phone tucked in the side pocket of the car and I brought it inside to charge it. It immediately connected to the wifi, and I was able to access his already logged in Gmail account. In there, I did a search for his best friend Jess’s email address, because I know he tells her everything. They’ve been friends since middle school, so I knew if anyone knew, Jess would know. Sure enough, there it was. An email titled “The Letter” sent to Jess, and in it, he detailed to her such self-incriminating words that I will never forget. He explains to Jess how the whole thing went down. Laid out the whole affair, how it started, etc. “We text a lot. Every day a lot. We hang out consistently. Of course we’ve had sex.” I read that line again, and my heart fell to my stomach. It’s the feeling you get when you realize your whole life just shattered beneath your feet. He was giving Jess context for the letter that he transcribed from what I can only imagine was a physical letter the girl had given him. As I read her words, I couldn’t decide if I should laugh or cry. It was so wrought with puppy love and the thoughts of a girl, pining after what she believes is an honest, amazing man, just stroking his ego left and right.
The girl is 25 (my husband is 37) and she lives in Federal Hill, a place where only young, post-college grads go to grind on douchebags and drink redbull vodka slushies. I know this because that’s what I used to do when I was 25. Oh but it’s ok, guys. They have “sports” in common and she “gets him.” I’m sure.
After I found the email, I called my lawyer immediately. I moved my half of our shared savings into my account. I met up with my friend and had a manhattan at noon. We figured out who this person was (because it didn’t mention anything about her name in the email) but once I mentioned her age, my friend stopped and took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes. “She isn’t 26, she is 25.” Huh? How did he know? HOW DID HE KNOW? In the email, she references “even if there’s an 11 year difference between us…” I’m no good at math, but..his birthday wasn’t until February and the email was marked Jan 20. So when she wrote it, he wasn’t yet 37, and they were 11 years apart. My friend pulled out his phone and scrolled through gchats. You see, he was a mutual friend of both my husband and I, but oh my had he switched gears. He knew the pain of betrayal and had suffered through it. He said that my husband had mentioned this girl to him at some point, but in passing, and vaguely. That he told him that he wouldn’t mind being with a 25-year-old if she was an “old soul” and that he’d been propositioned by a 25 yr old that week, and it had been tempting. My friend didn’t realize it at the time, of course, but it was all making sense, and the age reference triggered his memory of the gchat conversation months prior, so we pieced the whole thing together, bit by bit. We went back to the car, and I looked in the trash folder in his camera. I found screenshots he took of her instagram and I’ll be damned. There she was. A picture to put to the name. The letter. The affair. She was very petite. Blonde. Smiling and carefree. There was a photo of her at a table sitting with a glass of wine in one hand, and a dessert next to her. Who are we kidding, she’s 105 pounds* she doesn’t eat dessert. Who took the photo? Did he? These were photos he had screenshot from her instagram, because Jess asked for pictures. I could just imagine my husband culling through her feed, trying to find the best ones to show her. In the shots, her username wasn’t cropped out. Her IG handle is her full name, so it was a pretty easy google search > linkedin > boom – coworker. We sat in my car as song started on the radio. Dean Lewis filled the empty space and as the lyrics came through the speakers, I couldn’t push the tears away anymore. “Nothing heals the past like time, and they can’t steal the love you’re born to find.” I cried as it all came whirling at me. My friend, who had taken the rest of the day off work, sat next to me and knew I didn’t want to be touched or held. I faced the driver’s side window and cried until the song ended, and I turned off the radio. I dried my tears and then built my plan to kick him out of my house that night.
I stayed away most of that day, gathering all sorts of stuff from his phone. I came home before bedtime and tried my best to be composed. As I was changing my 19 month old’s diaper, I could hear him in the bathroom trimming his beard. He put on a nice crisp, white shirt he had just bought, and I shook my head because damn, it was so obvious this whole time, I just didn’t want to believe it.
The signs? All there.
- Phone being held close all the time, never leaving his sight.
- New shoes.
- New clothes.
- Trips to the gym, yet, when I pulled the logs, he hadn’t been.
- Late night outings, and defensiveness when I asked.
- Bringing up cheating in songs and shows seemingly random, but now I know, it was just his subconscious weighing on him.
- Shopping trips but never bringing anything back.
- Gaslighting. So much gaslighting.
- Big gaps between responding to my texts.
- Running upstairs to shower.
- Back seats of the car reclined juuust a little too far to make sense.
Cut to bedtime. He comes in the nursery as I am sitting in the chair about to read our daughter some books. Funny thing is the book she chose was about flowers who felt grounded. They looked up at the sky and wanted to be butterflies! So the fairy made them all butterflies and they realized that it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. That flowers are wonderful, and strong, and grounded and that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. And so the fairy turned them back into flowers, and they appreciated their strength. The irony was palpable. We closed the book and I kissed my baby goodnight. As he walked out of the nursery, I laid her down in her crib as I did every night before. I smoothed her dark brown hair across her face and traced her button nose with my finger. I cupped her big cherub cheek in the palm of my hand, like I did every night, but this night would be so different. She wouldn’t know it. But I would. She gazed up at me as I whispered a promise to her I’ll never break as long as I live. I promised her this: that mama would take care of her no matter what. That she would always come first in my life no matter what. I told her I hoped she may be strong in her darkest moments in life, and that no matter what, she is worthy of love and honesty and trust. I told her I would raise her with the heart of a lion, and she would know her worth. She looked up with those big, brown eyes and smiled, completely unaware, and that’s when the tears stung my eyes and started rolling down my own cheeks. I wiped them away quickly, drew a deep breath, closed her door and went downstairs.
He was puttering around in the kitchen and quickly asked if I had plans that night. I said no, but—he cut me off to say he was going out before I could change my mind. Wow. Ok. I said that’s fine, but can we talk first? He sat down on the couch with all the emotion of a 15 year old boy being held against his will to sit at the dinner table when all he wants to do is play video games. He even said, “yes mom?” How quickly I’ve become the old shrew. I brushed it off and reset my resolve. I looked him directly in the face and told him I knew. I knew everything. I knew there was someone else. He furrowed his eyebrows, and said, “sure Ashley.” I was prepared for more lies so I kept firm. I said I knew she worked with him. I knew where she lived, what her name was, and that everything had been a lie. That the jig is up. He stiffened and went into this ultra-defensive mode. He said “Ok. Is that all you wanted to talk about?” The gall of this idiot. I pressed for the why-he-did-it’s, the how-could-you-lie-to-me’s, even though I knew it didn’t matter. He said he wanted to tell me about her but he wasn’t ready. Sure sure. I said I wanted him out of the house, and to pack a bag. He got up, grabbed some things from upstairs and downstairs and walked out, with one glance thrown my way before he opened the front door. I couldn’t decipher it. It was the look of a man who had been outed? The look of shame? The look of…regret? Anger? I didn’t know because I didn’t know who he was anymore. The front door shut behind him, and I sat on the couch and stared at the door. Then I looked up at the fan, and studied the blades. The house was quiet. It was stillness I’d never felt before. It was in that moment I could feel my resolve cracking, and the emotions I’d held in that day—that evening—started pushing at the corners of my eyes. The tears about to flow, that feeling in your throat that rises, and that heaviness in your chest that seizes, then falls to the pits of your stomach. I let out two short terse breaths, as though to prepare for the onslaught, and then I felt myself fall to pieces. It all came flooding through at once and I had no choice but to let it. But now, unlike before, there was no one there to care. I don’t think I have ever felt so alone. This house was not a home, this life was not my own.
I have nothing left in me. I stood in his closet the other night, and slowly looked over the shirts still hanging there, the ones he hasn’t gathered up and taken to his mom’s. I wondered which ones he wore with her. I wondered why I wasn’t enough, why this life we’ve built over the last 7 years wasn’t enough. Why someone could do this to their family, and break someone without a simple glance back to see the destruction they left in their wake. I cried so many nights and felt so alone. And I still do. I am in the worst part of it, and I will wake up at 5 am, picturing her next to him in that hotel bed. There’s something so much more incredibly intimate about actually falling asleep next to someone and then waking up with them. Maybe they had room service? I wonder if they showered together. All of it reveals a vulnerability and it cuts to the core that he shared that with her. I wonder if he likes that she is so much smaller than me, younger than me, wondering if he is relieved to be with someone who has no stretch marks on their body from carrying a pregnancy for 9 months, wondering if they talk about me, what do they say? Am I “The Controlling Wife?” Is he “The Poor, Shackled Husband?” Did they pretend to be a little family when he introduced her to my daughter? Did he tell her things he’s never told me? How does the narrative go? Does it even matter? Probably not. In the end, I know years from now, I will look back and shake my head, wondering how I ever put up with his lies and his cruelty.
But for now, I will pick up the pieces, slowly but surely, of the life I thought I had.