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My Ex-Husband’s Emotional Affair Hurt Just as Much as a Physical One

woman is taking off the wedding ring
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It was a balmy Tuesday afternoon when I found out that my husband had been let go from his job. As my 7-month-old napped in the back seat of my SUV, I rolled up to the pharmacy window to retrieve (yet another) antibiotic for his ear infection.

“Your insurance was denied,” the pharmacist stated. “Did you get a new plan?” It was such a simple question, yet a sense of foreboding told me there would be no easy answer.

We hadn’t gotten a new health insurance plan. As a stay-at-home mom, my two boys and I relied on my husband’s health insurance. I immediately called his direct line at the big city law firm where he worked to ask him about it. I somehow kept my composure when I was redirected to the main menu. The next few minutes felt like a blur. My heart raced with adrenaline as I sent a message to his business email address … and it immediately bounced back.

As the first of his many indiscretions, his job loss came as a shock. But what followed was a bevy of half-truths and outright deceit. The worst lie came out a couple of weeks later, just after I’d put our baby and toddler to bed. My husband sent me a text message that was meant for another woman, who coincidentally, shared my first name. When he arrived home, I immediately grabbed his phone and found proof of his emotional infidelity. Intimate conversations, selfies, and plans to meet for drinks at a bar after work stared me in the face.

The textbook definition of an emotional affair involves a relationship between a person in a monogamous relationship and another person outside of that relationship that affects the emotional distance, intimacy, and general dynamic within a committed relationship. Although, the reality of an emotional affair felt much heavier.

Seeing the man I married take a selfie meant for another woman felt like a stab to the heart. Reading their intimate conversations made me wonder what else had happened between them. Envisioning their carefree laughs over cocktails, while I was waking up every two hours to feed a newborn felt unconscionable, and frankly, the biggest betrayal I could imagine in a marriage.

Everyone knows that bringing a new baby home is a game changer. As a mom who chose to breastfeed, everything from my hormone levels to my patience levels were pushed to the brink daily. Becoming a mom was the ultimate sacrifice, and I had done it twice in just three years. For a while, I blamed myself. I wondered if I gave my husband enough attention. I asked myself questions like, Did I cook dinner enough? Why did I complain about dropping off his dry cleaning? What caused the epic divide between us?

Nearly three years later, I still don’t know the full extent of their relationship. But I do know that I’m stronger, smarter, and yes, more cynical now. I no longer take things at face value and I can smell a lie from a mile away. I’m now in a relationship with someone who is brutally honest at times and it’s one of my favorite qualities about him (even though it can be a double-edged sword).

“I could have dealt with a one-night stand,” a nurse named Jessica recently told me. “My husband instead chose to start a friendship with a stranger who rode the train to work with him. Knowing that this women held his attention for an hour each day while I could barely get him to come to our son’s soccer games was a violation of my trust that could never be repaired.”

Psychotherapist Esther Perel doesn’t necessarily agree that an affair has to end a marriage. In her book The State of Affairs, she says, “Affairs can happen in stable, happy marriages, and they often have more to do with a person than a relationship.” She adds that ” affairs can even be liberating … and in some instances give a marriage new energy.”

However, in her book Mating in Captivityshe also explored the tensions than can result from the innate yearning for freedom within us all and the longing for stability that we crave. Perel states, “People look to their partners to fill a broad range of needs, from safety to emotional support. That closeness can put a damper on the sense of mystery that fuels desire. Some affairs are breakups, but some affairs are wakeups.”

When I asked my husband why he started an emotional affair, he said, “She didn’t judge me.” To which I instantly replied, “Of course she didn’t. She wasn’t raising your two children.”

The decision to end my marriage wasn’t an easy one, but it was the best one I could make for my family. I deserve no less than the kind of real love described author Shannon L. Alder: “If he can’t handle you at your worst then he does not deserve you at your best. Real love means seeing beyond the words spoken out of pain, and instead seeing a person’s soul.”

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