For part 1 of this series, read Surviving Infidelity and Why I Chose my Marriage. Somehow this post is even longer- you’ve been warned.
During those sixteen hours Jake never once asked to come home. He never tried to explain himself or anything. When I told him to leave, he left. For a while I wondered if the reason he wasn’t fighting was because the separation is what he wanted. I thought maybe the explosion and me working through the idea of divorce was secretly why he had the affair in the first place. Knowing this would break me in a way neither of us thought we would move on from, was his motivation in all of this. That’s what I told myself.
It turns out he believed that asking for my forgiveness wasn’t something he deserved. He said it was totally disrespectful to beg me for our life together. He knew that seeing him or talking to him would bring out the person in me who forgives too easily. He knew that I needed to have space to think and process, at least as much as I could. He wanted to respect my space and he did.
I spent most of that day, like I said before, in my bed. Movies playing on my tv. My family keeping my kids occupied and letting me be alone. It was what I needed. I needed to think and my fellow moms know thinking isn’t done easily with children around. My oldest knew something was very very wrong and she would sneak in to lay with me for a while and leave again.
I have never lost someone extremely close to me. I have been so fortunate to not experience death as an adult, so I cannot imagine how that really feels. This though, for me, is what I think grief must feel like. Mourning a loss that I never in a million years thought I would have to.
My therapist and I recently discussed this and she told me this is grief. Something was lost. A part of me, a part of the thing that is most precious to me. This is mourning. That day was just the beginning.
It was a numbness I have never experienced in my life. My best friend kept saying “you are a saint.”, “how are you so calm right now?”. The truth is my calmness scared the life out of me. I couldn’t feel much at all, so I couldn’t react much at all. I cried here and there when the realness of the situation would hit me in random spurts. Usually when I understood that Jake was gone. At the time I really didn’t think I had a choice in the matter. Thinking this is what he wanted, and that I had freed him, I thought for sure he was gone from me forever.
Everyone around me kept with the old adage, ‘once a cheater, always a cheater.’ I knew this too. They kept repeating it to me though because they knew my one weakness in life was Jake. I was now that girl. You know, the one friend you have that has that boyfriend or husband you despise, you think she deserves better than what she has. The girl you think you need to save. Funnily enough, Beth was that friend of mine years and years ago. The things I said to her were now being said to me that day. I deserved better. He doesn’t respect me. He made his choice. He needs to suffer the consequences. I need to have respect for myself. I can do this alone. I am strong and I deserve the world.
I agreed. I believed everything they said. They were right. He isn’t going to change. This will happen again, maybe not now, maybe not in five years, but it will. Your kids deserve a mom who is a strong woman, they deserve a happy mom. Not a mom who puts herself in situations to be hurt over and over again. I agreed.
That was my day in a nutshell. Beth came over later in the day and it was such relief for me. She had talked to Jake on her own. She is our oldest and closest friend. She is our family. She was so beyond angry with him. I could see it in her face, she was shocked and disappointed, but she also had a knowing look in her eye. She knew this would happen eventually. She knew somewhere in her heart that something like this would happen and as I met her on the front porch of my Nana’s house, I could see her seething.
We sat outside and I told her I just really wanted a Snickers. At that time I had started texting back and forth with Jake. He needed some things from the house. I told him I would gather some stuff up for him. So I did that, and when Beth and I went to grab my Snickers, we also grabbed Jake a 44 oz Pepsi at his request. We came home and he pulled into the driveway. He sat there for a while before he walked up to talk to us. He wasn’t able to look at me, all I wanted was to hug him. I could tell that this had destroyed him too, just in a different way. I felt something shift in my chest, knowing this is what everyone around me was most afraid of. That I would be able to forgive him and attempt to piece things back together. So I kept it to myself, ever the people-pleaser. I remember after watching him get back in the car I was terrified it would be the last time I got to see him and I could not live with that.
I walked up to our truck and I tried to get him to look me in the eyes, it was extremely difficult for him to do. I asked him if he was okay. He shook his head and I asked if I could hug him, it took a while for him to say yes. I still felt the responsibility to him to take his pain away.
Even after what he did, and recalling all of this tells me one simple thing: nothing is insurmountable when you love hard. I’m not saying the post-affair fallout has been easy to withstand, but I think the reason we are still standing, and we still go to bed together at night is because in a moment when I should have felt the need to hurt him back or shake him, I just wanted to let him cry on my shoulder. I wanted to be his rock and all I could say to him was that he would always be my family, he would always be my best friend. He would nod into my shoulder while he cried. I held him like that for a long time. Then he left.
Beth helped me tuck the girls in that night. We eventually laid down and turned on a movie. We talked a little, we even laughed. She made me join Bumble to try and get my mind off of things. She wanted to make sure I knew I wasn’t going to be alone forever. I tried hard to be a strong woman, I tried to remember that alone isn’t the worst thing a person could be.
But around that time the anxiety that had taken up residence in my chest surged so hard. The heat, the acidic burn. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, the thought of losing my person forever was absolute torture. It still is. I still carry that with me, every morning I wake up it’s there, ready to drag me through the day.
Beth eventually had to go to sleep. She had an early morning the next day. It was around 5 AM when I told Jake I couldn’t sleep. He knew. He couldn’t either. I told him I didn’t know how to do this. He didn’t either. We have always been us. For almost ten years. Since we were teenagers. We have literally become adults together. We didn’t know how to separate ourselves. There was no clean way to do it.
Around that time I had one of those light bulb moments. Out of nowhere, I remembered that I had a choice, this was not a black and white situation with only one outcome. The outcomes were numerous, the decision was entirely in my hands. I was the person who had to live with the decision I made and then there were three other people who had to live that life with me too. I had two girls who didn’t know divorce or separation. They have always had us, we promised them they would always have an intact family. Jake and I promised each other we would always find a way.
I asked him to come home. I needed relief from the ache that was my heart being torn from my body. I needed my best friend to get me through this, because no one else was going to be able to. So I asked. Terrified he would reject me. So scared that I was not what he wanted anymore. That I could not provide what he needed, and while he was in true agonizing pain as well, this is what he wanted, to be apart forever.
He asked me if that was what I really wanted. If I truly thought I could get through this. He wanted to be sure I was not being the ‘too easily hands out forgiveness Ashley’. He also didn’t want me to change my mind and decide we wouldn’t be able to make it work.
I promised him I would work as hard as I could to get through this with him, but that I couldn’t do it on my own. If we were going to make it, we would do it together. The alternative is an entirely different healing process and at that time, and now even, I had no interest in even trying to do that. I think it would have destroyed me. I don’t think I would still be here. I have two kids, I needed to survive this, and even more than that I needed to come out better and stronger. The alternative would have birthed an unhealthy person, I think.
He came home, we didn’t say anything to each other except I love you. It wasn’t a lie. It was the only true thing I knew in that moment. I scooted to the middle of the bed, Beth snoring away on one side of me and Jake on the other. I don’t think I have ever slept in a more squished, uncomfortable situation than that, but I slept hard and I held on to him harder.
I woke up the next morning, ready but scared to explain to my family what my decision was. Before I could say anything, before I had my coffee even, they had made up their minds- they absolutely didn’t support my decision. I was a bad mom, I was an idiot. I was alone. Their disappointment in me was palpable. We woke our kids up, we all spent time hugging and talking. That’s what mattered. The weeks following would be hard on us both, in an environment where people whispered about me, my mental health, my husband. Shunning him. Looking at me like I was a lost dog. Talking to me like I didn’t have a brain in my head. But I told myself over and over, what mattered is it was still us four.
It was going to be okay, because we were going to make it work. One way or another, we were going to fight our way through this, and we still are, every single day. Every night when Jake falls asleep and I stare at the wall or the ceiling hoping for a dreamless sleep. Eight weeks later we are still fighting through. While there is still sadness, anxiety, fear and grief, there is hope and that is what gets me out of bed every single morning.
I hope if you have stumbled across this post for whatever reason, you leave feeling like you don’t have anyone to answer to but yourself. I hope you are encouraged reading my story. Yes, it is sad and disappointing even, but it is a story of progress and healing. I believe it’s possible for me, and you as well.