'My husband cheated on me a week into our relationship. It was the best thing that happened to us.'

I’d been dating my now-husband for a week before he cheated on me. We had even said 'I love you'. In fact, we’d already exchanged rings – commitment rings, that is.

Our relationship was made ‘official’ in Fiji. I was dressed in Dolce & Gabbana, he had a light application of foundation on, and we were surrounded by towering palm trees on the set of reality TV juggernaut, Bachelor in Paradise – a franchise built on romantic fantasy and finding ‘The One’.

A week after flying home from filming, he had kissed another woman. A week after that, I slept with someone, fuelled by spite.

Watch: Which one is worse: an emotional or a physical affair? Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

Not the best foundation for a new relationship, some may understandably say.

Yet, three years later, we got married, and I still consider that initial challenge as a significant reason for our relationship’s success.

I was happy that it happened.

Don’t get me wrong, the pain was there, and it was visceral. It was the type of pain that only those who have given their heart over to someone with expectation they will handle it with care, only to have it shattered, will understand.


My immediate reaction was to end the relationship. I’d spent my twenties marinating in the powerful ‘dump him’ feminism of writers like Florence Given and Clementine Ford. You don’t stay in relationships where men cheat on you. You demand better and move on.

But then we had a series of conversations that I had never come close to having with a partner before. Conversations that, had I proposed to some of my exes, I think they would have laughed in my face.

We had the conversations in a park, 24 hours after I had slept with somebody else. My partner (a loose term in that moment) had been flying over from Perth in an attempt to reconcile our relationship and was about 30,000 feet over Melbourne while I was taking my revenge. When he landed, we unpacked it all. We dissected what he thought had led him to that kiss and my vengeful reaction; then, once those topics had been thoroughly picked apart, we went deeper.

We talked about what we thought about love, what it really meant to us and why we felt a compulsion towards companionship. We talked about monogamy, its inherent challenges and what we felt long-term relationships need to be successful.

We talked about cheating: what was it, really?

For heterosexual couples, was cheating going out for drinks or dinner alone with a friend of the opposite sex? Some vehemently consider it to be. Is going to a strip club cheating? What about maintaining a friendship with an ex?


There weren’t necessarily right or wrong answers, and the answers will be different for each and every couple, but the point was that we were talking about it. And discussing these topics opened up a new depth to our new relationship – a depth I felt I hadn’t reached with other partners in years.

We also didn’t stop talking. In fact, we started our own little book club – just the two of us – beginning with one of psychotherapist Esther Perel’s seminal works on infidelity, The State of Affairs, sending each other passages and thoughts as we went.

It was delving deeper into the discourse of infidelity that broke down some of my long-held beliefs about love and relationships. I once firmly believed that if my partner was attracted to somebody else, anybody else, it meant they simply could not be in love with me. In fact, I felt if they’d loved anyone before me, it meant that our love wasn’t ‘pure’ or ‘true’.

I also interrogated why, when I did the ‘bad thing’ – when I did the cheating – I’d always give myself a pass. When I cheated, there were always mitigating circumstances. My cheating never seemed as serious as cheating done onto me. I discovered there was a term for this – it’s called actor-observer bias, where we attribute the bad behaviour of others to internal causes, while attributing our own to factors beyond our control.

Listen to No Filter where Alisha talks about what goes on behind the scenes of reality TV. Post continues after audio.


I began to feel a radical new understanding of myself and my new relationship, and trust in my decision-making.

What was harder to navigate, once I’d made my decision, was the perspective of others. Navigating the new shame. The shame that I wasn’t living my values, that I wasn’t a good feminist and that I was letting him ‘get away’ with it.

Perel writes about this new shame.

“Once, divorce carried all the stigma,” she says. “Now, choosing to stay when you can leave is the new shame.

“Exhibit A is Hillary Clinton. Many women who otherwise admire her have never reconciled themselves with her decision to stay with her husband when she had the power to leave. ‘Where is her self-respect?’”

I felt that shame initially, and it was at odds with my almost-pride at our ability to communicate sensitively and compassionately with one another, to hold ourselves accountable and choose to move forward with love as our driver.

I am now curious about cut and dried reactions to infidelity in a contemporary culture where we are increasingly questioning traditional relationship structures and the idea of ownership over our partners. Cheating seems to be a remaining polariser.

I understand that people are often reactive due to past hurt and past betrayal. There are also many cheating partners out there who deserve to feel the full force of the ‘dump him’ mantra.


But I think we need to be open to the idea that healthy, happy relationships can exist after a breach of trust.

Alisha and Glenn on their wedding day. Image: Supplied.

I asked relationships and communication expert Megan Luscombe about the idea of being happier after something so painful. She said it was not only possible, but that many couples who repair after infidelity have vastly better relationships than they once did.


“Infidelity exposes areas that need to be built,” she said.

“Many people will come back to me years later and say, 'Thank god we repaired because we’re the happiest we’ve ever been' – and they thank the infidelity for that.

“At the end of the day, if you can have an experience like that with your partner and know that both of you are flawed human beings who aren’t always going to be perfect, you deserve to have happiness, and extreme happiness after that.

“Because I think then you accept the real reality of love.”

As for my husband and I, our crisis let us explore each other’s hearts in a way that we might never otherwise have done – and let me assure you, the reality of love is much more fulfilling and satisfying than any 'happily ever after' narrative presented to us on a reality TV show.

Alisha Aitken-Radburn is an author, influencer and media personality. She works in advocacy in the community services sector in Western Australia. You can read more about her experience with both infidelity and reality TV in her first book, The Villain Edit (Allen&Unwin), available in all good bookstores.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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