real life

'I was 27 when I found a list in my husband's wallet. That's when I learned about the affair.'

The author of this story is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons. The feature image used is a stock photo. Names have been changed for privacy reasons.

I will never know if my husband would have eventually cheated on me had my father’s death not been just eight months earlier. But I knew with total clarity, as I stood on the bustling Balinese road, with locals gathering, tourists helping to redirect traffic around him and my mum praying over my father’s dying body that I was a long way from home and help and that everything I knew about my life was going to be different. 

But what I didn’t know was that my husband would start an affair 10 months later, using my grief as a reason 'he didn’t know if he loved me anymore'.

It’s been said before but the loss of a parent rocks the axis on which you see the world. I was suddenly thrust into responsibility, physical, palpable grief and did I mention my firstborn child was only nine months old? It was a lot and at times I felt like I was drowning but in the name of honouring my father’s belief in me and to life, giving up just wasn’t an option. 

But as we headed into Christmas and approaching the first anniversary of his death, things were unravelling. My husband had a good old-fashioned case of 'mentionitis' (when you can't stop mentioning someone) about this primary school friend, Rachel, who he had reconnected with on Facebook. He was travelling a bit for work and had taken over running my family’s construction company and was now literally in my Dad’s chair, trying to keep the business afloat. So he was out of town a bit but when he was home he was distracted, distant and no longer looking at me in the same way. A good friend told me kindly that because of everything that had happened, it was understandable that I had, inevitably, neglected my marriage. I took that on the chin and I tried to reconnect. 

I wanted to make my marriage work and so I offered to have his family’s Christmas party at our house. He mentioned borrowing a long table from his friend Rachel who owned a deli just down the road. On one occasion when he was smelling remarkably fresh and on his way to the gym, he went to drop the table off that he had borrowed. Before I even knew what happened these words spewed out of my mouth: "What are you and your girlfriend going to do when you don’t have tables to give back?" I remember looking at him, sitting on the lounge, facing me and our eyes holding for a few seconds. He brushed me off. Shrugged and mumbled something about her "just being his friend".

Christmas Eve was when it all went down. We had a couple who were really good friends of ours who had been through it with us. We were at the shops picking up last-minute stuff and again, without knowing why or where it came from my mouth spewed the words to my friend: "I think he is having an affair." 

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She shut me down. "He would NEVER do that to you. He loves you. You guys have been under an enormous amount of stress this year. You need to get that idea out of your head." My friend had my back, but I also think it is vital to never disregard a women’s intuition. On an unconscious level, I knew something was up but had nothing but a feeling.

That night my family and friends went out on my parent’s boat to look at the Christmas lights. Again, he was present and driving the boat but, again, as emotionally distant as could be. But sadly, I was more accustomed to it now. It had become our normal. When we were all getting off the boat, grabbing bags, the wine and cheese and anything else we had taken on board, I had unintentionally grabbed his phone. 

I was inside with my friend and she was changing my son’s nappy when his phone beeped. I looked, thinking it was a friend wishing us a Merry Christmas. 

It was his friend, Rachel. "I’ve just finished work. What are you doing?" 

Without saying much I marched down to the boat and confronted him. I got so close to him; I saw his pupils dilate with fear when I showed him what I had. 

"You had better get into the car, right now and explain to me why the f**k, your 'friend' is messaging you on Christmas Eve. You’re a family man so the only place you would be going is home to put out carrots for the reindeer." I walked away and put my son in the car without saying much. 

When we got home, there was a wrestle of sorts as we both wanted the phone but he got it off me. I was screaming for some understanding but as was to become his MO and mantra for the next couple of weeks all I got was, "I don’t know what she’s on about. We are friends. Get that through your head". 

I remember saying to him on that night: "When I find out the truth, and I will, it’s a double lie and we’re done. If you tell me the truth, we have a chance, but when I find out the truth myself, we’re done, and another man is going to raise your son." Still, he denied. 

I stayed up most of the night while my husband went to sleep in the spare room. By about 4am, I knew I had to pull myself together, stop consuming cigarettes like they were a food group, have a shower and finish wrapping the Bob the Builder stuff for my son. I walked out of my room and lying on the bench was his wallet. 

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I heard a voice clearly say "look in his wallet". 

I did. And at the back, hidden in the compartment you would stash a condom was a list. No name but I soon realised it was what his 'friend' Rachel had handwritten and wanted for Christmas.

1. Walks on the beach 

2. Massages

3. Toys 

4. Sunset drinks 

5. Anal 

6. Can’t remember as I was thrown by the previous request. And then 10. (in capitals) LEAVE YOUR WIFE.

This was definitely a smoking gun. I marched into the spare room, reefed up the curtains and waved the list around asking him not so politely what the f**k I was to make of this. His reply, "I don’t know."

I was gutted. Like I had been kicked and running on an adrenaline high I didn’t know was possible. My son woke, and I put on a brave but completely manufactured face to him. I whispered to my mum and sister when they arrived that I was pretty sure he was having an affair. They were quiet. We unwrapped presents, mostly in silence with my fake sing-song voice punctuating the moment. 

Days later, I had an idea. I had her handwriting. What if one of my friends went to the deli where she worked and asked for a quote for a fake catering job and I could compare the writing? I asked my friend who, although a little fearful of getting too involved, attempted to do just that. I waited by my phone. Finally, she called me. "I couldn’t do it" she whispered into her phone. 

"Why not?" 

"Because as I went to walk in there, I saw him. He was in there, talking to her. And talking in a way that two people who know each other well do and like they needed to get their story straight." 

I was gutted. This was another smoking gun. 

Reading this you might think, is she dense? It’s as clear as day that he is cheating on her but please know that when the person you trust most in the world is telling you one thing, the universe is showing you another and on the back of enormous trauma and grief, I just wasn’t ready to break my family up. Yet. But I was getting there. I was 27 and had never contemplated being a single mother and divorced at 27. 

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I knew that I could possibly stay, have another child and give him another 10 years of my life but ultimately he could very well do it again after taking more of the prime real estate of my life. My thirties. Not to mention the loss of every hope I had for my future and possibly more children. Or, I could cut my losses and hope that I would fall in love again, have more children even, but that it would be with someone else. The shame you feel, even when the dissolution of your marriage isn’t all your fault, is real. I mean, I didn’t even know anyone who was divorced. Some of my friends hadn’t even married for the first time and my marriage was all but over. I had failed.

Mamamia’s award-winning podcast The Split discusses navigating separation and breaking up the family. Post continues below. 

The next day I literally sat at a crossroads. In front of me was Coles, my intended destination but if I turned left got on the freeway and went up to his office, maybe the phone records would tell me something. He was on the phone on New Year’s Eve and I needed to know if it was her. I turned left and arrived at the office unannounced. It was an open office, he saw me walk in, come over and without any theatrics, I started taking the folders that contained the phone bills. He asked what I was doing. I said "Nothing. Just taking these."

His phone beeped in his office. We both heard it and got to that phone as quickly as we could. It was Rachel.

"And when were you going to tell me," it said. To this day I think he broke up with her that morning and that was her response. I firmly but quietly got right in his ear: "We are going to go downstairs now, get in the car and call Rachel so I can hear everything". I could tell he was nervous. He was scared but did come downstairs. He called her with me in the car but quickly informed her that I was in the car. She hung up. I had had enough. You can only push someone so far and I was there. We were done. 

I not so politely told him to get out of my car. He did, and I drove like the crazy person that I felt like to my friend’s house. I dumped the folders and with a highlighter went through them. I could now see all the phone calls to her, one to the home phone followed by phone calls and texts to her number. I kept going until my friend took the highlighter out of my hand and gently told me that it was enough. I really did have all that I needed and it was decision time. 

I went home and my friend came with me. And I was straight back to the fight-or-flight mode that had been such a pattern of my life for 12 months now. I had the locks changed. I packed his bags. I asked my friend to call her. I needed answers. She did, politely and pretending to me, she asked if boundaries had been crossed. I watched my friend’s anxiety rash creep from her decolletage up her neck until her whole face was red. She put the phone down. "They’re f**king." I wanted to scream and throw a chair into the window. Proper lose it. But what was it going to do?

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When he did get home from work, his stuff was packed up outside and the locks had been changed. I met him at the door. I said it was over – the lies, our marriage and our family. I was done. I told him that I had spoken to Rachel, and I knew everything. He tried to tell me that they had just kissed. I knew this was another lie. 

"You aren’t 12 and this isn’t a school disco. You have done a lot more than kiss." I wasn’t as angry now. I was taking some control in what had felt like the most out-of-control situation I had ever been in.

I told him that I was not ever going to take a boy, our boy away from him. I lost my dad at 26, and I wasn’t in the business of taking my son from his. I said that now my hope for us was that one day, our boy will be grown up and we can get to a place where we can stand beside his footy field, together, cheering him on and that he knows he is loved by two people that once loved each other very much. But don’t anymore. 

That was and still is my hope for my son – that he knows he was born into love but sometimes life and the choices we make means not every relationship lasts forever. I didn’t know then the range of feelings that were ahead for me – the rage, the loneliness, the fear and the shame but also I didn’t know my strength. None of us do until we are tested. We have stood together at different events but it took me a long time to forgive him. Longer than I had hoped.  But I got there. 

I am now with the man of my dreams, my best friend and the father of my two youngest children. He loves me completely, and I him – the good, the bad and the ugly and I know he would never do anything to jeopardise us. I wouldn’t either.  He didn’t rescue me though. I had to do that for me first.  My ex made his choice, and that wasn’t me and our family and as hard as that was to understand I also know that because of my grief he had stopped believing in me and believing I would come back. Not physically but emotionally. 

I did, and I have come back. He just didn’t wait long enough to see that.

Feature Image: Getty.