My Story is pretty long. After all, I was married for 37 years, so this is a story that cannot be told in one sitting. It will take me this whole blog to share my story completely, which is also why I am writing a book about it.
The focus of this blog is not about my ex-husband necessarily. It’s more about his betrayal and my subsequent response to it. I feel the need to tell you my story so you will feel that your own story is validated. And in helping others, it also helps me too. Over the past few years I have learned that most women experience the same events, in what feels like they are all living in the same story, as if it were some sort of script that was written for them by their cheating spouse. That is not to say that your story isn’t important, or devastating, or unique. It is. What happened to you matters deeply. But most of us become aware over time that our personal, private experiences are played out over and over again, in hundreds of stories, with hundreds of wives, just like us. It is as if our husbands borrowed the Guide to Cheating 101 from another cheating husband. They read and carried out a playbook that none of us wives knew existed. So we end up navigating a scripted alternate universe that we did not even know existed. The effects of this is confusing and devastating. So I tell my story here to help you know that you are not alone! Sadly, this plays out the same way, far too often, all over the world, in every country. And the problem is getting worse, not better!
This is not the way I thought my life would turn out. I married “my person” in the Mesa Arizona temple in January of 1979. It wasn’t one of those fireworks , fairies, and unicorns kinds of relationship. This felt real. It was solid. I felt grounded and respected. He was my best friend. We could talk to each other for hours and hours about anything without feeling any passage of time. There was a solid connection between us in every way. The connection was mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical. I wanted to be with him, always. I thought he wanted me as much as I wanted him. Maybe in the beginning he did. I will never know for sure now.
So I agreed to marry him. It felt right. Everything finally felt right in my life. I knew he was not like anyone else I had ever dated. First of all, my parents did not like him. Since my parents had been less than parental, I felt that was also a badge of honor and a check mark in the positive column. I wanted no one that was even remotely like either of my parents. I had vetted him throughly to make sure he was not abusive in any way. His parents were stellar human beings. I liked to joke that he was raised by Ozzie and Harriet Nelson. I was raised by Mommy Dearest. I watched him carefully. I knew what I wanted. I had a pros and cons list, and so for the 18 months I knew him I was with him every free waking minute that I had, checking his actions against that list. Nothing about him, nothing in his character would ever indicate what would eventually to happen to me. I prayed about it and got the “all clear” from Heavenly Father and just to make it 100% certain I was making the right decisions, his deceased mother appeared to my mother in a dream telling her that she had hand-picked me for her son to help him, and to be with him, throughout his life. She told my mother that she had been allowed to do this because of her desire to make sure he would be ok after having to lose her at such a young age. It was all so perfect.
We were married for 37 years. I thought we had made it. The golden years of our lives were supposed to be spent traveling, serving missions for the church, and spoiling our grandchildren. I could hardly wait to begin this chapter of our lives! I felt like I had earned it. Little did I know all of that was about to be destroyed. He not only set the house of our marriage and family on fire, he burned it to the ground, and then tried to set the ashes on fire too.
Like all married couples we had our ups and downs. We fought sometimes. We disagreed. But mostly, we just lived our lives, together. We raise 3 beautiful children together who are pillars of society. They are accomplished and really good people. I kept an immaculate house and learned the finer arts of homemaking. I was a gourmet cook, an expert seamstress, I learned to decorate our house, arrange flowers, cut his hair, and a lengthy list of other skills, all to save him money and to make me a better wife and mother. I supported him through years and years of countless job and career changes and, of course, church leadership positions. I stayed home while he went to meetings all day Sunday, after being gone out-of-town all week for work. It was a thankless job, but I wanted to support him in being a righteous priesthood holder. I made him look good! He had every reason to be faithful to me, and no real reasons to destroy his family. Just like me, most of you will be bewildered because your lives, marriages, and families will be, mostly, normal too. You. like me, will have no reason to suspect infidelity is in your future. This will come at you from out of the blue, and you will, most likely, not suspect anything was wrong. I didn’t deserve the 18 wheeler of infidelity that was careening towards me a break-neck speed. And neither did you!
My husband could be a somewhat controlling personality. He liked to have things “just so” and I was happy to accommodate him. I was a bit of a perfectionist myself, so I was a willing accomplice to his OCD tendencies. Years later he would be diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder, but I didn’t know this at the time. I put up with his demanding personality until he started to terrorize me with it. He never yelled at me, and he was hardly ever overtly mean. When he was mean, he bushed it off as “just joking.” If I couldn’t take the joke then I was labeled “too sensitive” and I bought into his excuses to mistreat me. So I never suspected he was abusing me. It turns out there are multiple layers to abuse. Emotional abuse is one that is difficult to see because it can be so easily explained away. It is also known as gaslighting or crazy making.
About 20 years into our marriage, his “helpful suggestions” for self-improvement became, well, demands. If I did not comply with his “just so” suggestions I would have to face looks of disdain, eye-rolling, exaggerated sighing, and harsh criticism, just for starters. These were often accompanied by the silent treatment and ignoring, both of which are devastating to someone who craved affection and love. His love and concern for me was replaced with contempt. It was palpable and I could feel it radiating off of him like the hot sun makes the pavement burn. So I just worked harder to please him, at first. The sarcasm is what killed me the most. I just wasn’t cut out for being cut down to my roots. But the more he cut me down, the faster I grew back, and I just tried that much harder. I played the classic empath to his narcissism. The harder I tried the worse it became, or so it seemed to me. I felt like he was constantly moving the goal post and I was forever falling short of his expectations to finally win his approval. Eventually, he didn’t even try to hide the mean side of his personality anymore. I stopped feeling loved and cared for. My life with him had taken a turn for the worse, but I could not say exactly when or how it happened. It was so gradual and over time, that I was like the proverbial frog being boiled in a pot of water. The heat had been turned up, but I did not notice it. I had been lulled into a false sense of security that was literally cooking me from the inside out. Only in retrospect could I piece the timeline together with the help of my therapist.
One day, I just had enough. I remember the day it happened very clearly. We were in the bedroom and I was listening to him, again, justifying his poor behavior towards me under the guise of trying to make me a better person and I thought to myself, “you know, I am a really good person already, an excellent wife and mother, and I just do not deserve to be treated like this anymore.” That day, there was a shift in me. I started focusing on my talents, my wants, my goals, and my desires. He no longer deserved my undivided attention and devotion. He had not earned it. He only demanded it and expected me to comply. But I just couldn’t do it anymore. Oh, I still was an awesome wife and mother. I still did all the things I had been doing, only now, I began to put me first. He didn’t like it very much. This “new” me that stood up to him, that told him where he could put his sarcasm and criticism, wasn’t very well received. I didn’t care. I felt I had done most of the heavy lifting in the relationship from the beginning, now I felt it was his turn to be supportive of me. He was traveling with work and was gone most of the week, while I stayed home and took care of the children and the house. I could pull off this new persona because he wasn’t really there to see it day in and day out. It turns out, he wouldn’t even notice it for a long time, until he realized that he was no longer the center of my universe. Unsurprisingly, the changes in him began about the same time that he started cheating on me. He has never come clean about his cheating and probably never will, but my therapist and I pieced together the events of our lives and it is now very clear to me. Our children noticed these changes as well, and we all think this is when his cheating began. Yes, for half our marriage, at least, he was having affairs with other women. I’d like to think they were just emotional affairs at first. My husband was always the flirty type and I think his flirting was starting to pay off for him. He was always charming, handsome, and women fell all over themselves to impress him. He had grown careless in what was appropriate behavior towards other women, and what was not. It hurt me. I told him how it made me feel, but he didn’t stop. I was expected to just trust him. The changes in his behavior made it nearly irrefutable that he was cheating on me for a long time, but I will never know for sure. I don’t think he even knows exactly when he crossed the line, because for him, there appeared to be no line.
From this point on the new me now carried, and cared for, myself first instead. This is how it always should have been, but I wasn’t cognitively aware of the need for it back then. All I knew is I wanted more out of my life and I was going to go after it, with gusto! I had committed twenty years of my life to being the dutiful wife and doting mother, sacrificing everything I was, or could be, to others, it was past time for some “Me time.”
The first thing I started to do was to pray and ask Heavenly Father to help me to become more of a gospel scholar. I wanted to know the gospel like I knew my own mind. I wanted it to be a part of me. I wanted to learn. I was ready and I was hungry.It was one of my deepest desires. It was not long until my prayers were answered and I was called into the Bishop’s office. He asked me if I had ever thought about teaching Early Morning Seminary? Nope, that certainly had not crossed my mind, but it felt like an answer to my prayers. They always say, “be careful what you pray for, you just might get it.” That certainly applied here. The Bishop asked my husband if he could support me in such an endeavor. He said he would. And at first he did. He would be the one to find a chat group to help me with lesson ideas made up of Seminary Teachers from all over the country. This chat group proved to be my saving grace. I adored these teachers and marveled at their knowledge of the gospel. I wanted to be just like them! I was so grateful he found them for me! So, with an army of gospel scholars behind me, I threw myself into my new appointment. I studied the scriptures and lesson materials for 4 hours everyday, Sunday through Thursday. I spent another 1-2 hours coming up with cool handouts, object lessons, and materials to make the lessons interesting and memorable. I thrived in this environment, off and on, over the next 8 years. And I changed, a lot. How could I not? I became the gospel scholar that I so much wanted to be. But I left my husband behind in the dust, spiritually speaking. He came to resent my new-found knowledge and love for the scriptures. So much so that he refused to even discuss gospel topics with me. Not only would he not discuss them with me, but he ridiculed me into not talking about it at all, to anyone. All he had to do was tell anyone who was conversing with me, that they did not want to bring up the scriptures at all because I would never shut up about it. This ridiculing attitude also happened in front of our children. He knew how to shut me up about spiritual matters by accusing me of being “too good for anyone else.” So something we should have shared became a stick for him to beat me with. I was heartbroken that he would not engage in something that meant so much to me. This was not to be my last heartbreak of the soul crushing kind, but it was one of the worst. It was only one…of many. And this change in his attitude was long before I ever knew about the affairs. It turned out that I was about to learn just how much my ex-husband resented me and refused to be in a supporting role when I was the star of the show.
In the next 18 years I was to go on to discover that I could do great things, awesome things, that did not involve homemaking skills. I learned that I was smart and a great communicator of ideas. I discovered that I was a great organizer and a bit of a troublemaker as well. I could get large groups of people to follow me. All of these new skills shocked and thrilled me at the same time. I would learn through a series of events that I care a great deal about our nation’s failing education system. I would discover charter schools and enroll our children in them. I volunteered for a board of director position in a charter school and would re-write the policies and procedures manual. Later, I would try start my own charter school in Utah, only to discover that the current laws would only allow for 8 charter schools and the intent of the State School Board was to shut those schools down and allow no new ones to be created. I said, “Over my dead body.” So I set out, with a team of 12 mothers, to change the law, create a new charter school, and organize a state support organization to help promote new charter school creation in the State of Utah. All of these were huge undertakings by themselves, but together, it was a monumental task! I did things I did not know I could. I was constantly surprising myself by my own passion and abilities. I was taking on the government and I was winning! You would think your spouse would be proud of you under such circumstances? He wasn’t. He resented it, and me. This became very clear when we learned we were moving and I had to turn all of my hard work over to a successor. We had planned to have a business dinner with our spouses to go over the details of the handover. He didn’t want to go. In fact, he threw a big fit about it and refused to come, until I pointed out to him how many of these dinners I had endured for him! It was a real eye opener for me. It was not the first time I felt my life was not what I thought it should have been. I felt like a different set of rule applied to me that did not apply to him. I began to be aware, that on some deeper level, that we were not really equals after all, and that I was playing a game with a different set of dice than he was. He made up the game and the rules and I had no say so or control over my own life. In my mind, I thought we were equals in a partnership where we supported each other’s aspirations and dreams. Up until now I had been doing all the supporting so when it came time for my turn I thought he would willingly do the same for me. Not so. It was all one-sided. It had always been one-sided, I just didn’t know it. All I ever wanted was for him to be proud of me and to approve of me. This need for his approval would almost cost me my life.
Over the next decade my passions would carry me into the world of politics. I had a taste of working with the legislature to change laws, and I liked it. When we moved to Florida in 2011 it was the perfect time for me to further explore the political process. My husband was traveling with his job 90% of the time. He left me home all week as an empty nester with nothing to do but feel lonely about being so far from home. So I channeled my loneliness into politics. I found a group of people who believed the same as I did and, just like that, I had a new tribe. I joined every group they were in and I volunteered to put my new-found organizing skills to work. I became a leader within the Conservative Tea Party movement in Florida. I was busy every night of the week doing good things, and I was careful not to be gone more than was necessary when my husband was home on the weekends. Again, I tried to share my passions with him, but all he did was ridicule me and make fun of me for being so passionate. I felt so let down. It wasn’t supposed to be like this, I knew it, and I was pretty sure he knew it too. Interests and passions were only something he was allowed to have. It didn’t seem fair to me and I resented it. But rather than give up my passions, I just sent them underground. I just stopped sharing things that were important to me with him. I had to live two separate lives. One life was happy, exciting, and filled with friends and events, the other was the dutiful wife I still pretended to be on the weekends. The wife who listened to him drone on about his week and his work for hours. The wife who he never asked about how she was doing. Even the conversations he had with me were terribly one-sided.
Up until this point, my life was mostly satisfactory, I had everything I could want, except for his consistent approval. That approval would always elude me, but I kept trying, and failing. Our relationship wasn’t perfect, but who’s is? We had problems just like anyone else, but nothing earth shattering. The worst thing that happened to us was a series of job losses. Each job would cause him to be more and more moody and it would cause me to become more and more anxious. But I became an expert in moving our family. He had stayed in the same job for nearly 20 years and then all of a sudden, he was losing his job every two years or so. We were moving all over the country and it was exhausting. All in all, we moved 19 times in our 37 years of marriage. I felt like if I could handle that kind of stress , I could pretty much handle anything that was thrown at me, or so I thought.
That was 9 years ago, the beginning of the end.
We were getting to the point in our lives together that I began to think that “we have arrived.” Our youngest was a senior in high school. Our first grandchild had just been born. We had just moved back to Utah from Long Island, New York. We bought a beautiful new home in a new subdivision, and my husband was made the Bishop of our brand new Ward. I took in a huge sign of relief as I fell comfortably again into my supporting role. I didn’t mind it too much this time. I was tired of moving and I was ready for a break from anything more exciting than what to have for dinner. I was the Bishop’s Wife, a role that had challenges for me all on its own. I didn’t like the pedestal I was on, but I accepted it with as much grace as I could. I would be fine. As long as he didn’t lose another job, I would be fine. I was tired of moving and the calling of Bishop was for at least 5 years, that all by itself felt like stability. I felt that maybe this calling would finally allow us to plant some roots and stay put for a while. And I also hoped it would refine him and make him more kind, patient, and loving towards me and our children. It did not.
In November of 2009, unknown to me, our son, age 21, caught his father in a compromising situation as he watched him through the basement window. Can you imagine what it must be like to catch your own father masturbating in front of a computer screen? It makes me wretch when I think about it. Our son told his oldest sister, age 28, and together they confronted their dad. He was having an online affair. They insisted that he tell me. He said he would, but he never did.
In January of 2010 they confronted him again. He still would not tell me. Our anniversary was in January, on the 23rd. Oblivious to any of this going on, I began to talk to my oldest daughter about making a plan to surprise my husband with an overnight getaway to celebrate our anniversary. She encouraged me to do it. She was almost too encouraging, bordering on insistent. So I went ahead with the plans and booked a romantic getaway at a fancy hotel in Salt Lake City called the Anniversary Inn. It was one of those places with themed suites with a hot tub in every room. I also made reservations at an upscale restaurant in downtown Salt Lake called The Roof. Then I packed an overnight bag for both of us, put it in the car, and blissfully headed to Fort Union to retrieve my husband. I was pleased with myself for doing something so bold on the spur of the moment. I thought he would be flattered by the gesture. In order to surprise him, I picked him up at work without telling him I was coming. He was furious! He almost yelled at me for “doing this to him without any warning.” I ended up in tears in the bathroom of our hotel room. Tears he never saw. Nothing about that night was fun or romantic for me. He wasn’t present at all. But I sucked it up and pretended like I everything was perfect, just like I always did. After all, he worked so hard for us, how could I possible complain about anything? I had everything I ever wanted, except an attentive, caring, and loving husband.
It turned out that “work“ demanded his attention the whole time we were on our romantic get away. I had to put up with it, he said, “because I was the one who surprised him so he couldn’t just drop his work responsibilities.” This was something I had not anticipated. We managed to have lovely, romantic dinner, complete with piano music. The view was spectacular from our table next to the window, but I am sure he didn’t notice, he was on his phone the whole time. Like the chump I was, I planned a romantic sexual encounter, including sparkling cider, a hot tub with bubbles and rose petals, and he was on his phone constantly, before, and after. We watched a romantic movie on the bed, in the nude, he was on his phone. In the morning he woke up early, and when I awoke, he was on his phone…again. It completely killed any romantic mood I was in. I spent over $500 for him to be on his phone next to me, and a million miles away in his mind and heart. We could have done that at home. I was disappointed. No, I was crushed! He seemed like he never had anything left for me. I pretty much felt like I came last on his list of things that were important to him and this weekend proved that with no more doubts left in my mind. I knew one thing for certain, I did not matter that much to him. It turns out I was competing with someone else that I didn’t even know about. I was angry and confused. It is humiliating to not know your husband is having an affair.
I needed some clarity. Something was wrong. I knew it in my gut. So I went to the temple to get answers. Everything seemed so perfect on the surface. Why do I feel like I am about to be kicked in the stomach. It is that feeling of foreboding your get just before something catastrophic happens. I just couldn’t put my finger on it. The Lord has always been merciful to me by answering when I asked a direct question; “What is wrong with my husband?”
Within the week he had lost yet another job. I thought I had my answer. These job losses were starting to get old and I could not understand what was causing them. All that angst seemed to be a premonition of an impending job loss, which is devastating enough. I was starting to resent the constant moving and job changes. This was to be 5th one in 10 years. But the real answer to my question in the temple came a few weeks later when my daughter sat me down for a little mother-daughter chat.
“Dad is having an online affair with another woman. “ Shock. I think I went into shock immediately. I was having an out-of-body experience. Everything was speeding past me, and in slow motion, all at the same time. I could hear my daughters words. I could see the hurt on her face at having to tell me this. But I felt as if I was not in my own body. I was completely disconnected from myself as my whole world shattered around me.
Over the next 9 years I would learn that he would have emotional and sexual encounters with 31 different women, at least that how many I knew about…
This is my journey to healing from Betrayal Trauma…
Be Strong, Stay Sweet!
The Cupcake Warrior