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I Caught My Husband in Bed With Another Woman. Here's What I Did

The one thing I didn't do was leave him. Here's why.

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illustration of couple image in frame ripped apart
Kiersten Essenpreis
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I was 18 when we started this fiery love affair 50 years ago in college. Seared into my memory are those days of passion with the heady backdrop of campus life. He was the cute guy on a 10-speed, who filled my mailbox with milkweed, quoted Nietzsche and wooed me with Yeats. Mental re-runs of those tapes have served as a compelling force to keep us together throughout some of the worst times of my life.

It’s hard to believe that I love my husband deeply and forever, this after walking in on him having sex with another woman — in our bed! This followed other infidelities I discovered over the years. There are stages in overcoming unfathomable heartbreak similar to the grief over a death; denial, anger, reassessment, acceptance and healing.

After years of therapy and witnessing my straying spouse become a truly different person, I am now stronger, smarter and forever changed. Though I have worked hard to forgive him for transgressions, I will never forget.

If I had discovered everything I know now, all at once, I probably would have fallen into a lasting, drowning depression. However, other forces were pushing us together and cooling my anger from betrayals, such as raising two young children, joint finances and my heart. Simply put, I never stopped loving this man.

My closest friends were incredulous and judgmental. How could I stay in the poisoned well of a marriage with a straying spouse? They told me: "Kick the bum out. You deserve better. He can’t get away with that." I was lucky my parents and siblings were so loving and supportive in my darkest times. My sisters called me every day to listen with love. My thinking about critics was this: It’s my life, not theirs, and I was determined not to break up my family.

He was a good provider, an involved father and very smart. We share cultural interests, and political opinions and make each other laugh. I didn’t see great alternatives. OKCupid? What a nightmare. It was very tough to deal with the awful images of him with other women, flashing in my mind’s hard drive. However, I was determined, as I knew the grass was not guaranteed greener on the other side.

After witnessing the split of many friends' marriages, I knew there were not many merry divorces. New partners often bring their own baggage, angry exes, children, cash flow problems and demons. One friend furiously stormed out of her long marriage when she found out her musician husband was having an affair. Two decades later, she laments she was too hasty and wishes she had persevered, however tough that process is after adultery. The sting of separation was particularly enhanced when her ex re-married and added three more children to his new family.

I’ve spent nearly all of my adult years with this blond boy on a bicycle, now a graying grandfather in his early 70s. I pushed through depression, helplessness, low self-esteem and the abandonment of some of my closest friends. I went through the darkest of tunnels and now there is light.

My mission was to restart our marriage. We did intensive couples counseling, individual therapy and moved to a new house. There were lots of fights, apologies and promises made and broken. On the brink of divorce more than once, we persevered through the anguish. Throughout it all, he vowed to forever be a faithful spouse and is noticeably a better man. With all our painful lessons of recovery, we have committed to watering our own grass and not searching for greener grass.

History also made a powerful case for the "til death do us part" vows. We built our life together, developed our businesses side by side and raised two successful children. Our family history is so intertwined that it’s almost impossible to remember whose stories are whose. When we page through our early scrapbooks that hold our archives, from our marriage certificate to the baby sonograms to a son’s wedding, we know that we are inexorably, forever, gratefully together.

While my mother and father did stay together until death did they part, my husband’s childhood was defined by his parents' divorce. He never got over it. That dark cloud was the excuse he gave himself to justify breaking his vows. I did not want that sadness repeated in our family.

When our adult children expressed their disgust at their father’s behavior, he finally seemed to understand that he would lose us all if he did not choose commitment over his fleeting pleasures with others. Their voices added to the magnetic forcefield pushing us together. They made it clear that grandpa was on probation, and would have to earn back his title as patriarch.

Of the many definitions of "the pursuit of happiness," the one I adhere to is that happiness is tied to the fulfillment gained through contributing to the greater good. I know that many marriages do need to end out of abuse, addiction and abandonment. In our case, while there were stages of abandonment and sexual addiction, we stayed together as a family for the benefit of all. Now well over 60, we have come to know that a marriage that is the foundation of a family is far more than the two lovers involved.

If I had left because the rejection was too humiliating to bear (which it often was), breaking up our marriage would be a punishment to myself and our children.

So, considering it all, I stayed. It has been very humbling, but I believe I am happier than I would have been alone. That is a very personal calculation. I hope that my story helps others consider that infidelity is not necessarily a mortal wound. You can focus on the positive aspects of reaching the "for better" part after surviving the "for worse."

Do YOU believe a marriage can survive an affair? Let us know in the comments below.

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