Recovering from infidelity is one of the most difficult challenges any marriage will face. Ironically, even though I didn’t cheat, I felt an incredible amount of embarrassment about the situation. I felt like a failure. I was ashamed. I was not coping well. Most of all, I didn’t want anybody to know. Through my own recovery journey, I have learned to deal with emotions like this, but doing so took a long time. For example, it took months of reflection and asking “Why am I still ashamed to tell people when I know for a fact that it’s over?”
Some of you might relate to this: I actually had an easier time telling strangers than family, friends, and co-workers. Strangers or distant acquaintances worked for me because they didn’t know me, so I didn’t feel like they were going to judge me. And you know what? Those acquaintances helped me with the embarrassment. In one case, I remember going to Denny’s right after learning about the affair, looking shocked and depressed. I told the waiter what had happened, and he was so sympathetic and made me not feel so alone (He got a good tip!).
I didn’t tell any family at first because I thought things might work out between us, and I didn’t want family in our business. But when he kept on cheating, I said that’s it and told his immediate family and mine. I did that for two reasons. First, I felt that telling family would help me accept that our marriage was finally over. Second, I was starving for someone to talk to about it.
My husband didn’t want me to share the fact that he cheated with anyone (very common). I think he was embarrassed by his behavior and what other people’s reactions would be when they found out. And I catered to his wishes for a long time. Now, I wish I hadn’t done that.
Strangely enough, telling my extended family was tougher than telling immediate family, because they thought highly of me and my accomplishments, and in a way I felt that having my marriage end I was letting them down. In fact, telling my Dad was really hard. See Telling parents about the affair for that story. As for my friends, I told each one in my own time and in my own way, and they’ve been very supportive. Over all, though, the hardest thing was telling co-workers. I had built a good reputation at my job, and I didn’t want it to all go down the drain because I was now “the woman with the cheating husband.”
If you are feeling embarrassed by the adultery within your marriage, you are not alone. There are several emotions and ideas that you really have to work through as you learn to cope with infidelity, and embarrassment is one of those emotions. Coping with the embarrassment of the affair was a big part of my recovery journey.
To help you, let me tell you what happened once I started being more vocal about the affair.
1. I realized that there is a huge part of the population that has dealt with affairs (both cheating on their partners and being cheated on). Each time I opened up, I heard another story, and each time I heard another story, I thought, “Oh, I am not so alone.”
2. After I told people, I didn’t feel so much shame anymore. When it comes down to it, people are too obsessed with their own lives to obsess over yours. While they might tell other people about your husband’s affair, the subject does not become this big event like you imagined it would be. When I told my co-workers—the people I dreaded telling the most—they just responded with “Sorry to hear that.” and only mentioned it casually to other people.
3. The support you get is amazing. I promise you that you have family members and friends who have dealt with affairs. In fact, you may be surprised to find out just how many people you know who have. When you talk about your experience, you allow them to open up and share their story, which is a wonderful thing.
4. People are willing to help you, but if they don’t know what you’re going through, they can’t help. The more I started opening up, the more people started coming into my life to help me through how I was feeling.
5. Lastly, I realized that he cheated, not me, and that I had nothing to be ashamed of. It took me a long time to arrive at this conclusion, but I have.
Of course, you have to make your own decision about how you want to deal with opening up about the affair; what I’m describing comes from what I learned during my personal two-year journey. You might be dealing with different attitudes and different situations based on your culture, religion, age, or other factors. But just know that you are not alone, and the embarrassment you imagine is not as bad as reality.