Can you imagine this happening to you?
On a cold, wet, winter morning, Ashley, a New Jersey housewife, had just returned from the usual Saturday morning soccer practice with nine-year-old twins Melissa and Isabella. She’d settled the girls with steaming cups of hot chocolate in front of the TV before heading to the master bathroom for a shower. While she was in the shower, the home phone rang. The caller ID said it was Daddy calling. One of the twins answered it.
“Hi, Daddy,” the little girl said. But there was no response.
“Hello, Daddy, are you there?” She waited, but still no response. She could tell there was someone on the line… The voice seemed muffled. It sounded like her father’s voice, but Isabella couldn’t quite make out what was going on.
“Daddy! Can you hear me?” Although there were some vague sounds in the background, there wasn’t a clear response from her father. Not sure what to do, Isabella took the phone to her mother in the bathroom. “Mommy,” she said, “Daddy is on the phone, but I can’t make out what’s he’s saying.” Puzzled, Ashley took the phone. “Hey, Carlo? Are you there?” But it was the same thing. No clear response, just muffled voices… and a steady thump, thump, thumping noise.
The hairs stood up on the back of her neck.
As she made the chilling connection — the muffled voices, the vague moans, the steady thumping rhythm— the unmistakable sounds of two people making love. “Carlo!” she screamed desperately into the phone, praying against all odds that her suspicions were wrong. “Carlo, please answer me!” But all she could hear was the steady thumping sounds, increasing faster and faster, until she heard the one thing no wife should ever have to hear — the sound of her husband reaching climax in the arms of another woman.
In that instant, a waking nightmare began.
“From that moment,” she later told me, “It was as if someone had taken a shotgun and blown a hole through my life and shattered everything into a million pieces. I could hear the kids asking me, ‘Mommy, what’s wrong?’ but their voices seemed so far away. I wanted to answer them, but I couldn’t. I wanted to reassure them, but I couldn’t. I wanted to get up off the floor, but my legs
were jelly. I wanted to hang up the phone, but I couldn’t,” she said. “It was like watching a horrible car wreck and being unable to look away. I was glued to the phone. I was repulsed yet hypnotized by what I was hearing. I wanted to hear everything they were doing. I couldn’t have stopped listening even if my life depended on it.”
So, she listened…
…as they re-arranged clothes, made crude jokes, and shared silly laughs. She listened… as the man she had loved for 17 years told another woman how great she was, how she had just rocked his world, and how much he’d like to see her again. She listened… as the other woman agreed to see him again. She listened… as he started the truck. She listened… as he drove the other woman to her car. She listened… while they smooched and slobbered a good-bye kiss, and gave each other promises to keep in touch.
And that’s when she recalled the first wave of anger…
…when it dawned on her that he’d just cheated in his brand new truck! The same one they’d scraped up every dime to buy for him, while she and the girls made do with an 11-year-old minivan.
Like red-hot lava, the anger began to simmer in her stomach, as she patiently waited for the moment when he’d realize that his cell phone had pocket-dialed home, while he was having too good a time to notice.
She didn’t have to wait long. She could even sense the exact moment his mind made the connection as he picked up his phone and saw that it said CALL CONNECTED… HOME. After a long pause, he finally said “Hello?” to which she said, in a deathly cold voice, “Don’t even bother coming home, you lying son of a bitch!” Then, she hung up the phone.
Where Do You Go From Here?
The first few moments after the discovery of a partner’s betrayal are hard to describe. If you’ve never been there, no words can paint an accurate picture.
I’ve heard it likened to having an out-of-body experience. Some people have said they had a sensation of time slowing down; others talk about an overwhelming sense of grief. Some flew into a fit of rage, some threw up, and many can’t even remember what happened in the first few moments.
As with any unexpected crisis, after discovering infidelity, everyone reacts differently. But while the intensity and degree of the physical and emotional reaction varies, the one thing that everyone experiences… is an overwhelming sense of confusion.
Ashley, the New Jersey soccer mom, was no different.
Nothing in her life had prepared her to handle that kind of situation. And because she had no idea what to do, for the first three days, she didn’t do anything.
During those first three days…
…she remembers not being able to sleep, having no appetite, and feeling like she was in a waking nightmare — while her estranged husband called, texted, begged, and pleaded to be allowed to come home. She recalls putting on her game face for the twins, but realizing they could sense something going on between Mommy and Daddy. (Their dad had never slept away from home before.) By around the third exhausting day of not knowing what to do, Ashley did what so many in her shoes have done; she turned to the Internet for help. After about three hours of searching and researching, she came across a recommendation about my website. And, in her words, “What I read on your site helped restore my sanity.” It took her three more days before she worked up the courage to make an appointment, so by the time I first spoke to her, it had been a little over a week since the day of discovery.
She had so many questions… and very few answers.
Although she didn’t know it at the time, she had already begun the process of recovery, because seeking guidance when you’re lost is usually the best way to begin. What follows next is a collection of my answers, advice, and insights for some of the most common questions that Ashley and others in your situation have asked about. What to do (as well as what not to do) in the first thirty days following the discovery of a partner’s affair.
MY STATEMENT OF INTENT: Keep in mind that this is general information about typical situations and scenarios encountered during the first 30 days after discovery. My opinions and suggestions should, in no way, replace your own judgment or the advice of a medical professional. The most I can do is share with you my perspective and suggestions, to lay the groundwork for successfully navigating through this difficult time.
Notice: When it comes to dealing with the aftermath of a crisis, there are no exact formulas, no perfect recipes, and no one right way. Instead, I present guidelines and pointers to help you find your own way back to normal in as few steps as possible.
To help you avoid being overwhelmed, and to make it as easy to digest as possible, I will break it down into two stages: