Q&A: Cheating husband and not knowing what to do

Latest post on Moxieville, notable because the stock photo I used for slide 6 made me laugh: 8 Ways To Make Mornings Easier (Do As I Say, Not As I Do)

And now a question from Jessica:

"I have a friend with a baby who is going through marital troubles and I was hoping you could post and ask for some support and advice for her.

She married her husband when she was 20 and they've been together for 15 years or so (she's mid-30s, but I forget her exact age because I'm bad like that). They had a baby last June after a couple of years of fertility treatments including an ectopic that required an emergency surgery. The pregnancy was high risk and very difficult, but they won the baby lottery, because their daughter is a delight. She's now a SAHM.

When she was several months pregnant, she discovered that he was having an affair with a co-worker. She has graphic evidence of this. She confronted him and he apologized and said he wanted to work on the marriage. They went to therapy a few times but they didn't click with their therapist and her health was a complication in scheduling and they stopped going. They both acknowledged things that both needed to work on, but his seemed to amount to alienation of affection and her deficiencies in being a model homemaker.

She's fairly isolated and has little support nearby, including someone to help care for the baby. He's also resistant to having "strangers" come help with the baby or help with the housework.

She'd been having some suspicions again and discovered today that he's been regularly texting the woman, pretty much continally throughout. She doesn't have any knowledge of whether anything else is going on.

She's now not sure what to do. She still loves him and was willing to forgive his transgression because he seemed genuinely remorseful at the time. He's a terrific father. She doesn't know how to start fixing her marriage. She's terrified of what she would do if the marriage ends. She doesn't feel she's that employable, she doesn't know where she would go. She's struggling with depression, which isn't helped by the negative messages he keeps giving her. And she feels like a lot of this is her fault.

A complicating factor is that she's not a US citizen, so she doesn't know what problems that might cause to a divorce or custody. I'm hoping you'll post so she could see what advice and support people might offer up. She just has no idea what to do now."

Oh, your poor friend. She's got such a huge mix of horrible stuff: infertility, difficult pregnancy, first-time motherhood, being a SAHM suddenly, depression, infidelity, gaslighting, and immigration status worries.

(Note: I emailed Jessica back and found out that her friend is here legally and is legal to work in the US, she's just not a US citizen and her family lives in another country, so she couldn't take her daughter to visit them without the daughter's father's approval. This isn't actually a big deal, though, as any custody agreement and settlement addresses time spent visiting family and who has the child for which holidays, and Jessica's friend would have this permission written into the settlement along with a minimum number of trips to take the daughter to see her family per year anyway. It's basically just the "Who gets Christmas?" question but with an added twist of international travel.)

The first thing I need to say is that she is employable, and fear of not being able to support herself should not be the deciding factor in whether she stays or whether she goes. Let's all remember that I'd been a SAHM for 5 years and I found a job right away, and I bet there are other readers who have the same story. I have three friends, all who married in their late teens (and all to men who tried to control them and then cheated on them--are we sensing a pattern here?) and had no formal education, who found work based on their life experiences and are back in school (one finished school and is now an RN!) and are doing more than they ever thought they could. I know when you've been at home for awhile, wearing clothes covered in spit-up and thinking too much about diapers, that it feels like no one will hire you, but that's just not true. If you had a job before, you can find a job again. Your friend can, too.

The second thing I want to say is that no matter what happens with her marriage, your friend needs local support. She should make a concerted effort to meet people (baby groups are great for this because everyone wants to make friends) and cultivate friendships. Having local friends she can count on will make everything better. Everything. She doesn't have to be put together or have a perfect house or a perfectly napping child (in fact, it's probably easier to make friends if she's as disheveled as most of us were when we had infants*). She just has to get out there and keep giving out her mobile number and suggesting they meet for a "playdate."

And now to the elephant in the room. I, personallly, think her husband is a big lousy Gingrichian jackhole for cheating on his wife while she was pregnant. (Seriously, a real man doesn't do that.) But it's not my marriage, so I don't get to decide what she does about it. It's a huge red flag for me that he's continuing the emotional relationship with the women he broke his marriage vows with, as well as gaslighting your friend by making her feel like she's not adequate. It sounds like he's done with the marriage but wants to keep your friend in a subservient position so he can have things both ways. But again, it's your friend who needs to decide.

(I don't know if it'll be helpful to her to think about it in terms of aligned needs: Her need is to be in a marriage that's just her and him. If his need is truly to be in a relationship with someone else, or to be in a marriage with her but also have other relationships, then their needs are not aligned and they either have to figure out how to align their needs or end the marriage.)

What I do know is that for everyone I've talked to who actively participated in getting a divorce (including me), there was a point at which they knew. Before that point, it seemed scary and too difficult, even if they knew it was going to happen. Once they reached that point, though, staying became impossible and leaving was the only thing that made sense.

So your friend should work on improving her own life by making friends locally, and thinking about a strategic plan for going back to work (which she'll do eventually anyway). Whether she decides to continue in the marriage or not, these things will give her the backup she needs to make decisions out of strength, not out of fear and weakness.

You're a good friend, Jessica. Thanks for sticking with her.

Friends: Comments? Thoughts or advice or stories for Jessica's friend?



* I'm typing this in my ratty sweater that I was wearing yesterday when a new friend came over and hung out among the Legos and piled up papers. Apparently we all want to be friends with people who are interesting but not too together.