From Eyes Wide Shut, To A Heart Wide Open; The Aftermath of Infidelity

I took my husband’s faithfulness for granted. Not in the tone of dereliction usually attributed to taking something for granted, but in the vein of; he promised never to seek comfort in the arms of another woman, so he won’t. Throughout the years, no matter our difficulties, his faithfulness was the one thing I was always sure of.

I’d bet on my uneducated guess that the majority of us don’t think our spouse will be unfaithful. I’ll double down on my hunch that those who do think infidelity could occur in their marriage think they know how they’d react if their partner betrays them. And, I’ll let it ride with the inkling that there’s no way to know what you’d actually do unless it happens to you. Even then, your plan of action might be elusive, elastic and evolving at best.

If betrayed, it’s likely you would fall into one of these camps:

  1. Gutted and gone; the details of how and when to be worked out, but for all intents and purposes, GONE.
  2. Wounded but willing; to roll up your sleeves, pull the weeds, till the soil and try to reap a new harvest.
  3. Broken and blindsided; initially dumbfounded and possibly devoid of direction for a time, but in all probability, headed to #1 or #2 above.

My cabin was in camp number three. During couples counseling, while trying to work through the destruction and debris an affair leaves in its wake, our counselor asked me, “How did you miss it, Jodie? How did you not know about the affair?” It had happened about three years prior to us sitting across from her that day, and Erik had just told me about it a few weeks before. The question infuriated me and I nearly shouted my reply, “BECAUSE I TRUSTED HIM.” Full stop.

While I don’t accept any blame for my husband’s behavior, I do recognize my contribution to the vulnerability of our marriage. Both things are true. Erik worked in law enforcement for 20 years. And over those 20 years, I watched him slowly morph from the man I married into an entirely different one; one that I likely would never have married. His choice to have an affair with a co-worker served as prime proof of just how far from true-north he had traveled.

Ours had all the ups and downs that any marriage does but the ups were often overshadowed and the downs were sometimes compounded by the steep struggles that marriage and family life can become while trying to carve enough space in between them for a career in police work. I’m calling being married to a police officer strike one in our marriage, in any marriage.

Our nation’s police officers will on average die younger and suffer a higher divorce rate than their private sector counterparts. We need these women and men to protect and serve us but when they do, we often ignore the incredible levels of stress and strife their work creates for them. Even some of us who married them. We frequently point our fingers, scoff, and steel our eyes at police officers, forgetting about the line they lay their lives on every single day. Even some of us who love them. Their prolonged existence of sworn duty and embattlement can manifest as heavy, heavy weight on their marriages.

I long begrudged that changeling-inducing career for what it did to Erik and for its negative effects on our family. Through his neglect of family life in favor of his profession, combined with my hostility about that slight, I lost a large part of my husband to law enforcement long before I lost part of him to another woman. My unchecked resentment only made things worse. While I own my culpability in the diminishing of our marriage, I don’t condone what Erik did to risk its complete demise. Both things are true.

We were broken long before the affair occurred, and I tried everything I could think of to put us back together. Erik did too, short of agreeing to seek professional help together. I asked for couples counseling multiple times over the years, even pleaded on a few occasions. He refused to go. When I told him how unhappy I was, how unhappy I knew he was, and that I believed we needed outside help, he told me he knew where he was going wrong and how he could do better. That he wanted to do better and that he would. I too knew where I was going wrong but the difference was I knew we both needed help to do better.

Once I understood the less than desirable state of our marriage wasn’t likely to change, yet unwilling to abandon it, I started numbing myself to the sense of loss and loneliness I felt from an oftentimes unhappy and unfulfilling union. My friends were a powerful anesthetic and I spent lots of time with them to ward off the lonelies. I sought relief via shopping, spending, acquiring and placating myself with things I thought would bring me some lasting happy. I calmed by campaigning for a bigger house in a better neighborhood, thinking I’d find contentment there. I tried lessening my grief by lobbying for vacations we could never really afford in an effort to feel like a family who was going places instead of going only through the motions. I chose to ice Erik out in a way that left him unmoored and with unmet needs, in order to protect my heart from further isolation and farther reaching hurt. And he chose the condemning consolation of another woman. I’m calling all that strike two. On both of us.

When Erik finally told me about his infidelity, three years after the fact, it was because he was forced to. His indiscretion was on the brink of being covered by our local media. (If you’re new to our story and curious as to why I’m writing publicly about this taboo too often suffered through in silence, click here to read more). I was dumbfounded by his betrayal and couldn’t believe he’d committed that despicable act. I couldn’t fathom how he could’ve actually cheated. I couldn’t get it to compute.

I learned a long time ago that when people show you who they are, you should believe them. And someone capable of hurting me and our children in this demoralizing way wasn’t who Erik was. So what was I left to believe? I’d never found reason to be jealous or circumstance to be suspicious of. I never had cause to question his whereabouts or doubt him in the least. To this day, I still struggle with understanding how he could’ve risked our marriage that way.

In his admission, what I did come to understand is why people lie. People lie to protect themselves from enduring shame, loss of trust, and the severing of relationships due to their actions. But also, and maybe even more so, as a last-ditch effort to protect the people they love from the red-hot, searing hurt their misdeeds will cause if they turn from secrets into truths told. But those secrets and lies eat away at their keepers until they end up resembling a mere shadow of their former selves. And it’s really hard to be married to a shadow. The only togetherness to be found is on the bright and sunny days, and even then, that connection feels off.

Strike three never came hasn’t come for us. I’m learning to never say never anymore. We didn’t strike out swinging or looking because Erik didn’t leave me for her and I didn’t leave him because of her. We are still at the plate because his affair ended almost as quickly as it began and in torment over what he’d done, he chose to recommit to me and our children. And, we are still in the game because I still love him. Full stop.

The question I am asked most often about our too-public story is, “How did you do it, how did you get through it?” A better question to ask me would be, “How are you doing it, how are you getting through it?” Because I’m doing it but I’m not done and it still feels like the doing will be a constant for a long time to come.

How I was able to even begin to try to get through this was that in response to my repetitive probing and unrelenting search for understanding, each time Erik would tell me, wearily and in defeat, that he’d lost himself. He said he’d become arrogant, conceited, selfish and only concerned about what he wanted. He said he’d cut God out of the picture and stopped saving a seat for Him at the table. And that he’d wanted to be wanted again.

He didn’t point fingers or shirk any blame. He owned his mistake and the devastation it caused. He showed his deep and true love for me in the ways I needed to see it. He demonstrated extreme patience and complete acceptance of my multitude of erratic emotions. And he employed a hard-won humility I’ve not seen matched very often in the world. There hasn’t been one second since he told me of his transgression that he hasn’t shown me who he really is, who he was, before we both lost our way.

As the stun and temporary paralysis inflicted by Erik’s confession wore off, I became aware of what felt like an absolute certainty that I would stay, though I questioned why this was. I couldn’t explain or validate my decision or how unwavering it was beyond the twin facts that in spite of all the heartache, I still loved this man I married and he still loved me.

It was in reading the book Love Warrior not far into our recovery that I came to understand my decision, by recognizing something in myself. I am a warrior for love, and I will stop at nothing short of its complete and ultimate victory over all of the evils, including adultery. I will do my damndest for love. For me, love trumps all. Because of love, I knew I wasn’t going to leave, but I also didn’t know how I was going to stay. Both things were true.

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Erik helped show me how. He showed me replete remorse and utter regret. A deeply wounded spirit and a crestfallen countenance. A profound brokenness due to breaking me. A renewal in the belief that without reinstating God as the focal point of his life and the center of our marriage, we were doomed. The desire to repair, restart, regenerate and rejuvenate our union. And the willingness to seek the professional help we needed. He did everything necessary for me to stay before I even knew I needed it. He showed me who he is, and I believed him. And so, I began to stay.

We’re working hard to not take anymore strikes. Our stance is strong and our eyes are focused dead ahead on the redeeming power of love, not fixed on the perilous past. We are painstakingly and patiently persisting with the effort it takes to make it all the way home.

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20 thoughts on “From Eyes Wide Shut, To A Heart Wide Open; The Aftermath of Infidelity

  1. You continue to impress. I’m sure other readers are thinking the same thing. Having a similar experience, while binding, isn’t required to cause one to look internally at their own relationship. When it happened to me I was in a place of disbelief. I couldn’t understand how it happened. I thought everything was good – even knowing that I/we weren’t happy. It took many years for strike three to come, and it did unfortunately, but it wasn’t due to the infidelity as much as it was a result of not nuturing the gift.
    Thanks for another wonderful read. You guys are amazing!

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    1. Thank YOU, for reading! Funny, not funny that you and I have related more about this issue than any other over the last 25 years. Another blessing from sharing my story. I like your ever-after story and I’m going to like mine too. Thank you for the reminder that a gift not nurtured will cease to be a gift. Warrior on! Jodie Utter

      Blog Author at: https://utterimperfection.wordpress.com

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  2. You are an inspiring Love Warrior ❤

    So grateful for the power of your Love in the world.
    Beautiful, Courageous, Strong

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  3. Jodie, I am so happy you have wrote so much about your life trials. You are helping yourself like you have helped me and others, through your writing. You are an amazing person, and I’m so thankful others can see how amazing you truly are. I’m so sorry you went through such heartbreak, but glad you are doing okay now.

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  4. Your honesty is fantastic. And your willingness to own your own role in your marriage is what makes me hopeful that you’ll succeed going forward. It’s easy to just to be a victim. It’s hard to be a victim, forgive, and take responsibility for how to not have it happen again by working to make you BOTH happier. That takes major strength and courage.

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  5. I was married to a police Sgt. He was in charge of the evidence vault. One night he drove to the desert and killed himself. The IAB came to my house and told me he was dead. He was being investigated and they suspended him. He didn’t tell me that. He was taking money from the evidence vault and gambling with it. I didn’t know anything about it. The thing is he didn’t even tell me goodbye. He didn’t even call me to say goodbye. He fooled everyone. He was the nice and funny and fooled everyone. So you never know what your husband hides. I would never steal a dime. I hope everything works out for you.

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    1. Connie, I don’t know what to say about all that pain you must have endured. Except to say I hope you’re using it, every last bit of it. One of the things that helps me is the notion of ‘first the pain, then the rising.’ I hate that the pain has to come first, but I hope you’re rising right now. A friend gave me Brené Brown’s book Rising Strong, there were some good nuggets in there. Maybe you will like it to.

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  6. I just want to say thank you for sharing you and your story. I’m in that “treading water” place right now and your words are serving to be that life preserver I’ve been searching for. You might very well be my Glennon.
    P.s. Gray is my favorite color, too.

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    1. Mmmm. Thank you, for that. It’s the connection that does it, right? That helps us love and lift and support. One of my favorite quotes, that I might butcher right now but I’ll try, is that we can be the light house for others that are about to hit the same rocks we just did. I’m happy to be your lighthouse, it’s the good that can always eventually be mined from the not at all good. You’ll be on my mind, my fellow shade of gray.

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  7. I so appreciate your honest and openness. I relate to your story as I walk that similar path. I have not shared with many so I am thankful to read your words. I chose to stay as well and can’t explain it. It’s hard work everyday but we are doing it. Thank you

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    1. Thank you, for reading along and for connecting with me here. I’m so sorry for your pain, for the struggle I know you’ve had, and maybe are still having. Staying, it’s the hardest of hard work. I hear you in that. And of the quest to explain our choice to stay, to ourselves and to others, maybe we just need to give up the need to explain, and just go about the work our hearts have lead us to do. That takes enough energy as it is, yes? I wish we weren’t part of the same club, you and me. I wish we had different stories to tell. But, we can tell the rest of the story, we can take it from here and it can be a love story still. It can. I know it.

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  8. Oh, Jodie! You have done it again – spoken my heart so clearly, even when there’s not a clear thing to speak!! The ” both are/were true” statements… That is so what I felt/feel. The “because I love him and he loves me” too. It cannot be explained any better, yet to outsiders ( and sometimes even to my husband) it still doesn’t make sense. In God’s story it does though!
    Thank you again for sharing and caring!!
    Pray that our lives will calm down again and I can get back to my blog as well. We must speak if God’s grace!

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    1. Thank you, for reading and for connecting with me here. Somehow, when we hold pain up to pain it begins to lessen for both. Keep writing love, even if just to clear your head. Don’t stop. Tell your story and heal. You’re the only you this world has got and we need you.

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