The Divorce Diaries: “My Husband Had an Affair With His Ex-Wife… I Can’t Decide Whether to Stay or Leave”

Welcome to our series, The Divorce Diaries: Today, we hear from a woman who found out her husband was cheating… with his ex-wife, and is now asking herself ‘Should I stay after he cheated?’ Divorce Coach Bridgette Jackson sees a huge number of clients who are in a similar boat, and has some words of wisdom for anyone who is weighing up whether to stay with their partner after an affair.

In our past instalments over the last year we’ve covered everything from when you’re most likely to divorce to whether they’re contagious to whether being on the contraceptive pill can effect your chances! and have now spoken to dozens of women – including one whose husband announced he was leaving her to have an open relationship with a 19-year-old, another who was quite literally ghosted by her own husband and one who discovered the real reason her husband divorced her was because he had a baby with her SISTER.

If you have a topic you’d like to discuss, share your thoughts, experience or advice about, drop a line to [email protected].

When Jacqui’s found out that her husband had been unfaithful, it wasn’t in a dramatic, fiery scene like she’d seen in the movies.

There was no ‘gotcha’ moment, where she discovered evidence of an affair, or a screaming match as she walked in on him with another woman.

Instead, it was a quiet, low-key conversation, which came after months of feeling like her marriage was unravelling. She knew something was wrong, they felt like they were drifting apart – but she couldn’t get things back on track.

So, after a week of feeling like they’d been ships in the night, she sat across from him at a very solemn dinner and almost whispered, “You’re leaving me, aren’t you.”

It didn’t come as too much of a surprise when he began to cry and said, “No, I don’t want our marriage to end. But I have something I have to tell you.”

Jacqui says she felt herself physically brace for the news, while she said, “You’ve been having an affair, haven’t you?”

There were more tears as he hung his head and said, “Yes. I’m so sorry, yes.”

“This is going to sound odd, but at first, that news came as a relief,” she says. “I can’t explain it, but it felt like I hadn’t done something wrong after all? I’d been asking to go to a therapist together for months – I’d been going myself and I felt like I was failing him and our marriage in some way. It’s sad, but it made me relieved that I wasn’t the one in the wrong, and I hadn’t been imagining things.”

But while the revelation that her husband was having an affair didn’t come as a complete sucker punch, the news of who the relationship was with, certainly did.

It was her husband’s ex-wife.

“She is the last person on the planet I thought he would have an affair with,” tells Jacqui. “The way he has talked about her, and the awful way she treated him – honestly, I thought he’d rather have sex with a porcupine than go back to her.”

Jacqui wanted to know all the details, immediately. But her husband thought it would be best to straight away see a therapist and get some help.

“I’d been asking to do that for months, so it felt a bit rich,” she says. “We made an appointment, but I said I’d only go if he told me everything that happened first.”

Her husband admitted he’d had sex with his ex-wife three times. The first was after her father’s funeral, which Jacqui’s husband went to without her.

“I didn’t think twice about encouraging him to go,” she says. “My husband lost his father when he was a teenager, which was when he was first with his ex-wife, so her father became his father. They were very close.”

Jacqui says she felt incredibly hurt and incredibly embarrassed by who her husband had an affair with. “It’s like she’s won in a way, y’know?” she says. “You can’t help it, but I think when you’re with someone who has been married before, a little bit of you wants to compare things to how they were with their first marriage. You want to be better. At times, this feels like she won, she was better.”

It’s been quite some time since the affair happened, and Jacqui and her husband are still in therapy. She agreed that they would give it a year to try to fix and if it can’t be mended, then they will talk about a divorce. Some days she thinks it will end in divorce, other days, she feels optimistic and wants to stay with him.

Sadly, as we discussed in last week’s Divorce Diary – where a Kiwi woman was in the shower when she discovered her husband was having an affair – cases of infidelity splitting up a marriage are all too common.

We know this through the share volume of cheating stories we’ve run as part of the Divorce Diaries (Among them was a woman whose husband cheated on her with her sister [and had a baby with her], another who caught sight of her husband having an affair in the background of one of influencer Simone Anderson’s Instagram stories, one who found out her husband was having an affair with a local celebrity, while another woman’s husband was having an affair with a 19-year-old, who he eventually left her for to start up an open relationship.)

So this week, we chatted to Divorce Coach Bridgette Jackson of Equal Exes about cheating in a marriage and if it is always a dealbreaker, or if there are ways to get over it and come out of it even stronger.

She says, to put it simply, it all comes down to who the couple are. “Each couple will have a different view on affairs,” she says. But seeking help early, can certainly help to get the relationship back on track – if it’s what both sides want (which won’t always be entirely clear in the aftermath of infidelity.

She does have some expert tips if you ever find yourself in this situation though. She says that if a couple do want to move forward together following an affair, some of the best ways to go about this are:

  1. The initial discovery of an affair usually triggers powerful emotions for both partners such as anger, betrayal, shame, depression, guilt or remorse. It is usually difficult at this time to think clearly enough to make long-term decisions. Consider the following:
    • Don’t make rash decisions
    • Give each other space
    • Seek support
    • Take your time
  2. Mending a broken marriage – recovering from an affair will be one of the most challenging chapters in someone’s life. This challenge will come with a lot of ambivalence and uncertainty. However, as the trust is being rebuilt, admitting guilt, learning how to forgive and reconcile struggles, can deepen and strengthen the love and affection we all desire. Consider these steps to promote healing:
    • Take some time 
    • Be accountable
    • Get help from different sources
    • Consult a marriage counsellor
    • Restore trust
  3. Moving forward – If both of you are committed to healing your relationship in spite of all the suffering and pain that might be present, the reward can be a new type of marriage that will continue to grow and likely exceed any of your previous expectations.

What can be of the most benefit though, says Bridgette, is having a conversation with your partner before an affair takes place about what that might actually look like in your relationship. It might sound awkward, but knowing exactly what your partner’s expectations, morals and fears are, can help you navigate these tricky waters later (or hopefully put you off having an affair entirely!)

“What is key when dating or in a relationship is to communicate and talk about what is important to you both,” she says. “Getting on the same page regarding the big issues is an important step.   I always recommend at the start of a new relationship, to have the conversation on a range of topics.  I recommend new couples look at our 50+ questions to ask each other at the start of their relationship.”

Do you have a story or thoughts to share? Email [email protected]

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