This week we hear from Michelle* who split from her cheating husband last year, and is facing her first Christmas solo, after discovering her husband was having an affair, in one of the worst ways imaginable.
Welcome to our series, The Divorce Diaries. In our past instalments over the last year we’ve covered everything from the effect of lockdown on divorces to whether they’re contagious 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 and another who was quite literally ghosted by her own husband.
It reads like something straight out of the plot of Love, Actually:
Devoted wife – and doting mother of two – stumbles across some beautiful Christmas presents amongst her husband’s things a week before Christmas. Thrilled wife eagerly awaits Christmas Day. Wife finally opens her present, only to discover that those beautiful presents clearly went to someone else.
Stoic wife somehow holds herself together for Christmas, waiting for their children to go to her sister’s the following afternoon before confronting husband and asking just who the f*** he gave jewelry and lingerie to for Christmas.
“Emma Thompson was actually the first thought I had when I opened the present and it was a fluffy robe and slippers,” says Michelle.
Like Emma Thompson’s character in Love Actually – who cried along to the Joni Mitchell album her husband gave her, rather than the gawdy gold heart necklace she thought was coming her way but instead went to his secretary – Michelle too had assumed the gifts she’d found were for her. After all, they’d be a strange, or downright inappropriate gift for anyone else!
She’d found a beautiful Zoe & Morgan necklace (her favourite brand), along with black lingerie of some description – she hadn’t quite worked out what it was (or if her husband had got her sizing right) because it was so neatly folded like a piece of origami she worried she wouldn’t be able to put it back the way she found it.
So, when she opened the gift and discovered it was much different to what she thought she was getting, she felt a stab in her stomach.
“But then I thought, maybe this is just the nice mumsy present he was giving me to open in front of the kids,” she says, figuring he’d surprise her with the less G rated present once the kids had gone to bed.
And so, she spent the day with a knot in her stomach, wondering if the surprise she was going to get that night would be a gift, or just the knowledge that her husband was likely cheating on her.
She found herself watching him closely all day – was he acting at all strangely? Did he seem cagey amongst her family? Was he showing any signs that he may be feeling guilty? Was he checking his phone a lot? Being secretive?
After an already exhausting day – made all the more tiresome by spending it in knots worrying– Michelle got the kids to bed, cleaned up with her husband, then she jumped in the shower.
“I had such a long shower,” she says. “I kind of zoned out, thinking about everything. Y’know, it had been so many people all day, always around me.”
Finally, she had some time to just be alone with her thoughts.
She thought a lot about the fact that when she got out of the shower it would be the moment of truth – he’d either be there waiting with the gift, or not.
“I also thought a lot about the fact that my very first thought was that this was a sign he was cheating on me,” she says. “Really, my first thought should have been that there was no way he would have given me lingerie in front of the kids, and of course he’d give it to me later. But my gut immediately thought cheating.”
She wished she could stay in the shower forever, but she finally got out, padded around the house that was now dark, and found her husband, already asleep in bed.
“I wanted to wake him up by screaming at him, or throwing water or something on him,” she says. “I was so, so angry.”
But she didn’t want to wake the kids and have them remember Christmas day as the day their mum lost the plot at their dad. So, she slipped between the sheets and had the worst night’s sleep of her life.
It wasn’t until the kids left for the afternoon that she finally erupted.
“He tried to play dumb and pretend he didn’t know what I was talking about,” she says. “He denied the whole thing.”
But when Michelle said she was going to get her phone and call Zoe & Morgan and ask for a copy of the receipt, he caved and said he had brought a gift.
“Then he tried to pretend it was for me and he was planning on giving it to me that night,” she says. “So, I asked for it, but he said it was at his office because he didn’t want it in the house in case I found it. It was such bullshit! All he needed to do was wrap it and I wouldn’t know what it was!!! And he didn’t give a shit about me finding it when he left between his boxer shorts.”
So Michelle said she’d happily go get in the car with him and go to his workplace to pick it up.
“He was caught out. He’d already given the bloody thing to this other woman by then, but he must have thought he could just go buy another one if he could get away from me for an hour.”
As he stumbled over what to do, Michelle kept screaming at him to just get in the car and show her where the gift was.
“Then he made up this bullshit that he’d given it to his friend to give to his wife because he’d forgotten to get her anything. It was too late to buy something by then and he had something else he could give me, before replacing my proper present later. But that fell through when I asked him to call his friend on speakerphone and ask what his wife thought of the gift.”
Eventually, he must have realised that he was completely caught out and couldn’t worm his way out of the situation and confessed to what he’d done – sort of.
“The complete tosser tried to tell me that it was just a one-time thing, which made me explode,” she says. “Why would you buy a one-night stand ‘mistake’ a necklace and underwear?!?!”
Michelle threw him out of the house, only letting him back to their home when she took the kids off camping.
“I told the kids he’d had to suddenly go overseas for work, and because of MIQ he’d be stuck away for a while,” she says. “My parents thought I went a bit far doing that and keeping them from him, but he’s lucky he’s ever got to see them again after what he did to me.”
It’s now coming up on her first Christmas since the whole ugly debacle and Michelle is now about to spend her first Christmas single, with her kids and extended family – while her ex spends the holiday with his new girlfriend’s family. “I’d just like to note that no, it’s not the girl he bought the presents for,” she says. “Or the girl he dated after that and tried to introduce the kids to after a week of knowing her. This one he’s been seeing for a few months, as far as I know, and she seems to think she’s got herself a real catch.”
But, she’s still hopeful that better days are coming her way. “And he’s the one who’s lost everything,” she says. “He doesn’t get to be with his kids nearly every single day, and they’re the best kids ever.”
While she does wish everything had panned out differently for her kids, she says she learned an important lesson last Christmas. “I think I’ve learned to listen to my gut more,” she says. “There were signs that he was cheating on me for years and I didn’t wanna acknowledge it. I didn’t even pause and think about it, it’s like my subconscious just chose to ignore it. Now I won’t get into that situation again because I let myself think and feel things and question them. I’m much more reliant on listening to my gut.”
*Name has been changed
Do you have a story you’d like to share? Or, do you have any advice for Michelle? Share your thoughts, opinions and stories by writing to us at [email protected]