Welcome to our series, The Divorce Diaries. Today we talk to Rachel*, who had two young children at home when she began to suspect that her husband was having an affair. But when she discovered the truth, the biggest surprise was who he was having the affair with…
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.
Rachel knew something wasn’t quite right in her marriage.
A lot had changed in the last few years, particularly since she’d become a full-time stay-a-home mum – something that seemed to have happened quite by accident.
When their first son was born she’d headed back to work after six months, she’d been eager to get back into a routine and spend more time talking to adults. They’d only intended on having one child, but when their son was 18 months, Rachel discovered she was pregnant again.
While it admittedly took her a little to warm to the idea, her husband was instantly thrilled. He mused about whether this time he should be the one to take parental leave.
But six months later he got a rather large promotion and they decided it made much more sense for Rachel to stay home with the baby – who, this time round, they decided to wait to find out the sex of.
It’d been a challenging pregnancy, so Richard – her husband – encouraged Rachel to take the last six weeks off her stressful job, so she did, and also took her son out of daycare.
“I think then I realised then what I was missing out on – there were so many little milestones and moments I was missing. And, he was just so fun to be around.”
So, in a complete turnaround, a month before the baby arrived – a little girl this time – Rachel told her husband she didn’t want to go back to work. Not in six months, maybe not even in six years. She had earned good money, but her husband earned far more, so she knew they could afford it.
“He was… surprised, I think. Really surprised,” remembers Rachel. “I’d always been really career focused. I had a very corporate job. That was one of the funny struggles when I had a baby – I had nothing to wear! I had no sensible clothes, just things that needed to be ironed or dry cleaned and all my shoes had a heel.”
“My job had been so fulfilling, but suddenly, it just wasn’t anymore. Being a mum was fulfilling and I hadn’t expected that to be the case for me.”
Her husband, Richard, agreed that if it was what she wanted, she should stay home, but he also didn’t think it would last long.
“I know he expected I would change my mind. He said so. And he said so to all our friends and family. He thought within the year I’d be back.”
But Rachel never had an urge to return, and sold or donated her wardrobe and replaced it with mostly leisure wear.
“In hindsight, yes, I can see that I changed a lot in a myriad of different ways,” she tells. “The way I dressed and the things I thought were important changed. We used to go on these extravagant holidays or buy things, sometimes I think to impress other people, more than for actual enjoyment for ourselves – well, for me anyway.”
Rachel figured it was part of getting older too – and although Richard was seven years older, he’d surely want a bit more of a quieter, simpler life.
But, while Rachel’s outlook had changed, Richard hadn’t. He still liked going to the newest bars, the most expensive restaurants – but now he mostly went with colleagues or friends.
Rachel was fine with that – she’d always been independent – but what she wasn’t fine with, was this slow, creeping feeling that things weren’t entirely honest between them. It was one thing to have quite separate lives, but another to have quite a secretive separate life.
“He’d tell me about the stuff he was up to and who he was with, and send pics to me, or try to Facetime me from bars,” she says.
But then he stopped. He was still going to bars – he just wasn’t telling her much about it, or was hazy about where he was going or where he’d been. He started saying he was going to the gym a lot.
“One day he messaged to say he was going to the gym so he’d be late, but he’d already left early that morning to go to the gym.”
Rachel confronted him about it and he said he’d been stressed about work, so going to the gym helped him zone out. And he didn’t call her anymore when he was out at restaurants or bars, because it seemed to annoy her.
But Rachel wasn’t satisfied – she knew something was going on. She’d noticed all the signs that people talk about when someone is cheating. In particular, how cagey he was about his phone. One day they were driving and got a bit lost – she’d left her phone at home by accident, so she grabbed his and noticed that he’d changed his pin code. He said it was because their son had learned it and kept messing around on it.
She wasn’t buying it, so she decided to start digging around and find out for sure herself.
“One day he messaged to say he was going to the gym so he’d be late, but he’d already left early that morning to go to the gym.”
One early Friday evening when he told her he had a client thing on and not to wait up for him – not quite sure what she was doing – she bundled the kids in the back seat, treated them to the drive through for dinner and parked up near her husband’s work. To her surprise, just after 5.30, his car bolted out through the exit.
Feeling like she was in a movie, she followed him, managing to keep up with him until they reached an upmarket suburb where he pulled over and picked up his phone. A few minutes later, she saw the door to one of the homes open, and her husband restarted his car.
She looked back at the house as a woman had her back to the street, obviously locking the door behind her. She had a beautiful camel trench coat on – which Rachel could recognise the designer of – under which she obviously had some sort of sparkly short dress on, showing long, very tanned legs and stiletto shoes.
The woman turned around and Rachel caught her breath. She knew this woman. First of all she assumed it was because they were friends? Went to school together? Worked together?
Then she placed her.
“My husband was having a f***ing affair with a B-list celebrity,” she says. “She’s… well, I don’t imagine she has people asking for selfies with her, but I think a lot of Kiwis would know who she is. She was really famous when she was in her twenties, but she’s pretty old now – sorry. If that’s mean, I don’t really care, because she slept with my husband.”
She then watched, in disbelief, as the woman hurried to her husband’s car, climbed in the front passenger seat and leaned in to kiss him.
“It was – hmm, I don’t know how to put this – but a mix up of complete disgust and hurt, along with absolute relief and vindication. You know when you’re sure of something, but you’re told otherwise and you start to wonder if you’re going crazy? Now, I knew I wasn’t crazy. But – ugh – I now also knew that my husband was cheating.”
The whole thing felt like a movie, says Rachel, so, as she began following them again she imagined all kinds of scenarios in which she confronted them wherever they stopped.
“But then, y’know, I thought about all those moments I’d spent with my kids, making sure they felt happy, safe and entertained. All that, and then their first vivid memory might be of their mum flipping out in a bar or hotel lobby, screaming at their dad and some woman who used to be famous.”
So, as his car started to slip out of sight, she turned around and headed home – again thinking of how to confront him. She spent the night on one of her son’s bunkbeds, waiting and deciding what to do and say, before she came to the conclusion that she would do nothing, and wait to talk to a lawyer.
The soonest she could get into a divorce lawyer who came recommended was 12 days away, so she tried to spend as little of it with her husband, for fear that she might explode at him.
“I booked in the next weekend away with the kids – I invited him, of course, but knew he would make an excuse to not come. Keeping busy with the kids kept my mind from thinking about it too much.”
A divorce lawyer helped her sure up her position – opening her own bank account, ensuring she had all the necessary information at her finger tips, which wasn’t too difficult because she had mostly been the one in the relationship who oversaw the finances. It’s another reason why she suspected her husband was up to no good – he’d go out for the night without a single charge to their bank accounts, not even a car park ticket, taxi, late night drive through, pack of gum or single drink at a bar. She figured he must have his own secret bank account.
All in all, it was three weeks from when she discovered the affair until when she confronted her husband – and it was the longest three weeks of her life.
“My husband was having a f***ing affair with a B-list celebrity”
“I lost my mind a bit,” she tells. “I contacted people I wouldn’t normally, to discuss my options and situation. I’m lucky, because I got such good advice and support from really unexpected people. They could see that I was angry and wanted to hurt and humiliate my husband – but the long term effect of doing that (particularly on my kids) wasn’t worth it.”
“They also helped me see that it wasn’t my fault. I obsessed over the fact that I had changed in the last decade, but that didn’t give him cause to have an affair. We aren’t the same people in our twenties that we are in our thirties – if we’re lucky we grow together, but in our case we grew in different directions and he took a cowardly path.”
But finally, with her plans in place, Rachel confronted her husband and let him know that their marriage was over.
She arranged for her best friend to come over and watch the kids while she went to see her husband after work. He’d left his car at home so she said she’d pick him up from work. But when she picked him up, she instead pulled over and said she needed to talk to him.
“I told him I knew all about the affair, and I’ll never forget the look on his face. He was like a deer in the headlights, but when I said I knew it was her, ohmigod, he just – ugh – he looked almost proud. Like he’d been wanting to brag to someone about how he was sleeping with a celebrity. Thank god I found him so repulsive, so the whole thing was that bit easier.”
“I’d very nearly got in touch with the woman he was sleeping with to tell her about who I was and that her ‘boyfriend’ was actually my husband. But Richard let slip that she knew he was married. I couldn’t believe someone would do that. I’m not blaming her – he’s the one who cheated on his wife and broke his vows and I hold him responsible. But, I’m disappointed that someone would sleep with a married man like that.”
Rachel told him that he wouldn’t be coming home that night – she had a bag of his things in the car and he would be staying in a hotel. In fact, he wouldn’t ever be staying in their home again, because he would need to find a new place to live.
“The best thing I did was go and see a lawyer to do things properly,” says Rachel. “It was actually my friend’s suggestion because she didn’t and it all turned to custard. He hid a bunch of money and stuff, so she didn’t get anywhere near a fair split.”
Rachel thought Richard had the potential to be really difficult in divorce negotiations – and she was right. He started off cordial – and even kind on occasions – but then things turned bitter.
“He kept bringing up that I didn’t even want our daughter – which was so unfair. She was never unwanted. I love her and my son more than anything and I think my actions since I became pregnant with her completely prove that. He wanted to resort to some nasty tactics though.”
It’s now been many years since the affair that ended the marriage. And, Rachel is sure you’re wondering what happened with the well-known NZer her husband was cheating on her with.
“It didn’t last. They were together maybe a year? But he moved on from her very quickly and started dating someone much younger than either of us – she’s still only in her twenties. They’re engaged now.”
And Rachel herself has well and truly moved on. She stayed in their home for several years, before selling it to buy a new home with her new husband, whom she met through work. She’d met him during one of her stints contracting – which she often did for short terms on a part-time basis, particularly now that her kids were in school.
Although, she’s planning another long stint away from work now. She and her husband are due to meet a new member of their family – a son – very soon.
“He’s taking two months off work, while I hope to take another good few years off. I noticed when we started talking about it I felt really nervous and guilty, but we’ve had very open and frank conversations about it. This is something we both want, and I’m excited to be going back to the fulltime role I love the most – a mum.”
In the years since, Rachel says she’s never crossed paths with the woman who changed the course of her marriage – but she’s thought of getting in touch a few times. She still harbours some resentment towards her, because while she’s ultimately glad her marriage came to an end, she wishes it could have had a more dignified finish.
“Once, someone told me that instead I should write a letter to her telling her exactly how I felt and what I thought of her and what she did – and the effect it would have on our kids if they ever found out that there was a crossover between him dating her and our marriage – and then burn it. I did that years ago and it did help. But I do from time to time think of her, and I guess that’s why I wanted to tell my story. I hope she reads this and I hope she feels like a fool. A reckless fool.”
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