(As told to Shahnaaz Khan)
There’s no such thing as a happily married couple. Yes, I said it. If you’re married, deep down you know it too. Either you admit it and realise that what the world sees as a happy marriage is an everyday struggle to understand, compromise, allow, and forgive. Or you don’t admit it.
I too was like you. I thought I was living the happily-ever-after. So what if after 4 years of marriage, my wife and I had spent barely over a year together. My work in the merchant navy takes me to various corners of the world, as does her job as a documentary film producer. Distance makes the heart grow fonder, and our long distance marriage did keep the flame burning. We were happy to still be able to steal moments, yearn for each other and avoid the mundane everydayness of marriage. We were both thrill seekers, after all, so this arrangement worked just fine.
Except it didn’t. I thought we had it under control, we could live like two lovelorn teenagers forever.
But I missed the comfort of an adult companion, one I could share my everyday with. I don’t know when my heart began to look away.
I don’t wish to go into the details. Suffice it to say that I cheated on my beloved. Not just physically, but emotionally too. I can say it didn’t start as that. It was just a friendly acquaintance. Two people getting to know one another. I can blame it on being away from my wife for months, emotionally and sexually starved. Looking for a release. But I know how beaten and hollow that sounds. I’m a responsible 32-year-old man. And I failed. I failed at my marriage, I failed my wife and I failed me.
When I saw my wife the first time after my transgression, I just wanted to run into her arms and cry. The affair had been short-lived for its own reasons. I’d like to believe my conscience was one of them. When I saw her waiting for me, the magnitude of my stupidity hit me. But also my shame and the part of me that said, “Save your marriage and keep your mouth shut.” I knew she wouldn’t tolerate a cheating husband. So I kept quiet, trying to enjoy whatever time we had. But she noticed something was off. And the more I tried the worse it got. If I tried to cover my guilt by being extra nice, she’d tease me about what I was hiding. If I played it cool and acted like nothing happened, she wondered why I was cold. My mind was my own living hell, what if she finds out! What if that woman tracks her down and tells her everything?
Marriage is a scary commitment. But nothing is scarier than staring at a guilty, ashamed, and disgusted version of yourself. Those two months were the most agonising days of my life. Till one day reality hit me. I was miserable and my wife knew it. Sooner or later my misery would take my marriage down. Keeping this secret was not helping anyone. I had no confidante and I didn’t think I could get any worse emotionally if I told her. My marriage would crumble indirectly because of this, slowly and painfully with no one really understanding why. Was I saving her, then? Trying to be a hypocritical hero, keeping her from knowing her husband had been with another woman? But she knew something was wrong. And it was too late to redeem my villainy. It was time to stop being a coward and own up.
Related reading: My husband had an affair, but it’s me who can’t forget
The conversation now seems like a blur. I remember practicing a mini speech, peppered with words to cushion the blow. But when I finally sat her down, words just flowed out. The dam had burst. She sat quiet, got teary-eyed for a moment, then controlled herself. She asked no questions then but just walked away and shut her door. It was the best and worst moment of my life. Best because I felt so much lighter having confessed. Worst because I knew my marriage was over. I wasn’t happier for having told her, but I wasn’t any worse off.
And what mattered really wasn’t how I was but her. The woman I’d promised my love, life and loyalty to.
And I’d finally put her first. Cheating on her was my decision. But knowing the truth was her right.
(The couple are now trying to work on their marriage and have been seeing a counsellor for over a year.)