After I cheated on my husband (twice) and destroyed my life, I faced a choice: rebuild or start over? I chose to rebuild a marriage that was terribly broken. Luckily, my husband did, too.
Now, before we go any further: I do realize there are two people in a marriage. It takes two people to run a marriage into the ground, and both of them must want to rebuild a marriage after devastation. My husband is no more innocent than I am, and his full participation in reconciling was key to our recovery.
However, I was the one who had to make the first move. I had one affair, quickly followed by another. It was up to me to fix the mess I made, and that started with fixing me.
Rebuild a marriage second; rebuild yourself first
A chain is only as strong as its individual links. When a chain is made up of two links, both links must be up to the task. My link was extraordinarily weak. One tug, and I would shatter.
I had to become stronger from the inside out.
And lemme tell you, I had a lot of work to do. Two decades of bad behavior had become ingrained in me. I spoke without thinking, acted without considering others and did as I pleased, even if it meant running roughshod over people.
I didn’t want to be that person anymore. That person had gone way too far. I had cheated on my husband, twice. I had left him and our two young children for a man who fed me a steady diet of lies. Enough. I had done enough.
Changing myself for the better became my purpose. Like the straight-A student I had always been, I flung myself headfirst into the work. My job: improve my emotional intelligence.
After months of therapy, self-reflection, journaling and practicing self-awareness, I transformed myself from a borderline asshole into a (mostly) kind and caring human being.
Emotional intelligence saved me
“If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit by me.”
By the time I cheated on my husband, Alice Roosevelt Longworth’s famous quote had become my life motto. I wasn’t always a very nice person, and I criticized others to make myself feel better. There was no way I could rebuild a marriage without first developing self-awareness.
I would catch myself criticizing others – and stop. Would my words be helpful or hurtful? Could I turn around the criticism so it was constructive, not destructive?
I would open my mouth to complain – and shut it just as quickly. Could I offer a solution instead? Or do something to change the situation?
Positivity and kindness began to take over, and they became my new default.
At the same time, I stopped judging other people. I mean, hello! I had two affairs and left my husband. I have no right to judge anyone for their choices. I don’t have to agree with their choices, of course, but I also do not have to live their life, walk in their shoes, or sleep in their bed.
An extraordinary thing happened when I stopped judging others. I became much more compassionate, empathetic and open-minded. I very well knew there were two sides to every story, and I respected that.
I also became more patient. I was never patient – ever. And you’d be hard-pressed to find someone to describe me as patient today. But this slowing-down-and-thinking-first superpower means I can stop myself from responding immediately or taking over a task. I can wait. I can even delay gratification – for a little while, anyway.
Gratitude improved me
There have been, what, a zillion studies on how powerful gratitude is? Something like that? Well, the studies are right. It is powerful stuff.
I began noting – and expressing gratitude for – each positive change I made. I wrote about it, and I reflected on it.
Once I got in the habit, I began noticing all the little things in my life. A cheerful good morning, a free muffin sample at Whole Foods, a text from my best friend. These small moments make up life, and I soon realized my life was full of wonderful small moments. In fact, my life was pretty awesome.
Of course, I am forever grateful that my husband gave me a second chance.
He didn’t have to spend time with me so he could see firsthand how I had changed. He didn’t have to take me back. He didn’t have to work as hard on himself as I did on me. But he did. And I do not take any of it for granted.
So yes, while I worked on myself, my husband made some significant changes, too. He calls me out if I act like an asshole (I’m not perfect and never will be). He asks for what he needs, and he stands up for what he believes in.
Being vulnerable allowed us to rebuild
Being vulnerable means different things to different people. For me, it meant taking total responsibility for my actions, admitting that I was very wrong, and asking for forgiveness.
For my husband, it meant opening up and allowing me back in.
He. Was. Terrified.
But once he agreed to spend time with me, the changes I had worked hard to cultivate were obvious. Ever so slowly, he opened the door and let me back in.
The other night, we were sitting around the dining room table after dinner. I asked our kids – now teens – what their greatest accomplishment was. Then my husband spoke up. He looked at me and said, “The fact that we were able to rebuild a marriage – and our family – is my greatest accomplishment.”
“Me too,” I responded.