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Can a Marriage Survive an Affair During Pregnancy?

Can a Marriage Survive an Affair During Pregnancy?

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I love your advice column and the frequent laughter that often ensues after, but unfortunately I need advice…and it’s much more heavy than your usual posts. I’m not really sure where to turn; hence my email to you.

How do I know when it’s time to seek the dreaded d-word? Divorce. Is there a magical checklist that helps one make that hard decision?

Let me back up. Nutshell version of events: my husband and I have a 1.5 year old beautiful baby boy. When I was 8 months and 3 weeks along in our pregnancy, I found out that my husband had been unfaithful…essentially our whole pregnancy with his ex-girlfriend whom he indirectly works with. He swears it was just an emotional affair -nothing physical, and I only have proof of racy emails back and forth (including ones signed with “love you” and “love you too.” Oi.) This spiraled me into a crazy pre-partum depression, one that I’m convinced caused my water to break early, that ultimately ended with 61 hours of labor and an emergency c-section (but a healthy baby boy).

Anyways, fast forward a year of couples therapy. I have also since then contacted the ex and expressed my anger with her involvement in a mature and articulate way, which much to my surprise was met with apologies and “I’ll never contact your husband again.” In the words of Katy Perry: Swish swish bish.

You’d think I’d have some closure at this point, right? I would have thought at this point I’d trust him more and resent him less. But if I’m honest, I don’t. I’m still mad that he cracked the foundation of our marriage; one that might never get repaired. I’m upset that the last month of my first pregnancy was drama, stress, depression and self-loathing. That I was so overwhelmed by the emotions caused by his affair (emotional or otherwise) that I spent the last few weeks of my pregnancy crying in bed instead of decorating the nursery.

So back to my questions. Does the sting of betrayal ever go away? Are couples who have faced infidelity inevitably doomed? Or is this a crazy bumpy road in our marital life that I should try to ride out? Now that my son is involved, I want to try to make this work but I’m a bit defeated that I still harbor negative feelings towards my husband (who by the way, still runs into the ex-girlfriend at work from time to time). When do I know it’s time to call it quits?

I thank you for any guidance you can give a new mother in this emotionally turbulent, confusing time.

Signed: the defeated wife

I am so, so sorry you’re going through this. It all sounds incredibly painful and hard and just plain sucktastic.

I have not walked this particular path in your particular shoes, but I don’t believe there’s one path for everyone on the other side of an affair. There is often divorce, yes; there are also temporary separations that lead to reconciliation. And for many couples, yes, there is also ultimately forgiveness.

I can’t tell you which path should be yours, nor would I judge you for taking any one in particular. For now, I certainly don’t blame you one tiny iota for not being ready to fully forgive and trust him again. I can also only imagine how impossible of an idea that probably even feels to you right now. The fact that this all went down when it did — while. you. were. pregnant. with. his. child. — is completely, objectively loathsome. (And I don’t give a rat’s ass that it wasn’t physical, by the way. Some people might have an easier time with that distinction, while others view affairs that are simply about sex and sex alone easier to move past. Others can’t stomach either! Like I said, there is nothing one-size-fits all for navigating these kinds of situations.) He straight up ruined the final weeks of your pregnancy and essentially tarnished all your important memories surrounding it. You spent your first weeks and months of motherhood trying to process all the normal postpartum crap and stressors of a newborn, along with, oh hey the father of my child completely betrayed my trust.  I mean, there’s a reason that in the Hall of Dirtbags, men who cheat on pregnant wives/girlfriends hold an especially high ranking.

All that said: Is divorce the only inevitable option? I have no idea. I have definitely known couples that have moved past affairs and stayed together. I have also known couples that did not. I’m glad you guys have tried couple’s therapy — that’s obviously the first step to take. I THINK, at this point, the next logical step is to integrate individual therapy for you and you alone with your current therapist. Not because there’s anything WRONG with the fact that you are still harboring negative feelings and need to be “fixed,” but because you’ve been tasked with navigating an ENORMOUS emotional/psychological minefield here. There might be bombs going off in your brain that you don’t want to let detonate unfiltered in your couple’s sessions, or you aren’t ready to reveal to your husband that you’re at a point where you’re writing for divorce advice from people on the Internet. But these are things your therapist needs to know and can help you work out a communication strategy with your husband. I don’t think it’s abnormal (or a sign that it’s not “working”) that you’ve been going to therapy for a year and still don’t know “what to do” about this. It’s just ALL SO MUCH, on top of being a new parent.

I think it’s very important, by the way, that any individual therapy should be done WITH the couple’s therapy. Everything I’ve read suggests that marital problems of all stripes (not just cheating) should be dealt with by a therapist who has worked with both partners and seen first-hand how they interact and communicate with each other. It’s natural for someone who feels wronged to present things as all the other person’s fault, and without the full context a therapist can start to “side” with their patient against their spouse, rather than help the patient do their full part to improve the relationship. (Here’s an article that explains it better.)

Your wounds could just be too fresh right now, but will heal in time. Or you may find that the scars are too permanent and prominent to ever really forgive him for, or at least enough to stay married to him. I don’t know, but I really do wish you the best no matter what you decide.

Photo source: Unsplash/PabloHeimplatz

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Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Comments

  • Nikki

    I went through something similar. I found out at 7 months pregnant and had a very stressful rest of my pregnancy that I delivered four weeks early. And honestly I think my son has some serious side effects from the stress unfortunately, he has quite the temper and gets frustrated very easy and is super hyper. My husband takes some responsibility for it and tries harder to have more patience for our son. It has been 2.5 years now since it happened and thank goodness the sting is finally starting to subside. It probably took me a full two years to feel like things were starting to get back to normal. The first year was full of anniversaries in my head, like oh gee last year at this time he was probably doing this with her while I was doing this. If a question I had about the affair haunted me for a few days I had to ask him and our counselor said it would help if he would be honest and answer as long as I realized I most likely won’t like the answer, but it helped get the thoughts out of my head. But now it’s much farther in the past things are easier to do and it doesn’t plague my thoughts daily. I hope things get better for you soon. Hang in there for another year if you love each other and see how it is.

  • Anonymous

    First, I ditto everything Amy said – there are lots of possible outcomes here, and you and your son will be okay no matter how this turns out. I personally found out about my husband’s affair with an ex-girlfriend when I was eight weeks postpartum with my second kid; my first child was three. It had happened during most of the pregnancy and was supposedly “only an emotional” affair but looking back, there were signs it was physical too…I was so deep in the postpartum hormonal stage, and also just so totally blindsided, that I tried very, very hard to do anything I could to make it work and keep my family intact. (And I also lost the last month of my maternity leave to crying in bed.) It ultimately still didn’t work – he left, we got separated, and he called it off for good about six months later. He moved across the country to be with her two months after that, and married her about six months after our divorce was final. I also learned well after the fact that he had continued contact with her the whole time we were in marriage counseling, despite swearing repeatedly he was done, and lied in our counseling sessions. So yeah, to the Hall of Dirtbags he goes. ANYHOO – that’s my story, and it was almost four years ago now, and my girls and I are doing great on our own, and their dad is still a big part of their lives. Looking back, I would have really paid attention to the trust part more. Definitely ditto Amy on both individual and couples counseling, but really digging into WHY you don’t feel like you trust him could be helpful. Why did he have the affair? (Less important than it being with this particular person.) What evidence do you see on HIS part that he’s dug into the root cause and addressed it? Why don’t you think you trust him? Is there anything he could do to change that? If you don’t have satisfactory answers to those things yet, therapy will likely help.

  • Annalisa

    In addition to continuing individual and couples counseling (with a counselor that you like and trust!) as Amy suggests, you might find some insight and even support in the works of Esther Perel. She is an amazing couples therapist who has written and given talks about many topics with a special focus on infidelity. I myself like to do a lot of reading and research to help myself cope with situations in my life and have found her stuff wonderful.
    Look for her TED talks on infidelity and lust, and even better, her (free) audible series where she does recorded counseling sessions, several of which focus on infidelity- soon to become a podcast as well. Finally, her book on infidelity The State of Affairs will be released in October- haven’t read it obvi but expect great things. (And for anyone reading this in a relationship her book matin in captivity is great!)
    Best of luck- whatever the outcome I hope that you can feel that you have arrived at the right place in the right way!

  • jordan

    I also went through something similar a few years ago, although it was the discovery of my unplanned 2nd pregnancy that led my then-husband to confess to an ongoing affair. We spent my entire pregnancy “working” on our relationship (although in hindsight, he had checked out already and I was the only one working on it.) We split up for good shortly after our second son was born, and have both moved on. He is still with her, and I am engaged to be married this fall. My point in all this is if you feel like you, or both of you, have tried your hardest to make it work and it’s still not there, don’t feel like you have to stay together for your son. I was so desperate to make our relationship work during pregnancy in the fear of my children growing up in separate homes that I did some pretty stupid stuff–going skiing at 12 weeks to prove I was as “fun” as she was is probably at the top of the list–and as it turns out my boys are fine. Just fine. Yes, they get sad sometimes when they leave “mommy’s house”, but they have two birth parents who absolutely love them, and two “bonus parents” who love them as well. They don’t have to see mom and dad fight or wonder why mom seems so sad sometimes, they just see us working separately but together to make sure they have the best we can provide.
    Tl:dr — Listen to Amy’s advice, but if you finally decide it’s over, your son will be ok.

  • Tiffany

    Do you think it’d help if your husband didn’t work with her anymore? That right there would be too much for me personally, even if I 100% trusted him (which it sounds like you might not) Best of luck, mama

  • S

    So…disclaimer: I am the one who had an affair – and it wasn’t while we were pregnant, so all I’m here to offer is yes to the couples therapy, double extra yes to individual counseling with that same therapist, and…even though you are a year out, if you both are really digging in and doing the work, it may get even harder before it gets easier. And easier could look like a lot of things, including divorce. Or not! And none of it is linnear. One question I would ask – what coping or communication tools have come out of your sessions? If it just feels like talking and not movement (beyond time sort of healing things perhaps), it might be worth challenging yourselves and your therapist to hit pause and talk about the idea of “progress” and what that looks like. If it’s just “I trust him” or “I understand why I was unfaithful and have “fixed” it”, I would encourage you guys to ask for help in identifying what specifically he can be doing to support you in trusting him (truly, without reservation) and what specifically you can be doing to support him in the work that he needs to be doing (which is a lot, and likely requires him to share with you some painful truths about himself, which is hard to do when you’ve lost someone’s trust so completely by doing basically the worst imaginable thing). We are still together, but it’s been very, very hard. Some days feels like it’s okay, other days he’s not okay, and some days I’m not okay (because of guilt over the past or because we still sometimes have a hard time just meeting each other’s needs – marriage is real complicated, and is even more so when you learn how to be truly, painfully honest and vulnerable, especially after a big event like an affair shakes it at the foundation). But me being honest and admitting I had needs that weren’t being met by a supportive husband was a big step forward. Me just being buried under guilt and trying to “act better” and avoid that other person actually didn’t do much for us. We needed to get in there and set a lot of things aside to get to the “why” of that affair. But we couldn’t have gotten there without a professional who was really pushing us and asking us to get uncomfortable. We needed to talk about a lot of things, and the affair was one of them, but there were big underlying issues that also needed attention in order for us to stay married. So…from the other side – I am so, so sorry. An affair is never, ever the right thing, no matter what. And sometimes it’s something you can recover from with help – so don’t give up if you aren’t ready to give up. But maybe it’s time to try a different approach if you are starting to lose hope that you guys can make it work under the current method.

  • Jeannie Shirley

    First, I’m so sorry to hear your story and that you’re going through this.

    Second: while I haven’t gone through what you have, I *have* dealt with infidelity in a relationship and I truly believe that relationships can be saved if both people truly, deep down, want it saved. Mine was unsaveable because he didn’t want to save it; I’m now with someone who invests in us because he wants us to last. I don’t know if you can trust your husband’s word in this but trust your own instincts: does he act, all the time, like someone who wants to save his family? If so, then it’s probably worth putting in the effort to see if it can be saved. If not then … well, maybe have a consideration of your options.

    I wish you all the best.

  • Beth

    Oh, LW, I’ve been there. I wasn’t pregnant, but I I know the pain of an emotional affair. He left on a deployment and when he came back he was just different and I found his hidden email account.
    We never went to therapy, which probably would have helped, but it was 10 years ago and we’re still together. But I will say that I still have flashes of pain to this day. In the emails I found, he told her “I miss you more than you’ll ever know,” which seems pale in comparison to what you found but has stuck with me for a decade and 9 years later, when I bought a children’s book that happened to have that phrase in it it still hit me like a gut punch and I threw the book away.
    So I don’t think it leaves, the lingering doubt that maybe something physical DID happen and he’s too afraid to admit more. It took a lot of time and a willingness on his part to be an open book and a huge leap of faith on my part that he wouldn’t lie to me about having any more secret emails. I guess you really have to take an honest, bare, look at your husband and decide if he’s still someone you can trust. At his core, is he still the man you love?
    It almost destroyed us, and we didn’t have a newborn creating an even more stressful environment. Like I said, it took a lot of time and several backslides on my part back to the initial pain. Those got less and less frequent. Give yourself some time and permission to feel what you need to feel and then do an inventory of your relationship. Somewhere, however hidden it may be, your gut is telling you which way to go but sometimes it’s buried under too much emotional turmoil to hear it. I wish you the best in whatever decision you come to!

  • Anonymous for this one

    Oh, LW. I am so, so sorry. I have been there. I found out about my husband’s affair in the middle of my second trimester with my son in September of 2014. I always thought women who “stood by their man” were… well, I didn’t understand until I went through it myself. If I had not been pregnant, my husband would have been out on his ass, but I decided to give him one chance- one!- as a gift from his (not yet born) son. I sent him packing to his parents’ and my sister moved in with me for two weeks while I tried to figure out what the hell I should do.

    I was already in therapy myself, but I insisted by husband get a therapist of his own and join me in couples therapy. It’s been more than three years, and we still go to couples and individual therapy. My husband’s affair and “acting out” was rooted in unresolved trauma from twenty years before, and he has had to unpack ALL of that- his trauma, the avoidance, messages from his family of origin, his fears of fatherhood and how it triggered a desire for “escape.”

    I found that forgiveness was a choice I had to make over and over again. I struggled with trusting him, and periodically went through his phone and computer until I felt confident I was going to find anything. I basically told him he had to re-earn my trust, that we were like a couple whose marriage was like a house that burned down, but if we were going to rebuild it, we were going to be like people who survived a fire and rebuilt their home better than ever before and take the metaphorical insurance money, and like, put in a metaphorical hot tub. We weren’t just going to survive; we were going to *thrive,* dammit. We were going to kick all the dirt off the boots of our marriage and be better than ever, or we were going to break up and I was going to put that energy into figuring out how to be a kickass single mom.

    Three years later, we are happier than ever and pregnant again, on purpose, with intent. There are still things that bring up the pain; i.e. in this latest pregnancy my doctor did a standard routine screening for HIV and STDs and while they all came up negative, it took me back to the dark days of my previous pregnancy in 2014 where I found out the extent of the betrayal and insisted on a full panel of STD and HIV testing. As I find myself feeling vulnerable and pregnant again, I find myself asking for reassurance that “our lives aren’t going to implode again in the 2nd trimester the way they did last time.”

    I will say this, my husband has worked harder at being a good husband to me and father to our 2-year-old son than I thought possible. We are true partners. We communicate well, and now even triggers like the STD testing is handled as simply as my saying, “So… yeah, gotta say, that took me back to a Bad Time.” And he says, “I get that. I’m so sorry.” And we can move on, or we put it on the List of What We Discuss Next Time in Couples Therapy. It happened. It was awful, but it isn’t my reality anymore. I can honestly say that while I would never, ever recommend that anyone take the path we took to get to the good place we’re in, my marriage is stronger and happier for it- not because of the affair, but because of the work we did to heal from it and be better partners to each other.

    As for your situation, you know, you have to mourn. I had to mourn having a happy, blissful pregnancy with excitement and showers and shopping for cute things and pickles and ice cream. (Instead, I had a Jerry Springer shitshow, and my BFF did my registry for me while I was in charge of panic attacks and weeping.) You may still be mourning.

    Because the other thing is that healing *does* take time. I found the time of year when I found out- early September- to be super triggering for me. The first year the air got cooler and school supplies appeared in stores, I thought I was going to scream all the time. Another calm, trustworthy September has come and gone since, and I saw school supplies in Staples today, and thought, “Ooh, I need tape.” and I then I did a little fist pump and thought, “Progress!”

    Our therapist says that when the person who had the affair can truly articulate and put into words that he or she truly understands the depth of the pain the betrayed person experienced, then real healing begins. Has your husband been able to do that, to reflect back to you that he truly understands how sad and betrayed you felt? Is he committed to his own therapy and understanding his own issues? Can he articulate what he felt was missing that the affair fulfilled in him? Are you learning to communicate better and “fight fair” in couples therapy? Are you unpacking the baggage you brought to the marriage that contributed to the state of affairs (no pun intended) where the betrayal happened- NOT BLAMING YOU HERE, I SWEAR- but we all have baggage. Is yours sorted? Do you trust him? Gut response- do you? Do you have carte blanc access to his phone and passwords, no questions asked? Is he the husband and partner you want (while recognizing that we are human and parenting is hard)? If nothing changed in your relationship as it is right now, could you give it six more months? Six more years? Ten more years? If you want things to be different, can you communicate how you want things to be? Does he listen?

    I wish for you continued peace and healing and love. I’m sorry this is so fucking hard. I hope what I’ve written is helpful. If not, well, to quote Amy, here, let me nudge this carton of ice cream in general direction.

  • Survivor

    Unfortunately, I know this pain too. I found out about my husband’s (physical/emotional) affair 36 hours before my first was born. Afterward, I hardly slept for months, since the pain was the worst when I was alone – even when I was dead tired. The postpartum horribleness wasn’t how I had pictured family life, and it took a long time to work things out (and several years afterward of being blindsided by finding out about their continuing, “secret” communications). Luckily, my husband, though completely dense and self-serving at times, was also remorseful and very much wanted things to work out between us. Having a second child was kind of like a do-over and helped me get over the disappointment and anger about being cheated out of a happy experience the first time. It was healing. And, when my second turned one, I found out that my husband had voluntarily and without my knowledge, finally cut off all contract with the other woman. I only found out when he received a package returning things that he gave her. I trashed all of it, and although the situation still makes me sad, it is in the past. A long road, but worth sticking out the betrayal and pain. There is not one right answer (I still can’t believe my marriage survived, or that I had the strength to have my feelings heard and to try to make things work again and again), but let yourself feel all the emotions and continue to work on the problem. It will eventually work out one way or another, so trust the process.