My Marriage Imploded. Here’s What Helped Me Navigate the Fallout

Five ways I kept myself grounded while my ex was in the midst of blowing up our lives.
A wedding cake topper falls to the ground and shatters (Photo: iStock)

I know a lot of people who are unhappy in their marriage. I was never one of them. In fact, I thought I was in a stable, loving relationship. My husband and I had been together for 27 years and had just celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary last August. So imagine my shock when, during a phone call with him last April, I discovered he had been secretly seeing another woman for the past four months. Betrayal is a tricky beast. The shock hits all at once. It’s difficult to grasp, impossible to understand. For the first couple of hours after my husband’s disclosure, I felt like I would never stop crying, that I’d never be able to catch my breath again.

When I managed to calm down a little, my initial reaction was disbelief. How could this be true? How could this have happened to us? Everyone we knew, from friends to family to our doctor, had always said the same thing: that we were the embodiment of “couple goals.” I loved him more than I thought it was possible to love another human being. We were raising two incredible kids. We had just taken the family vacation of a lifetime to Amsterdam and Israel. I couldn’t wrap my head around it.

In the months leading up to The Call, I had noticed a shift in my husband’s personality. His behaviour had become erratic, acting completely out of character, and he was out of the house more than usual. He always provided what seemed like valid excuses for his absences, but a pattern was quickly forming. He was in the midst of a job change and I thought maybe he was under pressure, feeling a little lost professionally, or having a midlife crisis of some sort. I tried to help him out, tried to troubleshoot the problem with him. I even took him on a romantic weekend getaway. But he didn’t want to talk about it.

The more I pressed, the more he started treating me poorly and the more he disappeared. He insisted that his issues had nothing to do with me, that he was just “going through something” and that he loved me, but my mental health was deteriorating and I needed space. I was exhausted from waiting up for him every night, so I arranged for him to stay with Ben, a mutual friend of ours, until he was ready to tell me what was going on. (Ben, along with all of my other friends’ names in this story, is a pseudonym.) Two weeks later, the truth came out.

Now that some time has passed and I can see my way to the other side, I’m thinking more about how I was able to cope during this crisis period. Here are a few things that kept me grounded while he was in the midst of blowing up our lives, which might prove helpful to others in a similar situation.

Have a strong support network of friends

On the night of that fateful call, the kids and I were staying with my friend Kay, who took us in in the midst of an ice storm. When my husband called, I thought he was checking in on us. I couldn’t have been more wrong. As soon as Kay realized what was going on, she wrapped her arms around me, holding me close as I cried.


I realized then that if I was going to get through this, I would need to lean on my people. Thankfully, I have cultivated a strong support system. When my husband left to stay with Ben, Kay exchanged numbers with my other close friend, Tom. They had never met before, but that didn’t matter to either of them. They knew they were my core support system and wanted to coordinate my care.

The night I learned of the affair, I called my inner circle to tell them what was going on. Without fail, every one of them asked, “What can I do?” And without waiting for an answer, they each jumped into action. One person started bringing me meals, another booked pedicures, another sent money. Every one of them sat quietly while I talked and cried. I accepted all their help without hesitation. I knew that if the situation was reversed, I’d have done the exact same thing. That’s what friendship is.

Seek legal and financial help

During the two weeks that my husband was staying at Ben’s, a friend encouraged me to find legal representation in the event that things went south. I thought it was overly cautious at the time, but I knew I had to protect myself and the kids, so I met with a lawyer who was referred to me by a friend of a friend. I was glad I did, because when I reached out to her the morning after the call with my husband, we were ready to move forward.

My lawyer guided me through all the possible scenarios and explained every step. I could either file for a legal separation, or begin divorce proceedings. The only goal at that point was to ensure safeguard measures were put in place, and while either option would have allowed for that, I opted for divorce. If I did decide to divorce him, and I only filed for separation, I’d have to begin all over again at great expense. Divorce proceedings take at least a year, which would give me plenty of time to think things through and make a decision. In the meanwhile, the safeguard measures would allow us to freeze our financial picture, provide me with custody, give me sole use of our house, and set up child support. My lawyer encouraged me to hold off on making big decisions or discussing a settlement until I’d cooled down. She taught me from the onset to take things one step at a time.

In some cases, mediation is a good option. That wasn’t the situation for me. I was an emotional wreck, and I knew I couldn’t sit with my husband and have a calm discussion. I also didn’t trust myself to negotiate with him, especially since I was convinced he wouldn’t do so in good faith.


During this period, I went to the bank and removed the overdraft protection from our joint account. I also had my bank manager freeze our line of credit. In addition, she arranged for step-down payments, meaning that as each amount was paid off, no more money could be withdrawn. The goal of all this was to protect me from any shared debt.

Ramp up your therapy sessions

A few months earlier, I had renewed my relationship with my therapist on an as-needed basis. My husband’s erratic behaviour had been affecting my mental health, and I needed some guidance. After he admitted to cheating, I set up weekly appointments. I was experiencing so many emotions: anger, sadness, confusion and hopelessness. Surviving the trauma of betrayal is one of the hardest things a person can do. The person I had counted on to keep me safe was the one who had hurt me so profoundly. And it’s not a one-time discovery: As time progressed, more and more details emerged that I was wholly unprepared for.

I didn’t just want to survive after this, I wanted to thrive. My psychologist was the person who helped me see that if I could work past this, I could actually grow from the experience.

I also joined a weekly group therapy session specifically for women who had been betrayed by their partners. I was hesitant at first, wondering if it was really for me. It’s not like I intended to stay with him. But I did it anyway. Through that experience, I learned that I wasn’t alone, that so many other women had lived through the same trauma but managed to make a life for themselves. The added bonus was that we started a group chat and reached out to each other whenever we felt we needed support. Friends are one thing. Friends with similar problems are a whole other ballgame.

Research how to help your kids through it


Another support I sought was a parenting coach who was recommended to me by the service that offered the group therapy sessions. She was able to help me explain everything that was going on to my kids. Even though they’re older—17 and 15—I had no idea how to talk to them about the fact that their father had had an affair. At first, I wanted to avoid telling them, but my coach explained that kids see a lot more than we give them credit for. That it was important for me to tell them in case they already knew and felt they had to hide it from me. I was also worried about how this would affect them. I wanted to help them have healthy relationships of their own. This was all unchartered territory for me. How would I navigate my own emotions while telling my kids that their father still loved them dearly, that what was going on with us had nothing to do with them?

My coach explained to me that I was already showing them how to act in a crisis. That by refusing to let my husband mistreat me, I was modelling mature behaviour. That by being strong I was providing them with a safe harbour. And that by allowing myself to cry in front of them, I was teaching them to experience big emotions so they would know not to suppress their own.

During this period, I also took out a life insurance policy and made a will. I realized that without the shelter of my marriage, I could no longer count on my husband to provide for my children. In the event anything happened to me, I needed to know they would be taken care of. These are two things I had been putting off, but having sole custody of my children motivated me to get them done.

Don’t forget to take care of yourself

For that first month,I had a checklist of things to do—see my lawyer, therapist, parent coach; feed the kids, ensure they maintain social contact with friends; take care of the finances. I was angry a lot of the time. It seemed unfair that while he was out doing his thing, I was the one holding the universe together. But that anger helped me make necessary—and hard—decisions.


As time went by, I grew tired. I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating, and worst of all, I was constantly ruminating. In a state of exhaustion, I thought I would collapse.

My friends, my therapist, my family and my parenting coach started insisting on self-care. It seemed so selfish to me. How could I put everything on pause while I went to dinner or a concert? But the truth is, self-care is really about learning to love yourself. Learning that you matter, that your well-being is of prime importance.

Intellectually, I know that my husband’s behaviour was wrong and I wasn’t to blame, but throughout our marriage I put his needs before mine, and because of that, he learned it was okay to treat me poorly. I had somehow expected someone else to treat me better than I was treating myself. That was a mistake. By putting myself first, I’m learning to break the cycle of an unhealthy relationship. By knowing my worth, I’m setting the bar on how I want to be treated in the future. And that is the greatest gift I can give myself and my children.

While this is certainly not the path I would have chosen for myself, I’m coming to accept it’s my new reality. As tempting as it is to continue mourning the illusion of the life I thought I had, there’s nothing to be gained by living in denial. Instead, I’ve realized that by moving forward, I will eventually reach the life I deserve.


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