My ‘Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda’ List

When you are faced with a spouse involved in an emotional affair there is really no textbook way to navigate through the pain and emotions that exist as you try to save your marriage.

Most advice out there is very good, and as you have come to learn, most affairs follow the same patterns and characteristics.  However, because every situation is different it is difficult to know for sure what path to take and what works and what doesn’t.  And since it is such an emotional time, your vision may become blurred so that you have difficulty really seeing the whole picture clearly.

It took me over a year to really look back at everything objectively and think about what I did, what worked and what I wish I would have done differently when recovering from an affair.  So here is my “woulda, coulda, shoulda” list:

1.  Pray.  There were nights when I was in such physical and emotional pain that I really didn’t think I could face another day.  So I started saying the rosary.  I would repeat the same prayer over and over until I would eventually calm down and fall asleep. I would wake up the next day with a renewed strength to get through the day.

2.  Don’t isolate yourself from everyone. When I first found out that Doug was unhappy in our marriage I was an emotional wreck.  I didn’t want my family, friends and colleagues to see me that way.  I was afraid to be around them for fear they would see the pain in my eyes.  So I stopped spending time with my parents, stopped eating in the teacher’s lounge and cut down on the time I spent being with my children.  In some ways I didn’t want them to know because I didn’t want to look like a failure.  I also didn’t want them to know because I was protecting Doug.  I didn’t want them to see him in a bad light. 

Thinking back, the choice to isolate myself was so stupid.  For one, I shouldn’t have tried to protect Doug.  At the time he began the affair, we both were not doing a very good job at meeting each other’s needs.  I felt just as unloved, ignored and bored as he did.  However he made the choice to begin an emotional affair with someone else. He gave up the right for protection.  Secondly, by isolated myself from others I was missing out on opportunities to feel better about myself.  When you are surrounded by people who love and respect you it is inevitable that you will feel positive about yourself.

3.  Don’t expect your spouse to support or reassure you. Doug had always been my go to person.  He was my best friend and he was always the one that I depended on to make everything better.  When I first began this journey I continued to rely on him.  However it just didn’t happen.  He wasn’t emotionally able to do that for me.  By continuing to ask for support, I was pushing him away and confusing him even more.  This is when I should have stepped back and found a trusted friend, counselor, mentor or someone to guide me through this.

4.  Get angry.  Since I truly found out about Doug’s affair in chunks, I really didn’t have the opportunity to get angry.  I really just wanted to process the information and move on.  I didn’t want to rock the boat.  I didn’t want him to see me in a bad light.  Looking back I should have really let him have it. I should have told him how I really felt. 

There were plenty of things I was thinking but I just kept them to myself.  Unfortunately, they surfaced many, many months later when we were really making progress in our efforts to save our marriage.  When they did, Doug had a hard time handling my delayed anger and therefore wasn’t very receptive to it.  So let your spouse have it immediately, then try to let it go.

5.  Be you. When I first found out about the emotional affair, I wondered what I should do or how I could change to help save our marriage.  Doug would say to me “just be you.”  I didn’t understand that.  I thought he obviously didn’t love me since he was with someone else, so why would “being me” help the situation?  You have to believe that your spouse fell in love with you because of YOU

What your spouse fell out of love with was the relationship and the state that the relationship was in at that time. Try making your spouse feel like he is the most important person to you, like you did when you first met, then there is a good chance he can regain some of those lost feelings and fall back in love with you again.  The other person would then become insignificant.

6.  Learn all you can about relationship and affairs.  I dedicated every free moment I had to searching and reading everything I could about relationships, affairs and how to save my marriage.  It gave me some kind of control. I highly recommend that you do the same thing.  However, I have to warn you to not let it consume your life.  I spent way too much time on the internet, and in the bathroom secretly reading affair books.

Take some time for you.  Read a trashy novel, search how to do something new, find something else to take your mind off the situation. Additionally, if you begin reading something that makes you feel uncomfortable or hopeless then STOP!  Sometimes I would get on forums and feel so defeated and began to second guess my actions.

7. Don’t try to control the situation. I stopped going shopping and spending time away from home for fear that when I left Doug alone he would be on the phone with Tanya. I followed him around every second of the day thinking I could stop him from contacting her.  I eventually learned how stupid that was.  He was going to contact her no matter what. 

I believed I could stop the affair.   Now I know there was nothing I could have done to change the course of their relationship.  It was all in Doug’s hands and he had to make the choice.  I also should have believed the books that I read and should have been more confident in knowing that most affairs end after the fantasy involved runs its course and dies out.

8.  Demand cell phone, email, Facebook etc. passwords. Most emotional affairs (and sexual affairs) depend a lot on communicating through these channels since getting together in person can sometimes be very difficult.  It took me more than four months to finally see our cell phone bill.  When I would ask for the password, Doug would become very defensive and turn the situation back on me.  He would imply that I didn’t trust him, or I was being crazy, and would say things like:  “What kind of wife was I?”   

He was good at changing the subject and acting very attentive and caring so I would just dismiss it for awhile, and since I didn’t want to rock the boat, I would let it go.  If I would have seen the cell phone bills from the very beginning I would have had solid proof that they weren’t “just friends” and that it was much more serious than I ever imagined.  I would have totally changed the way I reacted to this situation.  I also believe that I could have saved myself a lot of pain.

So there you have it.  I’m sure there are other things that I “coulda” or “shoulda” added to the list.  Perhaps some of you might have some that you can think of.  If so, we would love to hear about them.  Take care!

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24 Responses to My ‘Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda’ List

  1. Tammy February 15, 2010 at 3:12 pm #

    It’s been 5 months since I found out about the affair and he continues to contact her via text & phone, sometimes talking several times a day for hours. He started individual counseling last week and says he wants to work on us but can’t give her up yet. He is attentive and caring to me and if I didn’t know thru cell records he is still involved, I’d never know.

    How long did you wait for the affair to end? I feel like I’m being so stupid for letting him get thru it his way but we are so good together, I know we can make it work. Am I giving him permission to prolong the affiar by trying to ignore it, which I don’t do a very good job of, and at what point to you give an ultimatum to end it or leave?

    Any insight would be much appreciated.

    • admin February 16, 2010 at 11:30 am #

      Your situation sounds very similar to mine. It took a very long time, perhaps five months or more before I really found out what was going on. Before that time there were a lot of half truths, denials and lies. I really didn’t understand the seriousness of their relationship until that time. When I finally did see the phone logs, Doug had told me it was over. That he was not in contact with her. Later I found out differently that they still contacting each other. It took me a long time to finally say, “I am not sharing you with anyone.” You have to make your decision– her or me.

      In my mind I had set a time for how long I would wait before I felt Doug was making an effort to save our marriage. Finally I told him that I was planning a trip to Florida with my friends. When I get back I was going to make my decision to stay in the marriage or leave. At that time I felt Doug really wanted our marriage to work and was confident that he had ended the affair. In your situation, I feel that your husband’s initiative to go to counseling is a huge positive. You have to understand that your husband is confused and by talking to a neutral party will hopefully help him to see everything more realistically. In our situation the only person Doug talked to about how he was feeling was Tanya. I am pretty confident that she was not able to give him unbiased advice or look at the situation with an open mind. My hope for you is that counseling may really help your husband, and during that time I would try to be as patient and understanding as possible. He is making an effort to do what is best for your relationship. Eventually he may want you to be included in his counseling sessions.

  2. Michael February 16, 2010 at 10:53 am #

    Tammy,
    It depends on what you feel in your heart, and what kind of history you share with your husband. I found out two and a half months ago. The communication between them began about a month before that. He had been looking for her for a while. He had left messages on classmates. Some were before and some during his current, and third, marriage. And to my knowledge it ended about a month ago or so. But as I’ve said before, I’m not quite sure if she didn’t just get better at hiding it. But I am very thankful that my wife did know what she was doing was wrong. She told me about it and was confused on what she wanted to do. She shared a history, and tragedy, with him from her high school days. But, that was eighteen years ago, and we have been together for over thirteen and have two children together.
    I never put it as an ultimatum. I grew more and more frustrated at her lack of understanding of the impact it had on me. I finally asked her to make a decision on her own. Continue her love affair and move forward in life without me, or finish it and move toward one that included her family that she was contemplating leaving. I expressed that I would help her with whatever her decision was. At that point I sought only her happiness and piece of mind for me.
    I still don’t see willingness in her to understand and work on what happened. I see more of a want to make it disappear like it never happened. To get back to the way it was. But if it wasn’t good enough to keep her from doing this, why would it keep her from doing it again. There is a long road of recovery ahead on both our parts. But at least I feel that we are on the same road now. She just may be a little behind me, or not.

  3. Darla February 25, 2010 at 1:33 pm #

    My husband is ready to divorce me because I communicated with a guy I dated in High School on Facebook. We emailed each other on and off for about 2 weeks. I never had any intention of getting together with this guy. As chance would have it, the day I had intended to tell my husband because I had felt guilty, the guy’s wife hysterically calls him at work making all sorts of accusations. I called the guy twice and we chatted about what each of us had been up to over the last 40 years. That’s it! Yeah, I’m guilty for not telling my husband right away and I lied to him about a phone number on the bill but I never slept with this guy even though my husband thinks I did. I’m not so sure if he’ll ever forgive me or is willing to save our 11 1/2 year marriage.

  4. konan December 4, 2010 at 4:56 am #

    i cant get 2 and 7 as we moved a year ago and dont make friends easy the only person i know is her best friend so im stuck at home ive asked her to respect my home so i can go to work but she says she cant promise he wont enter my home when im away so they can be together

    • Doug December 4, 2010 at 9:48 am #

      Why don’t you go join a gym, or a church or something like that where you can get out and do some things, or just get out and take a walk, anything to make your feel better about yourself. I used to spend a lot of time at the bookstore reading everything I could about affairs, relationships. Just do whatever you can to make you feel better about yourself and to take your mind off the situation. I made the mistake of being afraid to leave Doug alone for fear he would contact Tanya. I know now that I couldn’t control what he did and by constantly trying to babysit him made me look even more insecure. Focus on yourself and stop worrying about what your wife is doing. Linda

  5. konan December 4, 2010 at 4:56 am #

    Any advice needed

  6. teresita April 30, 2011 at 5:01 am #

    Hi Linda,

    Your website is a Godsend!. You mentioned about demand passwords and cell phone in comp and facebook… i did this and my husband did the things your Doug did. But he still wont give it me, so what will I do?.

    Also tonight is my wedding anniversary and we are dining out together . His agreement to do this is a complete surprised for me. So what will I say on this day?

    • Bewildered August 11, 2011 at 3:50 pm #

      This very thing happened to me….getting those records would have have saved over a year of insanity. Verizon for instance only goes back a year so don’t wait another minute longer. DEMAND them!!!!

    • Bewildered August 11, 2011 at 3:51 pm #

      Have a nice evening tonight and DEMAND them tomorrow.

  7. suziesuffers May 1, 2011 at 10:51 am #

    Reading this list of things that in retrospect might have gone different, seems idealistic of how we might be able to change things as we are processing through the affair pain. But it seems that regardless of what we do, the process is about the same for all of us. Sure, we all demand passwords, emails and get then get the same defensive conversations from our CS and the same loving gestations to distract us from the discussion. We all read as much as we can and become obsessive in trying to find out how to save the marriage while our husbands sit back. We all seem to compare ourselves to the OW. The CS all seem to be in a fog. They seem to all say they love us but aren’t in love with us. They have found someone that makes them happy. We all worry about what they are still hiding and maybe contacting the OW. Being angry upfront…. I appreciate this list more for the “what I went through and wish could have been different, but I’m human”….than something that we might be able to do differently. Grieving and healing take a certain course, and the CS seems to take about the same course as the BS in almost everyone of these stories, so I’m not sure we have the power to change what the could, would and should happen.

  8. suziesuffers May 1, 2011 at 11:00 am #

    Teresita, have a wonderful evening. At some level I am sure you are thrilled he made this gesture, at another level, I know I had a hard time acting joyous because I hurt inside, and I also didn’t want him to see me having too good a time as if this was going to let him off the hook. That was some of the problem, he always acted as if one large gesture would “repay” the hurt and it would be all over and everything would be A..OK again….and I didn’t want him to use this as the gesture to get off the hook……but I think most importantly you need to have a good time and show him that you can have fun with him. I know that’s what my husband was looking for when he planned something….could he enjoy being with me…..of course, we might all go to that place….is he enjoying being with me more than the OW…is he comparing how much he enjoyed being with the OW to me. Don’t worry about that!! Just enjoy and remember how this use to feel…….A long time ago when the two of you just had fun, there will be plenty of time to work through the affair stuff…..But all work and no play makes for a very dull marriage….so have a wonderful time. If you are already intimate, then share your love….if not, you may want to tell him how much you appreciate everything he is doing, but you are still not ready for an intimate relationship. …you don’t want him going through the whole evening thinking this is the “forgiveness” gesture so he is “getting something”….and then end the evening in an angry disappointed mood. Let him know before the evening begins…..if things change by the end of the evening, then go with it….. Have a wonderful evening…..and just HAVE FUN tonight…

  9. theresa May 1, 2013 at 5:40 pm #

    Going back is like a refresher course for me. I’m always amazed at the changes in my perspective over time. Unfortunately, change has not always equaled progress.
    My most important lesson learned (today) is to treat myself with more kindness, patience, respect. This advice is universal from all sources. But I do better with explicit suggestions, and there are legions of suggestions. However, my thought process at that time could not handle any complex decisions. So which one do I pick? It had to be cheap, easy and have an immediately effect.
    The first thing I should have done was get a manicure!

  10. Pearl February 20, 2018 at 5:17 pm #

    Initially I was too numb to feel anger – I did not act out – It’s just not me anyway – when I’m hit with devastating news I appear calm on the outside but inside my heart is hammering away. Actually I went into the kitchen and popped open the bottle of champagne we’d gotten for our 25th anniversary. (He ran into the kitchen – I don’t know what he thought – maybe I’d shot myself?? lol He just stared at me and I said “It’s a f*cking occasion, isn’t it?”)

    I lost all my interests – and even four years later, they really haven’t returned. I used to play piano, harp, loved politics – I initially was obsessed with the details of this affair including going over credit card purchases, phone records, spyware programs that retrieve deleted pics and messages etc. I read some responses here – and no judgement but I have to say there is no waiting for the cheating spouse to make up their mind or come to their senses. That I did right for sure – when my husband first told me he said he wanted our marriage to work – so right then and there it was give me your phone, give me your passwords and tell me every detail.Yes – he also gave me the details in bits and pieces – glossing over the length and seriousness of the affair but the phone records and pictures said different – and it forced him to own up to what happened – also it’s very good to remind you of what you were doing at the time (i.e. “So while I was on the computer picking out an epitaph for our daughter’s headstone there are 108 texts between you and yard-sale Barbie”,,, “So while I was going four hours upstate alone to move our daughter out of her college dorm, you went off for sushi and a screw in the back of our car?”) Anyway – I think you must demand a decision, what has been done to you is the utmost betrayal and letting them continue contact with the AP is a continued betrayal. Believe me they’ll make their minds up pretty quick – one way or the other. Don’t be afraid of what they choose. I told my husband all I want is honesty – from here on out – nothing but honesty – if you want to be with someone else – it sucks to be me right now but I will get over it – I’d rather live alone than live a lie.

    • Pearl February 20, 2018 at 7:32 pm #

      I did want to add one thing – tell everybody – family, (including in-laws), adult children, friends, neighbors, co-workers …I told everybody – everyone in your life has something valuable to give (support, advice) and if they don’t – what are they doing in your life? But the main reason to tell everyone is because affairs are a secret – if it is real it will thrive in the light – if it was a fantasy it will die a quick death once the affair partners see it through everyone else’s eyes.

  11. Blindsided August 6, 2018 at 3:06 pm #

    The one thing that I didn’t do is get angry, which is totally out of character for me. And another shocker is that I didn’t cry … I think I was in shock. I have gotten angry over the past 6 months, in dribs and drabs – mostly because it didn’t end right away, though he told me it was over repeatedly. I have had an odd calm (on the outside) most of the time. On the inside I am a constant mess – heart racing, distracted, foggy. I did not set clear boundaries. Instead I said things like, “If this does not end, I am outta here” H would say it was over, I would find out it was not, I did not leave or kick him out. Rinse and repeat several time. Ugghh. I do believe it is over now, or else they have just gotten really great at hiding. (I see no signs on phone records, emails, etc. but I am not naive enough to think that there could be new phones, etc.) But there is an attitude change, and seeming remorse. I didn’t tell another living soul for the first 5 months following D-Day. I was embarrassed, ashamed, felt like a failure, and as others have said I was protecting him. I finally sought counseling, and told one friend. It felt great to say it all out loud. One thing I would add is if you are going to tell a friend, choose very carefully. I did a great job of choosing 🙂 She was a wonderful listener, didn’t make any judgements, genuinely built up my self-esteem (saying things that she meant about me, not just what she thought I needed to hear, or what one might believe were the ‘right’ things to say).

  12. Pearl August 7, 2018 at 8:55 pm #

    Dear Blindsided – love the name – I’ve used that term many times when people asked me how I felt when I first found out. Four years later and it’s not on my mind 99.9% of the day anymore but still there – in the back – waiting for any trigger (a place, a phrase, a memory) to bring it to the forefront and again I am washed over with disbelief it all happened. Continue to tell people – I do believe the best advice I’ve read (possibly here from Linda & Doug) don’t let it be “his affair” – keep talking about it – get your answers – the why’s and how’s until it becomes “OUR affair”. The affair partner had a window into your marriage while you knew nothing about their affair – make your husband knock down that wall – let in the light and fresh air. And I’m so glad you have such a kind and understanding friend.
    Wishing you continued healing. <3

  13. Survivor October 1, 2018 at 8:35 am #

    It’s been 8 years and all i know after his betrayal and his choice to cheat is this. I wish i had divorced him immediately, I tried to see if he had feelings for me that were genuine. All I know is that the liars that they are are the liars they are.. Giving them chances to put a marriage back together is not what we should be. just like the ME TOO Movement, We need to put cheating spouses on the hot plate and maybe they will grow up and wise up. I am never going to recover from this. Yes, days get easier., Only because i choose to not focus at all on him.

    30 years of marriage and on that year he chose someone else to be with. 10 years hoping he would be the husband he should have been. Tigers don’t change their stripes. To Doug, you are a jerk. Your wife shouldn’t waste her time trying to get you to notice what a gift she was to you.

    I know that when men and women do this, they end that marriage forever. The internal pain is so deep an so painful that it’s a scar and trauma that will be with them for lifetime.

    • Shifting Impressions October 1, 2018 at 5:01 pm #

      Survivor
      I am so sorry to hear your story. But I would like to challenge your thinking that people shouldn’t be given a second chance. Yes, Doug was a jerk (sorry Doug) as was my husband and all the other cheaters out there. But some of those jerks, actually changed. Think of the countless hours Doug puts into this site….helping many many people through the pain of infidelity. My husband admitted to being a jerk and showed true remorse. Did it happen easily or over night….absolutely not. The last almost five years since d-day have be extremely painful. I agree with you…I will have scar for the rest of my life. But, the scar is not near as tender as it was.

      My marriage and family were worth fighting for. The thought that people can’t change and shouldn’t be given that chance feels like such a hopeless way of looking at things.

      Should my husband show me that he was not willing to change I would then walk a way. I am not willing to have a third party in my marriage. But knowing I tried everything first would enable me to walk away without regrets.

      What is your situation now? Have you stayed in the marriage?

    • Kathleen October 1, 2018 at 7:32 pm #

      I wish I had your strength, TRUELY

  14. Seenthelight October 1, 2018 at 10:02 am #

    I can’t say that I’d change what I’ve done since his 1st admission. The single thing I would change if given the opportunity, is marrying him. I WOULD NOT do it again. He knew well before we married that lying was, is and always has been, always will be the number one thing I would not put up with. I knew that guys have a tendency to cheat and lie. I gave him credit for having integrity, values and morals and took him at his word that he would never lie to me again. MY MISTAKE. As so many on here have said, it isn’t so much the cheating, it’s the Bull they tell you after the fact, often for many years.

  15. Kittypone October 1, 2018 at 10:03 am #

    Just this morning, we had a huge blowup….he claims that the affair ended 15 months ago (I strongly suspect that there were still some form of contact between them) and it was an online affair as she lives in another country 2500 miles from us, but it was more than emotional as they were exchanging explicit pictures and videos of themselves and even engaged many times in phone sex with each other….he claims that he heard me tell my therapist that I had posted her information on a cheaters site (I did post the info; I never fessed up to a soul, not even my therapist, I wasn’t about to incriminate myself and even less in front of him) so I figured out that he has googled her several times just to see what she is looking like these days, since I demanded he block her on Facebook. He did, but then, I believe he blocks and unblocks her even if they don’t talk just so that he can get his “fix” of looking at her….he swears up and down that she means nothing to him anymore; that they haven’t spoken a word to each other in more than 15 months; that she is completely out of his heart and he doesn’t think of her anymore; that he loves only me and wants to rebuild our marriage; thing is, he stopped sharing location online with me (Find Friends, Find My Phone apps) and to me, that is a blaring signal of lack of transparency since he would park in a shopping plaza after work just so they could binge-talk on the phone and I could always pinpoint where exactly he was parked at the time….so, am I crazy for demanding he stops googling her (he swears to God he’s not) and making up these false scenarios, just so he can still have her in his life in some minute way? By the way, the affair ended because SHE dumped him, not the other way around, I’m positive had she not, they would STILL be together, marriage be damned…

  16. SideSwipedDented October 1, 2018 at 1:05 pm #

    Wouldas and Shouldas boil down to one haunting thing: I wish I woulda searched her phone more thoroughly when things were getting weird. I too was blindsided when out of the blue my wife of 28 years announced she wanted to separate, move out, and divorce. I was taken to the lowest ebb in my life and blamed myself after hearing those shocking words.

    Then mysteriously divorce and infidelity websites showed up on my iphone through the Cloud. When confronted she denied going to these sites until I presented the hard proof. Even then I didn’t piece together that an EM was going on. After a heart to heart discussion we managed to seemingly reconcile. But that same discussion evening my wife got drunk and passed out. I tried to look at her phone but it was locked tight. The next morning she acted normally. I DEMANDED she unlock her phone and let me see it.

    Once in, I read shocking text conversations about me with her girlfriend… the very night we seemingly reconciled. Many lies about me and much resentment I read with her nervously peering over my shoulder. At the time that was enough for me and I stopped reading. But I should not have stopped reading/hunting at that point.

    We started marriage counseling and things were extremely rocky. My wife was remorseful about the texts I read and her desire to separate.

    Then about a month later it connected in my mind and I asked her if she had met up with her old boyfriend Kevin who lives in our same town. There was a long stare and pause and she said that they had been FB messsging in the month of January before she “ended it.” Ended what? She then vaporized those texts before I could read them… gone forever.

    Across time I asked questions about those text conversations and it was revealed that they spoke of sex, things they did, planned to meet while I was away. Much of those texts occurred as a worked in my home office or while I was asleep. My wife repeatedly swears that they never physically met up but who knows for sure? It kills me that I’ll never have confirmation one way or the other because those messages were destroyed.

    Before all this I trusted my wife completely. Although I’ve forgiven her there remains a dent in the trust factor. It kills her that I don’t believe or trust her like I used to. In my mind it makes little difference if they physically met or not. It’s the withholding or non-confirmation of truth that bothers me the most and by reading her texts with Kevin I would have known the complete truth.

    Although things have gotten incredibly better, I’m still haunted by my failure to read everything that was secretly on her phone before they were removed.

    My wife calls it a “hiccup” in our 28 years of marriage and has/is seemingly doing everything she can possibly do to be transparent, kind, and repairative. Me too. I will end by saying that everything (except for complete trust) is stellar between us and we’re 8 months out. Best wishes to all of you here.🙏 I know how you feel.

  17. Kerry October 4, 2018 at 3:38 am #

    I’m 9 months on from my husband telling me he’s been seeing someone else. That day he left. 2 days later he came back telling me he’s made the biggest mistake of his life. He’s ended the relationship. It was 2 month doing if that, they barely saw each other and I know that cos he was either home or work, they did have sex a few times and from messages I’ve seen she sent him it’s like they were together for years and declaring love and a life together! He has been amazing at answering every damn question I’ve had. He deleted everything to do with her and is so remorseful. I’ve suddenly hit a point where I don’t know if I can get over the affair. I love him with all I have and can’t bare him not in my future. We’ve been together 16 years and have 4 children. But I just don’t know if I can get it out my head and heart him being with another woman. I’m tortured by him being with her, touching her, kissing her, having sexual with her, the concersations they’ve had about a future. Help, is this normal to suddenly have this scare out the blue, have I been blocking the realisation out perhaps?

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