If life were like a TV show or a movie and I was a sassy, no-nonsense Sandra Bullock-type, I would have tossed my husband and his belongings on the front lawn the moment I learned of his infidelity.
But I was a 40-something mother of three who never had the slightest hint that my marriage was built on lies. When my husband, Dave, sat me down at our dining room table right before Christmas one year and revealed more than a decade of betrayal, I literally fell to the floor; it took me months to be able to stand on my own two feet again.
My husband’s confession was the first of many blows. Here was another surprise: After he said he was leaving me, he stayed in the house for eight more months, refusing to move out.
Somehow his idea of leaving didn’t seem to include actually leaving.
I know what you’re thinking: Why didn’t I force him out?
At first, I was simply in shock. I couldn’t believe the things he was telling me. I kept waiting for this stranger to go away and let my real husband come back. Even when I realized that the person I thought I knew wasn’t coming back, I was afraid of what life on my own would look like. I didn’t know how to tell the kids.
There were many reasons that unraveling our 20 years together took so long.
Ultimately, it wasn’t a question of whether I was emotionally ready to let go. He simply wouldn’t leave. Somehow he’d gotten the idea that moving out would equal abandonment and would hurt his chances for joint custody.
Here is what I wrote about that time in my upcoming memoir, The Buddha at My Table: How I Found Peace in Betrayal and Divorce:
When I see an apartment for rent several blocks away, I drag Dave to go see it. The two of us walk over, and his bored indifference infuriates me. I point out amenities as if there is an HGTV camera pointed at me, trying to cover my growing embarrassment over the fact that we are obviously wasting the landlord’s time.
Back outside, I explode. “What’s wrong with you? You need to find an apartment! Don’t you want to get settled somewhere now, so the kids can adjust to it over the summer?”
He shrugs and I feel like a mother arguing with a teenager. Why am I involved in this process at all? This is so clearly not my business. Whatever role I must grow into, there are certain aspects that have to be left behind, beginning with Dave’s mother and secretary.
“I’m not moving out until we have the visitation schedule decided,” he says.
I want to throttle him. “What’s the big mystery? Do you really think your schedule will be much different than every other divorced dad out there?”
He doesn’t answer but his look says it all. Yes. Yes, he does.
A court order finally nudged my husband into finding a new apartment. Looking back, I can say I got through the process by taking small, empowering steps toward my independence. I made a parenting schedule, which forced me to take time for myself on my days “off,” and established boundaries around personal space—he slept in the basement and my bedroom was off-limits.
I put my hands on the steering wheel in other ways: our Honda Odyssey van was leased in his name and, as much as I loved it, and especially the heated seats, I needed to get my own car. The first and last time I bought a car was my senior year in high school when I saved $800 from my Bob Evans waitressing job and got a 1971 Dodge Dart. So I headed to Carmax and the salesman showed me a 1996 royal blue Ford SUV that I couldn’t resist. The name on the back said it all: Escape.
Of course I took it.
Tammy Letherer’s book, The Buddha at My Table: How I Found Peace in Betrayal and Divorce, releases Oct. 16. You can pre-order a copy on Amazon.