“There are always two sides to every story…”
I’ve said it myself a few times, and most of the time it’s true. It’s also an underlying assumption about any relationship breakdown. As a result of this, even though everyone I’ve spoken to agrees that E’s behaviour has been completely out of order, an unspoken question still hovers in most people’s minds about my relationship with E: ‘what went wrong?’.
The assumption seems to be that a relationship must have been somehow broken for someone to have sought solace in affairs. If I had a pound for every time I’d heard or read something along the lines of ‘happy couples don’t have affairs’, I’d probably be able to buy E’s share of our house. I also believed this until it happened to me. As a result, when E and I split up, I questioned everything I thought I knew and blamed myself for most of it. I wondered if he hadn’t felt loved or needed, I wondered if he’d felt I didn’t support him or care for him enough. I asked myself what I did, or didn’t do, that was so wrong, that he sought attention from other woman. I didn’t understand how my perception of the relationship could be so far awry, that I was planning Christmas, and thinking we would spend the rest of our lives together, whilst he was sending dick picks and texting his girlfriends all day every day.
The really painful question I had to address was whether I’d given too much of myself to our children, and not enough to him. Was I so wrapped up in our children that he felt he didn’t get the love and attention he needed? I still feel that the only reasonable response to any adult who feels jealous of the attention their partner gives to their kids is: ‘grow the fuck up, of course our kids are the centre of my life, I assumed they were at the centre of yours too?’ I thought most people felt that way, and yet something that’s brought up again and again in the advice columns and in the daily-mail-esque clickbait guides to preventing an affair is to pay attention to your partner and not make him or her feel that they come second to your children. This still slightly astounds me, but maybe it’s my blind spot? Of course I put my children first. Doesn’t every parent? I’m not saying I will privilege their wants over my needs, but their needs definitely trump mine. Obviously I made space for my relationship with E, in fact I thought our relationship grew because of the addition of our children, but when it came to the fundamentals I would throw myself (and him) under a bus to prevent our children being hit by it (obviously, these days, I’d cheerfully just chuck him under a bus regardless of whether or not the kids’ lives were in danger).
The funny thing is that (rather like P, apparently) I had decided that I wasn’t going to have children. Twenty-two year old me would have be astonished to know I’d go on to have four of them.
I know exactly when I changed my mind. It was 27th July 1992 and my sister had just had her first baby. I held that little girl in my arms, looked into her perfect face and with a sudden rush of love. I wasn’t even put off by the dramatic appearance of high speed meconium as she fired it across her incubator. I was in love and that was it.
After a couple of years of unsuccessful trying, where I seriously thought I might not be able to get pregnant at all, Oldest Daughter made her appearance at the end of 1998.
In the end I had seven pregnancies, three of which ended in miscarriage. Two of them were between Youngest and Oldest Daughter and the third, and most traumatic, one was 18 months before Youngest Son was born. Whilst the first two miscarriages had been fairly early and I’d been able to go home and let nature take its heart-breaking course, this third one was later and I needed to have surgery. Whilst all of the miscarriages were devastating, this one was physically as well as mentally tough and I was ill for months afterwards. I found out I was pregnant with Youngest Son just over 11 months later.
As a result of everything we went through I count myself very lucky to have four children. For me, far from diverting my attention away from E, having children together brought us closer together. For me, our children were an important part of the couple that we were and I felt so fortunate in the family that we’d created. Seeing both of us in their faces and characters, made me appreciate things about E that I hadn’t thought of before – things like Oldest Daughter’s competitive streak and drive, Oldest Son’s good natured smile and Youngest Son’s ability to spin a five minute memory into a twenty minute story. It also made me smile at traits that I’d found irritating in him – for example Oldest Daughter’s occasionally tactless bluntness, Oldest Son’s perverse pleasure in all things mathematical and Youngest Son’s obsession with watching sport, any sport, all sport, on the TV. (Youngest Daughter is pretty much 100% me, I’m not sure she inherited anything from her Dad, I’m still trying to work out if, fairy-tale-like, I created her out of ‘wishing’ – it would certainly explain her other-worldliness).
I suppose there’s a certain amount of irony in the fact that whilst I was thinking the kids had strengthened our relationship he was using them to facilitate having his affairs. I’ve seen emails where he used the children to explain to his girlfriends why, our relationship was ‘over’ but he couldn’t leave me. The kids became an essential part of his self-constructed Honourable Man myth.
But was it the fact that I spent so much time focused on the children, and not enough focused on him that led him to have affairs? Or was it just the fact that from the very start he was never really committed to me and would have had affairs anyway?
The problem with the idea that ‘there must be something wrong for someone to have an affair’, is that it assumes that both partners were equally invested in and committed to the relationship from the start. It never considers that sometimes the affairs are what break the relationship for the faithful partner. The fact is that in some relationships, no matter how good it is, one partner will simply never appreciate what they’ve got, will just never be happy with what they have and will always seek attention elsewhere, even if the relationship is offering love and everything they need. For some people, what they want and need takes precedence over everything and everyone else, even if that means they want something in addition to their relationship.
E is one of those people.
It’s taken me a long time to accept that. I’ve spent the best part of two years trying to work out how a relationship that I thought was working just fine, was broken enough to create the circumstances in which my partner could have multiple affairs. However, once I realised that, in fact, the relationship was fine, it was just that one of the partners in it had a problem, that things began to make sense.
E would have had those affairs no matter what our relationship was like. The sad thing is that sometimes there are not always two sides to a story. Sometimes there are just simple facts and single truths.