Dear Wayne and Wanda,
My husband has always spent a lot of time on his phone, but lately he seemed to be on his phone more than ever. The other day he left his phone on the counter while he went to the garage, and the screen lit up with a message through an app I’d never heard of. I’m not usually a snoop but something about this felt wrong. I unlocked his phone, opened the app, and saw my husband had traded recent messages with at least five different women.
I immediately confronted him. He was embarrassed and apologetic and insisted that all he’d done was talk to other women, that he’s never met anyone in real life, exchanged explicit videos or photos, or even talked on the phone or texted. I’m not sure he’s telling me the truth. For example, he initially said he sent his first messages only recently, but later came clean that he’s been talking with other women for at least three years — and we’ve only been married for five!
I feel devastated and betrayed by what I see as cheating. My husband says I’m overreacting and that this is not infidelity, but just something he does for fun when he’s bored. He says spending less time on his phone will solve the problem. I think he’s way underplaying this and wishes it would just go away.
Advice on how to move forward would be greatly appreciated.
Sometimes in marriages there are secrets — like when we’ve planned an exciting surprise, purchased a special present, or don’t voice every last fact and opinion in the spirit of protecting our partner’s emotions. These secrets are all about generating and preserving happiness. Other kinds of secrets, on the contrary, are held for more selfish reasons — like maintaining power and control, or in this case, concealing sneaky and self-gratifying behavior.
Your husband can call this whatever he wants — cheating, chatting, stupidity. At the end of the day, he hid multiple relationships with other women from you, directing flirtatious behavior out of the boundaries of your marriage, without your knowledge and certainly without your consent. Fixating sexually on other women draws from the energy he should be focusing on you. However he paints this picture, his behavior is reckless, disloyal and toxic, and the only person’s happiness he considers is his own.
The fact that this went on for years suggests deeper-rooted issues driving this behavior — that a one-off messaging dalliance would be a great thing, but it might be easier to dismiss or accept. If you’re serious about chipping away at his narrative to better understand his motivations, and about forgiving him and rebuilding trust, consider looking to a third party for support. This could be a marriage counselor, or if applicable, a spiritual leader in your faith of choice.
When I read letters like this — or watch the first 15 minutes of a “20/20,” “Dateline” or “48 Hours” episode — I often wonder how people even have the time and energy to maintain multiple romantic relationships. Like seriously. Do any of you cheaters have jobs? Doesn’t one truly committed relationship fill up every moment of time not spent working and sleeping? And if you’re bored, isn’t fun with your partner enough? You need more attention and love that desperately? Oh, then add in any combination of kids, pets, home repairs, cooking and maybe even a hobby … Part of me wants to ask this guy his secrets of time management. Another part of me wonders why people who wander, or are unhappy or just bored don’t just move on. But mostly I’m just disappointed in him and sick for you.
I bet he wishes this would go away or he could talk his way out of it! This isn’t a phone use issue. This is a cheating husband issue. Your husband was running a covert operation and got busted. Your gut warned you, and then you found out, and then he admitted to what you found and nothing more. I wouldn’t be surprised if you continued digging that more and more layers of this rotten onion reveal a deeper ruse. But why don’t you save your energy and stop worrying about him and his lies, and focus on what you need and want right now and moving forward?
Whether he’s had real sex, phone sex, text sex, or no sex doesn’t really matter. You’re right: He’s cheated and he’s betrayed you. And you should do whatever helps you get grounded and feel emotionally safe. That’s likely getting far away from your husband, his deception and excuses for the time being, if not forever.