From The Straits Times    |

Maya’s* nightmare began three years ago, during a routine play session with her three-year-old daughter, Lily. Maya was planning a weekend outing with the family, and had asked her little girl if she preferred the zoo or the aquarium. Lily chose neither, asking for ice cream instead.

When Maya refused her request, Lily threw a tantrum and cried, saying that Papa and Ms June, her preschool teacher, always bought her ice cream.

While Maya was thrown off by this revelation, that her husband and Ms June seemed to be in regular contact without her knowledge, she shrugged it off, choosing to console her child instead.

About two weeks later, Lily came home from school with an ice cream stain on her uniform. When asked about it, her husband, John* said he had given her ice cream for behaving well in school. Maya accepted this, though she felt that something was off.

“Call it a woman’s intuition – a part of me knew something was up, but another part of me didn’t want to rock the boat,” she says.

However, her curiosity got the better of her one day, and she decided to ask her daughter what she thought of Ms June. Lily said she was her favourite teacher, as she was always taking her out to eat and giving her treats. Maya was alarmed to hear this – how was a teacher permitted to take a pupil out without a parent’s permission, and during school hours? She dug deeper, and wished that she had not.

According to Lily, Ms June and Papa had been spending time together with her after school at a nearby cafe. They even went to the zoo once, and Maya realised this was when she was staying over at her parents’ house to care for her sick mother.

Shocked, Maya felt sick to her stomach that her husband was blatantly cheating on her, and in front of their child.

“My whole world collapsed instantly. I didn’t want to believe it, but I couldn’t ignore it either. It was even more horrifying that my daughter had been unknowingly dragged into this affair. I really didn’t know what to do,” she recounts.

“Call it a woman’s intuition – a part of me knew something was up, but another part of me didn’t want to rock the boat.”

The unravelling of trust

Despite the trauma of discovering her husband’s infidelity, Maya still wanted to hear his side of the story. She mulled over it for a week before finally confronting her husband.

He denied it, of course, and said that his meetings with Ms June were purely for professional reasons, and mostly to discuss Lily’s well-being in school. He reassured her of his love and faithfulness towards the marriage and family, and also promised to spend more time with them.

Although she had her doubts, Maya decided to take her husband’s word for it. A few months later, Maya found out that she was pregnant with their second child. Elated, she dropped by her husband’s office to surprise him with the news during lunch, only to be told that he had taken the day off. Confused, she then decided to grab a meal at the couple’s favourite spot before going home, only to find John dining there with Ms June.

They were behaving intimately – it was definitely not a professional meet-up, as John had claimed. Trying to control her rage, she snapped a photo of the pair and stormed home. Later that night, she showed the photo to her husband and demanded another explanation. He finally confessed, apologised for his momentary lapse in judgement, and vowed never to see Ms June again outside of school.

The next morning, Maya went to Lily’s preschool and made a complaint against the other woman – it seemed the affair had been going on for nearly a year – who was subsequently fired.

“She was supposed to take care of my child, educate her and instil good morals. Instead, she exposed Lily to a world of betrayal and secrets,” says Maya.

Photo credit: Getty Images

For better or worse

Maya contemplated divorcing John, but was worried about the impact of the separation on Lily. To top it off, she now had an unborn child to consider too.

Maya met with a divorce lawyer to weigh her options, such as who was entitled to the house and custody of the kids, as well as the amount of alimony she might receive – but she was still undecided about her next course of action.

John, on the other hand, was against a divorce. His parents were divorced, and he did not want the same to happen to his own family. John treated Maya like royalty, pleading for forgiveness every day. He said
he had learnt his lesson and was no longer in touch with Ms June, and promised to be a better husband and father.

He also played the “marriage card”, and sought to convince her by bringing up their wedding vows, that they had promised to love and care for each other through good and bad times.

Surprisingly, even Maya’s parents urged her to forgive him. While they were upset by John’s betrayal, they did not want the family to break up, and kept telling Maya: “You don’t want your unborn baby to grow up without a father, do you?”

Suffice to say, Maya did not have an easy pregnancy, due to the mental and emotional stress she faced. She almost lost her baby to a miscarriage, which deterred her from leaving her husband, at least till their son was born. However, he was not an easy baby to care for, and Maya realised how dependent she was on John for parenting support.

With these factors in mind, she decided to give him a second chance for the sake of their children – though she told him that while she had forgiven him, she has and will not forget what he did.

“Our relationship now is a work in progress. Every day is a small step towards me regaining my trust in him. We try to communicate more, and he has shown extra care for me and the kids. I still love him very much, but I don’t show him that. I want him to earn back my love in whatever way he can. I don’t want him to take me for granted anymore,” says Maya.

“She was supposed to take care of my child, educate her and instil good morals. Instead, she exposed Lily to a world of betrayal and secrets.”

To err is human, to forgive is divine?

Some may question Maya’s benevolence. How can one forgive a cheating spouse, let alone choose to remain in the marriage? How can she be certain that he won’t stray again? And what about the impact on their children, particularly Lily, who witnessed the affair? How does one navigate the emotional scars that may affect them?

The key to moving on is acceptance and forgiveness, says retired marriage counsellor Connie Sim. Only then can couples start to heal. “Forgiveness does not mean that you are overlooking your spouse’s insensitive behaviour. It just means that you won’t waste time holding on to the anger. Use that energy to focus on rebuilding your marriage instead,” she advises.

“If children are involved, you should find out how they feel about the situation, assuming they even understood what happened. A lot of reassurances should be given to them, as they need to feel safe and confident that the family unit is still strong.”

While there is no guarantee that the cheating will stop, it is important for the betrayed spouse not to dwell on that possibility, stresses Connie.

“Find out what caused your partner to stray in the first place, and then work on tackling this problem together. If need be, go for couple’s counselling – talking to a neutral party may be a healthier way for you to hash things out.”

*Names have been changed.