It was a usual night out on the town when I first met Jack*. He was a social butterfly who loved to drink and party. But he was also good-mannered, respectful to his elders, and a caring friend. During our courtship, Jack lavished attention on me. I could always depend on him to make me smile. With his easy charm, it was easy to feel at ease around him; it was no wonder women were attracted to him like bees to honey. I noticed how they would openly flirt with him.

Jack was naturally friendly so he would give them his attention, but he always assured me he would never cheat on me. Throughout our dating years, he remained faithful and even got the stamp of approval from my grandmother. Yet, at the back of my mind, I was always worried he would give in to temptation if he got drunk on a night out. At the same time, I felt he was the best match for me – we connected on every physical and emotional level. So when he proposed after dating for four years – I was 31 then, he was two years older – I said yes.

Before we got married, I told Jack: “If you ever have a one-night stand, I don’t want to know about it. It’s not that I take extramarital affairs lightly, but if it was something that just happened once, then I’d rather not know. But if you get involved in a long-term extramarital affair, then that’s a big no-no for me.” I had wanted to lay down the ground rules; I have friends who divorced their husbands for being unfaithful. But now I wonder if my warning had planted the seed of infidelity in Jack’s mind. I regret what I said to him; I should have just given him an ultimatum to stay faithful, or else!

CHEATING HUSBAND, ABSENT FATHER
After tying the knot, I gave up my partying ways and even quit my job to be a stay-at-home mum. But Jack, who became the sole breadwinner, continued leading a bachelor’s life, staying out late almost every night even after our children were born. Initially, he asked me to join him, but I always declined as there was no one to look after the kids. So he would go out without me. If I asked where he was going, he would say he was working late or out with friends.

Just after my first child was born, I began getting phone calls at home from women looking for Jack. At first, I thought they were prank calls because at times, there would be silence on the other end. Some of them even assumed I was Jack’s sister and would gasp when I told them I was his wife. I asked them about their relationship with my husband, but they refused to answer. After I’d identified myself, most of them were usually apologetic. I felt angry and hurt but I didn’t tell them off. Instead, I sympathised with them for being duped by him. When I confronted Jack, he denied everything and claimed these women were playing pranks on him.

I also found condoms in his bag around the time I got pregnant – it was proof he was having sex outside of our marriage. Whether these sexual encounters were brief one-night stands or long-running affairs, I don’t know. One night, after he called to say he was working late, I dialled the number that showed up on the caller ID, only to be connected to a hotel known for charging hourly rates. Again, when I confronted Jack, he said he was there for work – this happened so many times, I lost count.

Our dwindling sex life was another red flag. We used to have sex frequently, but after our first child was born a few years into our marriage, he would make excuses not to have sex with me. He always claimed he was tired and went to bed after getting home. My efforts to “wake him up” failed, and I was left sexually unsatisfied. I felt hurt and unwanted. Thankfully, I didn’t catch any sexually transmitted diseases. But to this day, Jack has never admitted to being unfaithful. And I’ll never know exactly when the cheating started or how many sexual partners he’s had.

As a father, he was always absent and didn’t help with the kids. On the day our second child was born, Jack showed up at the hospital in the middle of the night with our older child, who was slightly over a year old then. He dumped her on my bed saying she was fussing for me – and left. When I was discharged a week later, I was left on my own to manage the household and look after the kids. When our second child was hospitalised, Jack refused to take leave from work to look after our older child. She had to stay with her sick sibling and me in hospital.

Throughout our marriage, I felt like a single mum. I felt like Jack’s slave, not his wife. Looking back, I can’t understand why I allowed this to happen. I seemed to accept my fate unconditionally.

MEETING THE MISTRESS
Soon after our fourth child was born, Tina* entered the picture. It was my 40th birthday and Jack took me to his favourite club to celebrate. There, we ran into Tina. Jack told me he had met Tina through work. I was instantly suspicious as they worked in unrelated industries. And even though she was married, I suspected she was having an affair with my husband from the way they behaved around each other. I could not believe I was celebrating my birthday with my husband and his lover. I was so upset, but I never said a word to Jack about this or shared my suspicions.

From that point, Tina became a fixture in our lives. When Jack and I went out, she would sometimes show up unannounced. My kids were so familiar with her, they even called her Aunty Tina. She even attended family outings like the one we had on Mother’s Day. When she turned up, I was shocked and angry. How could my husband take his mistress to our family gathering and parade her in front our children?

Jack was also constantly on the phone with Tina, whispering and avoiding me during these calls. He claimed he was worried about how lonely she was when her husband was at work. His behaviour changed, too. He started wearing cologne, and shirts and dress pants; he used to prefer soccer jerseys, jeans and bermudas. He would also sleep with his pager next to him. I even caught him using towels from hotels known to charge hourly rates and found receipts from such hotels in his wallet.

A few months after I met Tina, Jack asked me where he could buy a pregnancy test kit and if I knew of any abortion clinics. He claimed he was helping a colleague. When I said I didn’t believe him, he told me not to make a mountain out of a molehill. He then called a random clinic from the telephone directory and made an appointment with them – with me in the room. I was so angry and kept pushing the matter, but finally dropped it when he walked away from me. I never brought up the subject again as I knew it was pointless – he would only accuse me of trying to hurt his image and shame him.
  
FEELING BETRAYED
Around this time, I suggested to Jack that we see a marriage counsellor. I believed if we sorted our issues out, everything would be okay. Jack was reluctant at first, but relented on one condition: I couldn’t tell anyone about our rocky marriage.

Yet, after the first session, he spilled all the details to Tina; I found out when she casually asked me how our counselling sessions were going. I was stunned and felt betrayed. Jack was so adamant we keep mum about our marital problems to “save face”, yet, he was ranting to his lover about it! He also refused to go for further counselling; the first session we attended was also our last. When I told Jack’s parents about his affairs, they tried to help, but to no avail. My sister-in-law, who once bumped into him and Tina, chided him but Jack ignored her. My siblings were also upset to hear about my marriage woes, but they didn’t talk much about it.

ENOUGH WAS ENOUGH
About a year after I first met Tina, I felt it was time to confront her. I needed to know why Tina, being married herself, would do this to another married person. So I called her. She refused to admit to anything; telling me to ask Jack for the truth instead.

I told her: “You can have him. I’m filing for a divorce.” Arrogantly, she replied: “That’s your business.” I was taken aback; I had expected her to try to smooth things over, and not be so high and mighty. It felt like she had the upper hand, so I just hung up. Later, Jack scolded me for upsetting Tina. He still refused to admit they were having an affair but deep down, I knew they were.
 
CALLING IT QUITS
Ironically, I blame myself for Jack’s infidelities. I felt I had trusted him too much; I should have kept a tighter rein over him, been on better terms with his friends so they would keep me updated on his actions, and I should have joined him when he went out partying to keep an eye on him. I also wondered what I lacked that led him to stray. My self-esteem and confidence took a battering. I felt helpless and lonely. I even thought of killing myself and my kids, so they wouldn’t be left alone to suffer. But my children were the reason I returned to reality – a voice kept reminding me to stop being selfish and to think about
my kids. 

I considered walking out of my painful marriage countless times, even when I was heavily pregnant. But because my parents were divorced, I was determined not to go down the same road. Maybe that’s why I held on for as long as I did. After over a decade of marriage, I finally filed for divorce, knowing my marriage couldn’t be saved. Jack had never been, and would never be, there for the kids and me.

Leaving Jack, I had to be able to afford to give my children a home and an education. When I had my initial suspicions about Jack’s affairs, I began making plans for my children and myself. I convinced Jack to sell our marital flat for a tidy profit, which I then pumped into buying insurance. The rest of the money I kept for daily expenses. I also found a freelance job which allowed me to work from home; the extra income went towards my personal expenses.

By the time Jack and I went our separate ways, most of the cash from the sale of our flat had been used up. I did odd jobs like cleaning houses and doing sales to make ends meet. Jack paid me alimony for a year. After that, he only paid child maintenance fees and even then, he often missed his payments.

MY LIFE NOW
Jack has since remarried, but not to Tina. Jack and I share joint custody of the children but they live with me and only spend weekends with their dad. My children, who are grown-ups now, know Jack’s infidelities led to our split. As a result, they aren’t close to him. I have never asked them how they felt about their father’s infidelities but I think the eldest understands the stress I was under.

I’ve stopped blaming myself for Jack’s mistakes and accepted what happened as a lesson in life, a chance for me to grow into a better person. I have since met other single parents and shared my experiences with them. For couples planning to marry, I encourage them to discuss their issues and expectations – there should be no taboos – before settling down. Jack and I never discussed things like finances, sex, children and their education before we got hitched, so our marriage never had a strong foundation.

Despite the heartache I’ve been through, I still believe in love. But I’ve lost faith in marriage. I am not dating anyone right now but if I do, I think it’ll be more for companionship than to find a life partner.”

* Names have been changed.

This article was originally published in Simply Her February 2012.