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The Secret To An Amazing Relationship?

For me, it was allowing it to fall apart.

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Tara Jacoby
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Like most relationships, our marriage had gotten a bit stale by year 14.

We didn’t argue —  but we also didn’t not argue. Essentially, we passed through our shared life and marriage without much notice. We loved each other and were best friends. But if you could describe our marriage in one word, it would be “stale.”

That is, until I started texting an old friend. It started innocently enough. I had known him since high school. He told me about his relationship with his fiancée (sexless, he said). I tried to help, offering him my amateur tips for spicing things up (maybe role-playing will help?). But it didn’t.

His life was fascinating to me. I was long married with kids, pets and a mortgage. He was just about to get married but had otherwise lived the single life for the past 40 years. He told me about it so I could live vicariously through him.

And then it all went wrong. Explaining that he had always had a crush on me, he sent me a photo of himself topless. It was a very revealing photo, implying that there was nothing on the bottom, either.

At first, I told him that this was wrong, that I’m married and happy. He persisted. It was flattering, and I felt my resistance waning.

He asked if I’d ever be with him, and I responded, “lol.”

That was a major mistake. But I didn’t know what to say. He looked great, I was bored, we were in the middle of the pandemic, and my children were driving me crazy. I felt flattered that he liked me then — and apparently now, too. I wasn’t interested in starting anything, but this was fun, new, different.

Since he lives across the globe, no one could get hurt if we flirted a bit over text, right?

That is, until my tween casually scrolled through my texts when I wasn’t looking. And she spotted the close-up of this man’s very adult body. She raced over to my husband and asked him if I was cheating.

In an instant, my moment of fun vanished as my husband packed up a change of clothing and left, leaving us crying. He returned a few hours later, and moved into the basement. I was devastated. I loved our life, our family, our marriage (even despite it being stale). Yet I did something unforgivable, and I was about to be divorced over it. I begged, pleaded and sobbed. My husband sobbed, too. He was embarrassed, he was hurt, and he didn’t trust me. He didn’t understand why I was flirting over text with a random man, and I didn’t have a good explanation. It was fun? It was new? It was something to distract me during the pandemic?

My husband agreed to give me another chance. For the children, he explained. I spent the next few weeks trying to fix our relationship. I got a therapist for each of us, and I spent hours each day talking to my husband. I actually talked to him without a TV on in the background, without cooking as a distraction. We made a pledge to be totally honest with each other about everything. Everything from sex to chores to our individual happiness was discussed.

It felt like we were getting to know each other from scratch, as we dug into our habits. I learned that he has been feeling trapped because I make all the decisions (I thought he wanted me to make the decisions), while he learned that I’m always frantic because I feel like I’m in charge of everything.

My therapist suggested that I succumbed to the inappropriate texts because I was rebelling against my strict mother. We dug deeper. We took baby steps to fixing our relationships. I have a hard time letting go of control, but I asked him to choose a restaurant and surprise me with it when we arrived. (In the past, I was in charge of finding the restaurants and making the reservations.)

He wanted to redecorate our living room, so I relinquished control of that as well — and loved the result. We were doing what we could during a pandemic to put the pieces together again —  and possibly even make our relationship stronger than it had been.

We tried to be kinder to each other, not resentful when one person wanted to nap, more helpful when it came to the other person’s chores. Instead of heading upstairs to watch Schitt’s Creek after dinner, we added an evening walk to our routine.

These were all little steps, but they were slowly helping us rebuild our relationship.

Would it be possible for us to fix everything after it had been so badly shattered? The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy found that 15 percent of women and a quarter of married men have affairs. Include emotional and sexual relationships without sex, and that stat jumps by 20 percent.

The stats relating to the number of couples who survive the affair are even more dire. A study by health care company Health Testing Centers found that just 16 percent survive infidelity. Much of it has to do with the type of affair: 20 percent of couples stay together after a one-night stand, while just 13 percent stay together after a longtime affair.

The odds are against us. But I’m certain we can get through this stronger and better than before. Because sometimes everything needs to fall apart before you can rebuild. And we’re on square one.