Before I got married, I would hear people refer to “the seven year itch” as if it were some mythical danger to be carefully avoided on pain of death, like Scylla and Charybdis: one step in the wrong direction and you end up dashed on the rocks or eaten alive. It was the married couple’s urban legend, or so I thought.
The thing is, the feeling sneaks up on you. I’m not sure I’d describe the sensation as an itch so much as a spreading numbness, like you’re slowly freezing from the feet up. Before you know it, you’re floating through life in a glass bubble, frozen in place, unable or unwilling to reach out for another person.
Then one day something crashes into your bubble so hard it cracks the glass and all the wants, needs, fantasies, and regrets you didn’t know you had pour out, carrying your confused body along with them like debris on a tidal wave. In the best cases, it’s your spouse who breaks through your cocoon, but all too often it’s something or someone else.
I was awakened from my emotional cryogenic sleep when an old flame resurfaced and slowly began to thaw the places in my subconscious I’d long forgotten.
When I say “old flame” I don’t mean some guy I sparked with a few times and then parted ways amicably when we grew apart. I mean THE old flame: the original. I mean the dating equivalent of the first spark ever harnessed by cavemen which grew into the life-changing warmth and security that gave birth to our entire civilization: my first love, first boyfriend, first sexual partner, first heartbreak, and first regret.
Our lives had drifted so far apart over the last 10 years that speaking to him again was like seeing a ghost. In fact, it rattled me so hard that it shook something loose.
To say that mine and my husband’s sex life had started to deteriorate would be a gross injustice. In our seven years as husband and wife, our bedroom antics had gone from mind-blowing, to mindless, to out-of-sight-out-of-mind. I hadn’t thought about sex in months, let alone consented to the act.
The phrase “Hey baby, wanna do it?” had become an acceptable form of foreplay, and the one in a hundred times I agreed to participate had become brief and empty. It felt more like an act of desperate mutual masturbation than making love, and it ended more often with tears and self-loathing than orgasms and release.
We had a good life, and yet we were lost to each other.
Maybe it was the lack of drama and complications that had dulled our senses and lulled our younger selves into the zombie-like stupor in which we were now caught. I’m not even sure I realized how far we’d fallen until I hit rock bottom.
At first, rock bottom looked a lot like every secret fantasy or guilty dream I’d ever had: the-one-that-got-away hadn’t really gotten away at all. Apparently he had pined over me for years and there he was, back in my life. More surprising was the fact that he still wanted me. I was like an addict who’d been in recovery for years, but once I’d had a taste of the forbidden I couldn’t stop myself. I felt like a teenager again.
Now, before the townsfolk take up their pitchforks or brand a scarlet “A” to my chest, I would like to assure you that my sexual renaissance happened almost entirely in my mind. The fates had fortunately conspired so that the object of my newfound desire was living hundreds of miles away, thus making any physical transgressions nearly impossible. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have gone there, just that I didn’t.
Which brings me to my point: how almost cheating on my husband saved my marriage.
After a few short months of texting another man while my husband slept in the bed beside me, and finding excuses to leave the house so I could talk on the phone uncensored, I eventually came clean. I looked my fantasy in the face and I chose reality, but not before I learned a few new things about myself.
My husband and I talked for several hours over several days. At first he was hurt by my emotional betrayal, but eventually we both started opening up about our unsatisfied needs. In a weird way we reconnected over our previously lost connection. I’m not going to pretend we solved all our problems that easily, but it opened a dialogue that we were both too afraid to approach before.
We are now nearly 10 years into our relationship and while we still have to work hard to stave off the always-threatening numbness of life, we have never forgotten those nights spent talking about our biggest fears and deepest desires.
We both had our chances to leave, each with our own valid reasons, and we stayed for better or worse. There’s a strange comfort and bond in that mutual decision, and one we never would have found if it weren’t for my pseudo-indiscretion. We might still be numb today, or more likely divorced due to irreconcilable boredom.
I never knew what I would do in the face of losing my marriage: I was always too afraid to really question it – but not anymore. We have been to rock bottom and started to claw our way out of the pit.
I’m not exactly grateful for my actions, and I’m certainly not proud of them, but I do think they helped me save my marriage when I wasn’t even sure there was anything to save.