Written by Jill Coleman, Fitness & Business | Coach Photography by James Patrick
No one ever gets married thinking their spouse might eventually cheat. But mine did. What follows is a recount of how my life changed in an instant, and how I managed to heal my heart after it felt like it was ripped from my chest.
Most people assume infidelity only happens in “bad marriages,” but that wasn’t us. In fact, to many people, we were the definition of #CoupleGoals. My husband and I were both health and fitness professionals in North Carolina, growing our online businesses, and very active on the Internet. As a blogger myself, I was constantly referencing my marriage. My husband, a well-respected physician, speaker, and best-selling author, was known as an all-around good guy.
We’d been together six years when I found out he was cheating. And unlike many who find out by catching them in the act or reading illicit texts or emails, my husband simply confessed. As the words fell from his mouth (he’d been in a two-year affair that had ended 18 months prior), I sat in total shock, only hearing a few words here and there. It felt like I was up on the ceiling looking down at someone else’s life.
How could this be real?
I didn’t want it to be real.
People who knew us as a couple were floored. As for me, all I felt was immense shame that I couldn’t even keep my own husband interested in me. I felt like the life I’d been living was a huge lie. It was my worst nightmare come true.
I wanted all the answers, and at the same time, I wanted none. But the biggest question I had was for myself: Do I leave him?
The societal script dictates that if you respect yourself at all, you have to leave. Just up and go. Make him pay. Leave him in his guilt. Don’t look back. You deserve better. And if I wanted to be that strong, independent woman I projected on the outside, then I had to, right? But I had built a life with this person, and the affair was over. Despite my broken heart, I stayed to work on things.
“The intensity of the workouts saved me. The iron was always there for me. Consistent. Unrelenting. Home.”
Until one night, after wallowing in self-pity for hours, I just got sick of myself. I hated that I felt like I was waiting around for him to choose me. I hated that nothing was changing. I hated that I felt weak and out of my power. So on a whim, I booked a two-week solo trip to Italy.
I had no idea what I was doing. Not only did I not speak the language, but up until that point, I’d never even gone to dinner by myself. I hadn’t been single since I was 18 years old. But it was the first choice I’d ever made without considering my marriage and it felt good. Even empowering.
Every second of the trip was terrifying. But I remember when I got home, I experienced the biggest rush of pride I’d ever felt. I did it. I could do this. I could rely on me.
I followed it up with a trip to Sydney, Australia for a month, where I cried every day of the first week. What was I doing? I kept thinking I should just go home to my family.
But somehow, I found the courage to stay and endure the loneliness. I soon joined a CrossFit gym in Bondi Beach and on the first day at class, I met a girl from Wales who’d also just moved to Sydney and we quickly became friends. We trained every day together, pouring ourselves into workouts and then exploring the city. I got into nearly the best shape of my life, and the intensity and escape of the workouts saved me. The iron, I realized, was always there for me. Consistent. Unrelenting. Home.
The night before I left to head back home, the people I connected with through CrossFit threw me a little going away party. And it was then, sitting at that restaurant laughing and having the best time, that it occurred to me that maybe I was going to be okay on my own.
Within a week of returning home to my husband, I could see that nothing was changing. He was still caught up in love with his mistress, even though she wanted nothing to do with him, and I was still not a part of the equation. The reality was, we both had broken hearts—just from different people.
Days later, I made the decision to move to Los Angeles. I left everything I’d known in North Carolina and started the drive across the country towards my new life. With everything I owned in my car, I drove the first leg of the trip, 16 hours, crying on and off the whole way. It was literally the worst day of my life. But as I sat down in the tiny hotel room in Kansas City, I said to myself, “If I can find five things to be grateful for on this day, I’m going to be okay.” And I was able to.
This would become my coping mechanism as I faced each new obstacle. My gratitude list kept me afloat as I settled into LA where I knew no one, as I dove into my workouts, as I continued to grow my Internet business, as I (to my surprise) slowly moved on.
I poured myself into my online business, creating new courses and launching coaching programs. I doubled down on serving my customers and growing my audience. I met new people, formed friendships, joined three different gyms.
I didn’t start dating with an intention of meeting any real prospects for about a year. Dating at first felt awkward, mostly because I was so closed off. I’d forgotten how to be light, to flirt, to laugh and let loose. It took some time for me to open up.
But I was healing, slowly.
“If I’d just left, then I’d have missed out on all the lessons, the journey, the insights, and the experiences that fortified me in my darkest times.”
I kept my gratitude list with me the whole time. And now, I can finally say that I am truly grateful for the whole experience. Even the heartbreak.
I know now that if I’d just left right away because that’s what “a strong woman does,” then I’d have missed out on all the lessons, the journey, the insights, and the experiences that fortified me in my darkest times. I am truly the strongest version of myself for having gone through everything I did.
Years later, I was fortunate enough to connect with another business and mindset coach, Danny-J Johnson, who is now my co-host on our self-improvement podcast, “The Best Life.” Together, we share our stories of heartbreak and infidelity, along with the tools for healing and insights gleaned along the way.
We strive to give our listeners going through these kinds of life interruptions the support, validation, and tools we didn’t have back then, making the conversation louder, out in front rather than hushed in dark corners and therapists offices.
If you’re going through something like I did, know that you are not alone. You have choices (there’s no “right” choice, by the way). You are strong. You can heal. You can get through it. And you will.
As for me, things have never been better. I’m in a solid relationship with a new guy (five years younger than me, ha!), I’m more self-aware than I’ve ever been, I live with honesty and integrity, and I truly know deep down that whatever the obstacle, I got this. I’m good. I can count on me.