Wedding Anniversaries After Infidelity - What Do We Do With Them Now?

We are now celebrating not just the beginning of our marriage, but the history of our marriage.

After the revelation of infidelity, memories and milestones become a very tricky landscape. Reminiscence that used to instill joy, nostalgia, and peace, can now elicit a very different set of emotions. Reflection on the past can be truly debilitating in the face of betrayal. As a whole, anniversaries, dates, seasons, etc. now carry a sting. But there is a particularly cruel mockery that enshrouds a wedding anniversary following marital infidelity.

Some experts guide a couple in recovery to consider the "old" marriage to be dead, grieve its loss, and then embark on creating a "new" marriage in truth, light, and healing. I understand the sentiment behind this, and maybe it is interpretation on my part, but I just don't like it. It doesn't work for me. Betrayal can encompass a significant period of our lives for many of us - whether it is the actual affair(s) / betrayal behavior, the duration of the deception, or a combination of both. In my case, my husband's affair and subsequent years of deception lasted a very long time. Am I supposed to just close the door on a huge chunk of my adult life and never look back? I'm not saying this is exactly what the experts are suggesting, but that is how it feels to me.

My kids were little and those were very special years for me. I don't want to close the door on that. I showed up in those years. I did the best I could to reach over that divide, but he would not open the door. Could I have done things differently, in the years before, during, and after the affair? Yes, of course. I missed opportunities that I would address differently in hindsight, but I acted in good faith, based on the knowledge I had (or lack thereof) and the emotional skillset and maturity I had at that time. Now I am older and wiser (let's hope) and have learned a lot about myself and my husband so I can do things differently and with eyes wide open.

So, now to my point. Since D-day, several wedding anniversaries have passed. I'm sure I don't have to tell you how I felt about the first one. I didn't even want to acknowledge the day, much less celebrate it. I ignored it and just wanted it to go away. This was about 6 months after D-day and it just felt like a sick joke. Added to the insult was the solemness my husband expressed about the importance of the day. He seemed very earnest and resolute in his expression of the day's meaning to him. I did not understand why we would ever want to celebrate it again. What was there to celebrate? Why would a person who took marriage so lightly and went to such extensive and repeated measures to destroy everything it was about, want to celebrate the anniversary of our wedding day and the vows that ultimately meant nothing? I remember thinking that now it was just insulting that this day even exists. He got me a very heartfelt card; I could not acknowledge the day at all. The painful irony is my husband found it so meaningful and important, when it truly meant the absolute least to me it possibly could. If I had been agreeable we would have done something special, but I wanted nothing to do with it. I just wanted the day to be over and behind me. Looking back, I know my husband was hurt by my reaction, but it seemed like such a farce to me, and I really couldn't muster up the empathy to care how he felt about it, since he was the one who cared so little about our marriage that it had been rendered totally meaningless. It seemed pretty cut and dried to me at that time, and I really did not think I would ever feel any differently about this. I counted our anniversary among the many things I lost in the aftermath of betrayal. To his credit, he was able to "hold" the meaning for both of us, while I began to work through it to try to move closer to where he was.

I have seen many of the Affair Recovery General Forum conversations about wedding anniversaries (and rings) and most of the comments include the words "never" and "always" in terms of the betrayed spouse's feelings, with no hope or expectation for change. Obviously I understand this, as I have been right there with you. However... I continued to struggle with it, which means that I knew somewhere in my heart, I did not want to let it go. Bear with me on this, as I explain how things have shifted for me.

I already told you how wedding anniversary #1 post D-day went. I pretty much ignored anniversary #2 as well, just wanting it to pass quickly, move on, and leave me alone. No card, no commemoration.

By the third one, though, I felt differently. Not initially, but my frame of mind shifted following a specific conversation I had with my Harboring Hope group leader. I was facing another wedding anniversary and wanted to feel differently about it, but didn't know how, or even if I ever really could. My group leader endured her husband's numerous affairs across the span of many years of their marriage, but they had been reconciled and happy for a number of years at that point. I told her my dilemma and asked her how she felt about their wedding anniversary. This is what she said:

"Since the (last) affair was over, we have anticipated the day and celebrate it for many reasons. It's the day "we" began and that is still cause for celebration. We are now celebrating not just the beginning of our marriage, but the history of our marriage. It's one that went from what seemed broken beyond repair to beautiful. We celebrate God's grace and the power of forgiveness. Our anniversary now is even sweeter than it was before infidelity. We made it! We went through the darkest nights and the hottest fires and we are still married! We love each other more deeply now than we ever thought about the day we first said those vows. One of those vows is 'for better or for worse' and the years he was cheating were definitely "worse", but it is part of us, part of our story... We reclaimed the day by renewal. When God rebuilds from broken pieces, from dust, into something whole and beautiful, I think that's a cause to celebrate!

I suppose one way would be to look at our marriage as a big picture. The day we got married is part of that picture. It is how the picture began, the first mark on the canvas so to speak. We are still married. We still love each other, in fact, we love each other even more now than we did then. So the beginning is something to celebrate. Without the beginning, we wouldn't be in the present. And the present is something to cherish. Yes, promises were broken. He wasn't faithful... Our beginning is still our beginning. And I still see that as something to celebrate."

She went on to say that they chose to renew their vows on their wedding anniversary as part of reclaiming. This was intentional, to not allow the affairs to take her memories of their wedding day - the day that marked their beginning. She explained that for her, both dates hold special memories and that the vow renewal didn't negate the original wedding day, but reaffirmed it. For her and her husband, they remember both events as special in their own way.

I thought about what she had said and let it sit with me for a while, not knowing how to feel. I appreciated the analogy of the strokes on the canvas, and considered that in my own life. My feelings change all over the place in this recovery space, as I'd bet many of yours do too. But even then, I could see how thinking back to my wedding could be a good memory woven into the larger picture, rather than just a disappointment that needed to be dismissed and thrown away, never to be mentioned or thought about again.

So as we approached our wedding anniversary last year, I actively used this analogy to filter my perspective about it. It didn't suddenly change everything, but it did allow me to consider that I might feel differently someday, which offered hope. As we approached the day, my husband allowed me to lead the way at the pace at which I was comfortable, and I asked him to take the day off from work with me. I did buy a card that year, although even that experience is like wading through a minefield; anniversary cards are generally comprised of a few standard sentiments: faithfulness, loyalty, teamwork, and protection/safety. It's complicated to intertwine sentiment with reality when you're looking through the Hallmark lens at a post-infidelity marriage. I made some plans for us that didn't pan out, partially due to circumstance and partially because I wasn't emotionally ready, but it still was a noticeable step. We ended up going out to lunch with our son, and while not a traditional "anniversary" commemoration, it was still much more than I could have tolerated or envisioned in the first two years, and it felt right. It was a small victory for me, and it offered me optimism for future anniversaries. It was, and still is, important to me that my husband understand how difficult and confusing it is for me to wrestle with the feelings about this occasion, which he does. I want to eventually be able to celebrate it and make it special, but I didn't want him to falsely assume this is easy or that I am "all good" and at peace about it. I'm not. It hurts. But I want to make it better, and it is worth the effort to me to make this special with him.

Fast forward, this year held a milestone wedding anniversary for us. While I still experienced a mixture of painful and hopeful feelings about it, I also recognized it is a miracle we are still here together. There have been so many opportunities over the years for either of us to walk away, and I am amazed we didn't give up. So this year, we made reservations and went away for the night. It was... nice. And hard. And beautiful. And painful. And wonderful. And connective. And ironic. And special. And confusing. Sometimes it's hard to know how to feel about it. Isn't that weird? Trying to decide how to feel about something? I'm sure you get it, but it's so strange not to know how to feel. This year was the best wedding anniversary so far since D-Day. "Celebrate" still might not be quite the right word at this point, as it still feels like I - and our marriage - held no value to my husband for a season, but it felt right to honor the day in this season. And the most valuable part to me is that now, we are both able to share honest feelings and tears with each other, and not feel like we have to pretend.

The healing process is a series of small steps. The bad times don't negate the good ones, and the good ones don't erase the bad. They are all part of our story.

As for the idea of declaring the old marriage dead? I don't exactly agree that happiness in celebrating future anniversaries involves letting go of the past and moving ahead into the future. For me, I am finding it is necessary to incorporate the past to move ahead into the future. It may be semantics, but the thought of "letting go" makes me bristle, and feels inauthentic to me and how I view life. The distinction may not be clear to anyone else as I am expressing it, but it has made a difference in my ability to make shifts when I can. "Letting go" feels forced, but incorporating is more natural as I grow to understand more about what happened, why it happened, who he was, who I was, who "we" were, and what she was (and was not) to him at that time. It's still a work in progress. I don't know if that helps anyone else, but I thought I'd throw it out there.

I realize with longing that I will never be able to look back in my old age and say we had a faithful marriage. The facts of the past cannot be altered, and there is such grief in knowing that will never be our story. When I talked to my husband about my struggle with our anniversary, I told him I am not trying to make him feel badly that this day is painful for me. Actually it is the opposite - I want him to see and understand how important it is that I make this special despite the pain. If it was easy, it wouldn't mean that much, so the struggle and effort is actually a positive thing, and demonstrates the value I place on our relationship.

We are different people now. We know what our marriage is worth, and we both value it more than we did before. Pain is an effective teacher in that regard. I see us now as a cushion for each other, absorbing one another's failings with kindness and grace that neither of us deserve.

I will end with my hope for all of us by sharing the words of my former group leader, "I hope you will someday be able to genuinely celebrate your beginning... and your new beginning."

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Comments

Thank you for sharing your

Thank you for sharing your experience. So much of this resonates with me ….. sadness and joy reside together, sadness for the losses and joy for the new found closeness and understanding of ourselves and each other. Again, thank you.

Ali eli bli

I'm glad to hear this resonated with you, thank you for your comment. It can be such a mixture of emotions and it's hard to even understand what we're feeling at times.

I wish you the best and hope you find healing and peace.

This is beautiful, Jen. Thank

This is beautiful, Jen. Thank you for talking about some things I struggle with and showing a way to view them. I am not there yet and appreciate the view from someone farther out. I know I don't want to discount our beginning and the many years we did have of a faithful marriage. I know I will come back to this message. Just last night I was looking at your blog posts and thinking we hadn't seen one from you in awhile. Your posts on forgiveness have given me a lot to think about. I look forward to the things you write. Thank you for sharing your heart.

Thank you vwilliams3 :)

I appreciate your kind words, and it touches my heart to know anything I have written has helped someone consider a different perspective on such painful topics. Thank you for commenting and I wish you well in your journey.

My sentiments...Exactly!

As a member of your group, Jen, I want to thank you so much for sharing your wisdom.
These statements were especially poignant to me and so expressed my feelings as well.

“The facts of the past cannot be altered, and there is such grief in knowing that will never be our story.” and “I want him to see and understand how important it is that I make this special despite the pain.” As well as, “words of ‘our’ former group leader, "I hope you will someday be able to genuinely celebrate your beginning... and your new beginning."

Thank you to all the ladies in our HH group. We have come so far, yet I know we will always be there for each other whether times are good or bad, happy or sad.

Paulette

Yes, you know we will always be here for each other. It's been quite a ride, and I treasure our friendships. You have all been a lifeline to me in my darkest hours, and I am glad I can now offer something to you and others here on this page.

Thank you my friend.

I agree

Thank you Jen for sharing your story. I too have struggled with the notion that my old marriage is dead. Perhaps it's just the wording,but I too am unwilling to cast our whole history into darkness. We have lot done a lot of work and somewhat miraculously we made it through our first anniversary post d day unscathed. I feel like we just held on tight to one another and our goal of healing with eyes wide open. We haven't made it to the anniversary of D day yet (it's been 11 months), but I think that day may be even more challenging. We plan to do something new together on that day and I expect while there's bound to be tears we will get through it together. To me looking back at these months of turmoil feels like a victory, and I hope it gets easier the farther they appear in my rearview mirror.

Hi Sarah

It sounds like you have a great perspective and I loved this: "we just held on tight to one another and our goal of healing with eyes wide open."

This is hard stuff, there's no way around it. But it sounds like you have made great progress in a very short time already. I think your approach to your Dday anniversary is great. And if it is harder than you expect, that's ok. Be patient, and don't pressure yourself. I'm glad you're finding support here and thank you for your comment.

Thank you!

"The bad times don't negate the good ones, and the good ones don't erase the bad. They are all part of our story." Thank you for putting into words what I am finally feeling. This was very well written and encouraging. It has taken me three years with lots of ups and downs, but I am finally able to move on and we are doing quite well. We had some dark chapters, but we have persevered, and it is now part of our story.

Thank you Della

It is a long road, to be sure but I'm so glad to hear you are doing well. Thank you for sharing your experience and for your kind comment.

As always, you have wise

As always, you have wise words to encourage us.
We chose to celebrate that first anniversary after DDay, it came about 6 months after disclosure. It was important to us both to do so.
You see, the year before was our 25th and we “kind of” celebrated that, although it came on the heels of my husband’s physical affair. He ended that relationship a couple of weeks before our anniversary, feeling such guilt as I excitedly planned our 25th. He was really a mess and didn’t even buy me a card or flowers, as he had always done. I was disappointed but tried not to show it. I had no idea about the affair. He went all that summer of 2019 being faithful, then returned to the affair in September until DDay in January 2020.
So we wanted to redo our 25th on our 26th anniversary in July of 2020. He rented a lovely mountain lodge, a place we’d always wanted to go. It was a hard weekend with much grief, but it was also good.
We had a great conversation with our counselor about this. He helped me to see that our wedding day in 1994, when my husband stood beside me reciting vows, was still just as meaningful and special as it had always been. That day my husband said those words, he meant every one. He had no thought of being unfaithful then, would have been horrified by such a thought; he was completely and deeply in love with me. All of that was true then, and so could still remain true today. The betrayal that happened all of those years later was never a part of the plan. My husband gave in to a deceived message, he felt unloved and unloveable. He was not emotionally well and he succumbed to sin. Some might feel that the betrayal negates all of the years before, including the special day of our marriage; I did not feel that way. What was said in truth then could be renewed and become true again.
It helps that I believe in a God of redemption and restoration, He really can make all things new. I stand on this truth of the power of God to do this.
And so we celebrate our anniversary and we celebrate DDay by calling it Truth Day.
Last summer we renewed our vows.

Thank you again for your blog posts.

Thank you Bighorn Mountains

I always appreciate hearing from you :) I absolutely felt like the betrayal negated all the previous years and the entirety of the marriage. I felt that very strongly and never expected to feel any differently. But I wanted to.

So it has really been a surprise to me to feel the shifts I have experienced. I would still not label myself "healed" or say I feel 100% about this by any means. But the change in perspective has been significant enough, that I can see it can continue to grow in a positive direction and it gives me hope, which I am happy to share here in these blogs.

I feel similarly about Dday anniversaries to how you have described it, and in fact mine is tomorrow. For anyone interested, I wrote about it last year, and a lot has even improved since then. https://www.affairrecovery.com/survivors/jen/d-day-anniversary-a-survivo...

Thank you for commenting and sharing your story.

Thank you Jen. I have also

Thank you Jen. I have also been looking for a new post from you. You share your heart with honesty and compassion. I appreciate your perspective and journey. It does fill me with hope!

“Our anniversary” is at the end of the month and although I am not there for this year it has given me food for thought. I NEVER wanted the date to be mentioned! It was DEAD to me. I NO longer answered how long we had been married. My husband could answer those question because he had killed our marriage. There was such anger, hurt and pain associated with the broken vows. But I have surprised myself lately by beginning to answer those questions again. I no longer feel the overwhelming triggers of those questions. Having said that, I am not ready to initiate anything on that date either. Maybe next year I will be able to celebrate that God has pulled us from the ashes of a dead marriage to a marriage that He is restoring because of His forgiveness, grace and mercy.

Thank you again for sharing your thoughts and journey with us!

Hi Pitter

Nice to hear from you again. :)

You described some universal feelings in your comment. I felt that way too - my anniversary was dead to me. Completely. I also mentally subtracted the length of the affair from how long we had been "married" as that time didn't count anymore. All the things you described is how I felt too. And I never expected to feel any differently.

I think that is why I wanted to share my experience. It's certainly not perfect, but it surprised me to actually feel any movement on the subject, so I wanted to offer hope that it really can change.

I'm glad you are noticing changes. There is no rush to feel anything more than what is authentic to you at this moment. It will come when you are ready.

Thanks for commenting!

Wedding Anniversaries

I have read 10,000 pages of affair recovery, and this one has been the most helpful so far.

Thank you Michele

I know how it feels to navigate through mounds of infidelity material and not feel like I could really connect to anything. So I'm so glad you found this helpful. Thank you for commenting.

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