Let me be very candid and as clear as I know how to be. I was unfaithful to my wife and I make no excuses. In no way am I dodging the responsibilities for my flawed, immoral decisions, my weakness and my abject failure to be loyal to someone to whom I had made promises and loved dearly for twenty-eight years. I lied to her. I betrayed her. There is no justification. She deserved better than that.
More damaging than infidelity though, I had decided to leave her when she was probably at her lowest and most vulnerable. She needed me. I thought she would land on her feet in a better place. Stronger. Happier. I was wrong. I am ashamed for the decisions I made and will be for the rest of my life. I have tried to make that unquestionably clear. I wish I had done a better job of expressing it.
My decision to go public and take my message to the air was not predicated on some master plan to discredit my wife or sully her reputation, as some have suggested. Nor am I trying to play the part of a victim to campaign for your sympathy. Quite the opposite.
I’ve bared the truth of my story because I want others to understand what happened and how. I want others to listen, to apply my experience to their own lives and learn from my mistakes. I want the truth to be out there to be examined.
Publicly, for millions to see and hear, I tried to share the depths of my regret and remorse, but unfortunately there is only so much you can say in a show edited for television, and what was shown wasn’t enough for some people. There simply isn’t enough time, and to date, I have had no control over the questions that were asked or the answers that would ultimately make the cut. For the forty minutes of the one-hour ABC 20/20 episode that wasn’t commercials, I was interviewed on five separate occasions, for a total of fifteen hours. Fourteen hours and twenty minutes of raw, emotional honesty that neither you or I will ever see. But it’s not the job of a journalist, ABC News or any other outlet to tell the story I feel you need to hear. Thus, the book. Thus, this blog.
Since I started this blog, hundreds of people have reached out, some with support, others with anger and hate, but so many more who feel they can relate with their own stories of infidelity, messy divorces, violent partners, and sadly, suicide. I’ve exchanged dozens of emails, messages and phone calls with people for whom my story has somehow made them feel they’re not alone. They’re not. And that, in and of itself, makes this effort all worth it. And for my own reasons, I selfishly feel the need to talk about it with all of you.
In a recent blog post, “Everyone Thought She Was Happy,” a rather dissatisfied reader left a comment that I thought was worth sharing here, at least in part “…The fact is 95% of people don’t cheat and it’s difficult for them to sympathize with even a hint of justification of an affair,” wrote In The Know.
I wish that “fact” was correct. But unfortunately it’s not. The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy reports that 15 percent of married women and 25 percent of married men have admitted to having extramarital affairs. And then there are those who will never admit to it.
I bring these statistics to light, not to justify or to deflect my failings, but to underscore the seriousness of the problem and to illustrate just how widespread and common it is.
While 75% to 85% of the American populous haven’t had an extramarital affair, it’s easy to say that you would never cheat or be cheated on. But so often it happens to those you’d least expect. I’ve come to believe nobody is immune.
I recently had dinner with a long-respected colleague, someone who knew and worked closely with both Jennair and me. I assumed she had already heard about what had happened. But minutes into the conversation about business and our respective careers, I wasn’t so sure. I looked up at her and paused. “Laura, you do know, don’t you?”
“Know what?” she asked, puzzled. I took a deep breath, and then for the next fifteen minutes I explained to her the unbelievable events that had unfolded just 19 months before. As I spoke, she stared back at me blankly in disbelief, her eyes growing wider and wider by the second. “Holy fuck, Mark!” she managed to exclaim, trying to catch her breath. To say the least, I took her by surprise. And then, it was my turn to be surprised.
“I get it. I totally get it,” she said looking down at the bar with the strangest twisted smile. And then, seemingly titillated and almost proud of herself, she gazed up and admitted, “I’m the other woman. I’m seeing a married man.”
“No, Laura!” I said loudly, pounding my fist on the bar. “Get out of it. Now! It’s not worth it. This will only end badly for you. For him. For her.
“I know. I know. But it’s so hard,” she lobbied sympathetically. “I’ll get out of it. I will. Eventually I will.”
I hope to God she does.
Understandably, some want to shift the focus of my wife’s deadly last act squarely on the issue of infidelity. End of argument. But I would be remiss if I let the argument end there. This story goes way beyond a crime of passion due to infidelity. Way beyond lust, bad decisions, and broken hearts. From our respective early childhoods until the moment I first laid eyes on her, something brought us together. Need. Love. The universe. And for the next 24 years, our life together was a tumultuous ride, full of beautiful memories and loving support, but also disappointment and a dramatic, dysfunctional codependence in which neither of us knew how to be honest about our true selves.
Maybe our marriage should have ended long before. But neither of us knew how. Neither of us had the strength. So without deciding, we stayed in it. And in the end it was weakness, not strength, that ripped us apart. My weakness. My lies. My deceit. I know now I should have done so many things differently.
I’m not suggesting people should stay in an unhappy marriage. Neither am I suggesting people should leave an unhappy marriage. Every situation, every relationship is unique and different. But if you make the decision to end it, there is a right way. With honesty, love and dignity. As I told Laura and as I tell everyone, if you are having an extramarital affair, for your own good and for everyone involved: Stop. End it. With kindness.
For more realistic insights and facts about marriage and infidelity in today’s America, I encourage you to read this 2018 New York Times article.