How to Do It

I Thought My Husband Was Having an Affair, So I Hired a Detective

I had a bizarre reaction to the truth.

A couple caught in a detective's glasses.
Photo illustration/animation by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!

Dear How to Do It,

About six months ago, I became suspicious that my husband of nine years was having an affair. He didn’t say or do anything in particular to arouse my suspicions, but I just had a “feeling.” I tried to ignore it because I don’t really believe in “gut feelings” or “intuition,” but it kept nagging at me, so I did some low-level digging into our cell phone bills and shared tablets and computers and checked to see if he’d changed his passwords to his personal devices or accounts. Nothing really jumped out at me. Unable to shake the feeling, I finally hired a private detective to follow him for three weeks. After one week, he had evidence of infidelity.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

When I got the photos, I was prepared to be disgusted, distraught, and outraged, feeling angry and betrayed. Instead, I felt …intrigued. During the three weeks the PI followed him, my husband took a business trip out of town and took his mistress with him, so the PI was able to get pictures of them around town doing normal couple things. Looking at the pictures was like looking at someone I didn’t know. My husband looked so different. There were pictures of a romantic dinner, them dancing (!) to jazz music, and strolling in a grocery store. I asked the PI to continue to follow them to get more information.

My PI wouldn’t record audio or video but I found one that would. In the past six months, I have spent thousands of dollars watching my husband and his mistress. I just find their relationship so intriguing. I even created fake social media accounts and started following his mistress just to see what they are up to. She never posts pictures of him, but she has posted pictures of locales I know she is at with him.

Advertisement
Advertisement

I am torn on whether I should divorce him or if I even want to tell him I know about his affair. Our married life is really comfortable for me. He is a thoughtful and attentive husband. He is not as affectionate, tender, and romantic with me as he is with her, but I am not a woman who is really into romance or too many outward displays of affection. He still takes me on dates, buys me thoughtful gifts for no reason at all, and puts time and attention into our marriage. Oddly, part of me is really just interested in if the husband he is to me and the lover he is to her are both part of him, or is he putting on an act for one of us? We don’t have kids, and don’t plan to. In some of her social media posts, she has alluded to being “happily child free,” so I don’t think she wants kids either. Can things just continue as they are? Should I feel bad for spying on them?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

—My Husband’s Affair Is My Reality TV …

Dear My Husband’s Affair,

Great letter. I’m as intrigued by watching you watch your husband as you are by watching your husband. This would make a great movie—if it’s not already fan fiction based on one! Maybe take it to a screenplay?

Obviously, this kind of cheating is grounds for divorce. It’s not incidental—it’s systemic, and the amount of effort he has put into deceiving you is considerable. That said, through no fault of your own, you’ve found yourself in a situation in which your husband has a girlfriend and you don’t mind. Broadly sketched and putting aside his ethical violation(s), this is how some polyamorous relationships look. Whatever it is that makes some people tap out in the face of infidelity, you don’t seem to have. If you don’t mind, things can actually continue the way they are. Ideally, I think you’d have a conversation with him: “I know and … I’m fine with it.” It’s not on you to bring honesty to the table after being lied to, but if you did, it might make things even more harmonious and may prompt your husband to give radical honesty a try.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

But look, his dishonesty is disconcerting. It could be merely utilitarian, something he thinks that he needs to do to live his life the way he wants, but it’s not great that he feels so comfortable conducting a charade for the person he theoretically loves most in the world. If he lies to you about this, what makes you so sure he won’t lie to you about other things? How are you finding it within yourself to trust him? You wonder whether he’s putting on an act given the differences in his behavior you’ve observed surreptitiously, and the truth is that he is putting on an act for you by suggesting that he’s faithful. Again, it can be that his lie is the facilitator (turned product) of this very specific circumstance, but I think you really need clarity on that to understand what you’re dealing with, in terms of your relationship and its potential for viability.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Should you feel bad about snooping? I don’t think so. Snooping is not something I recommend, and it is its own ethical transgression, but I think if you snoop and find that someone is lying to you, you’re just giving yourself access to the truth, which is something everyone deserves.

Dear How to Do It,

So I came out to my husband a while back that I am bi. We have two friends—female and male—who we both have done stuff with together. The woman and my husband and I have tried a threesome, but he focused on her more than me. We almost got a divorce over it. Now that things are getting hot and heavy with these two people again, we are making rules. He gave me rules of being allowed to kiss whoever and oral for whoever but not allowed to sleep with the guy. He wants to know my rules, and I get flashbacks and panic attacks when I think about it. Is it wrong to ask for a one-sided agreement?

Advertisement

—Confused Wife

Dear Confused,

Different partners have different needs and sensitivities and relationships should stretch to meet them, even if on paper the resulting arrangement does not look strictly “fair.” Poly people sometimes find love (and a strategy for maintaining it) with monogamous people—not all mismatches need be terminal.

So it’s not “wrong.” But that’s just the ethical side of things. The more practical question is: Is such a one-sided agreement tenable for your marriage? He’s already showed you his interest in sex with others, much to your distaste. Why do you think he’d be willing to suppress that while giving his blessing for you to get yours? Unless he is preternaturally benevolent, I don’t see that arrangement lasting for long, at least not without a considerable amount of drama that will make you question whether it’s worth it.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

That said, there is an argument that proposing such an arrangement could at least give you some data on his emotional state as well as the opportunity to express your anxiety. My suspicion is that, given your extreme reaction to your partner giving another woman more attention in a single situation, open relationships are not for you. Even in your ideal scenario, in which your husband accepts a full ban from you and you can traipse about unfettered, do you think you could do that without it eating away at you? Maybe! But I think you may end up finding the entire thing more difficult than it’s worth.

Dear How to Do It,

Always love your astute advice. My question is this: My wife travels often for her work and I often buy a “toy” when she does—a toy for me but that could also work for both of us. I guess I do this so it can be delivered when she’s not here. Our sex life is pretty infrequent and routine, and I would like to add something, but I just don’t know how to introduce her to my inventory. I should add that we have no history of using toys, so it seems awkward.

Advertisement
Advertisement

—Covert Collection

Dear Covert Collection,

You can mitigate any potential awkwardness by … not being awkward. Be matter of fact and chill, and start small. Introduce her to a sex toy: “Hey, look at this thing I got. I like to use these sometimes.” Don’t put the potential weirdness in the air—it can color the reaction of the recipient. Keep things neutral. You have nothing to be ashamed of, so don’t let your presentation suggest that you do. You can’t control her reaction, and you should respect it, but you can set yourself up for success with the right attitude.

Advertisement

Dear How to Do It,

I’m in my mid-30s in a committed, loving relationship with my partner of 12 years. We show each other love and affection often, without reserve. But we also have very different sex drives. We have discussed having an open relationship on both ends, and he seems to have agreed to it verbally. I sense some reluctance on his end, due in no small part to the ongoing pandemic and fears of catching STIs from other partners.

Advertisement

His one rule (apart from using condoms) is that I can’t catch feelings for anyone I sleep with. This presents a small problem for me as I need to be able to trust anyone I get intimate with. I can’t imagine trusting someone and not feeling anything for them. It also presents a problem because I don’t know if I have the energy to nurture another relationship outside of this one. We have a 12-year-old together. I frequently work 50 hours a week. I’m just exhausted, and I love my partner immensely. If I have free time, I want to spend it with him.

Advertisement
Advertisement

My therapist has suggested looking into a BDSM relationship because it would involve getting to know someone without having to date. It would involve setting hard limits and boundaries. All the elements necessary for trust would be there. We would have to develop a rapport of course, but I wouldn’t be trying to date anyone and I could still have safe sex. My problem is, how do I go about finding someone who is experienced in the ways of BDSM without having to dig through trash? My therapist assures me there are scenes in two nearby cities, but they are underground and not searchable on Google. I don’t know where to start. How do I even find the scenes?

Advertisement
Advertisement

—Looking for (Not) Love

Dear No Love,

The therapist informing your decision to pursue a BSDM relationship seems well-intentioned (I do love a practically minded shrink!), but I wonder if their reasoning is right for you. As you point out, your partner’s rule of “no catching feelings” is vague—we can presume that he means no love/romance, but as you point out, there is a slippery slope. In these settings, connection can mean affection. What are the limits there? Are you allowed to feel fondness? Can you admire the other person’s appearance? Can you look forward to seeing them? The truth is, you may anyway, regardless of the rules—it’s just how these things go. Your emotional terrain is not your partner’s jurisdiction. The best you can do is promise not to fall in love, but can you even really promise that? Who knows what might happen. That said, keeping yourself platonically oriented, at least in mindset, counts as due diligence.

Advertisement

The other part of this is the BDSM part. Are you even into that? Yes, finding a partner for a BDSM relationship is a strategy, but if your sexual taste isn’t actually so inclined, doing so would be like applying a run-and-shoot offensive strategy to doing the laundry: irrelevant! I realize that you probably have this figured out and that your therapist is a smart person who understands your needs and in all likelihood wouldn’t suggest something that’s totally irrelevant to your sexuality—I’m just saying I can’t tell from your letter, so proceed cautiously if any of this resonates.

With all of that said, there are definitely places to look. Fetlife will allow you to peruse profiles and set up your own. On top of that, there’s an extensive event listing on the site, which may give you access to events that regular old Google doesn’t pull up. But you should also know the lingo: Search for munches in your area if you haven’t done so. You can poke around Twitter or Facebook as well. The Munch+Adult Local Links (MALL) Directory hasn’t been updated in some time, but many of the links are still working and may point to still-active local groups. It so goes that when looking for dungeons, you might have to do some digging.

More How to Do It

I (30s, female) have been dating my boyfriend (30s, male) for a little over two years. The relationship is overall amazing; he’s funny, incredibly handsome, loving, and supportive. Like many others, our sex life has taken a pretty substantial hit over the last year. In addition to COVID, my boyfriend went through some periods of unemployment and general anger at the state of the world. He’s been doing much better recently, and I had hoped our sex life would pick up again. It hasn’t, and recently I found out why. I’m heartbroken.

Advertisement