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Photo by Lei Lewis

Angela Tung explains how a Buddhist monk helped her leave her cheating husband.

Joe and I had been married four years when he slept with someone else. It was a one time thing, he said, but it took just that one time to get her pregnant.

We didn’t have the happiest marriage. We hardly had sex. He was always angry. I was always nervous. We spent every weekend at his parents’ house, taking care of his sick mom. In the beginning we talked about the kids we’d have – two boys and a girl – but now we didn’t want any.

But still I never thought he’d have an affair.

Should I stay or should I go now?

To this day my mother says I should have left right away. But it wasn’t that simple. Like a nincompoop, I still loved him, as I had since we met when I was 21. He wasn’t the most handsome guy, but he was smarter than anyone I knew, and he liked me for me. He didn’t expect me to be more outgoing, or sexier, or anything I wasn’t. He wasn’t afraid of my silences. He thought I was the coolest girl he’d ever met.

Photo by Lei Lewis

How could I be on my own again? How could I tell my parents? Admitting to what happened meant admitting I had failed.

For a while I convinced myself I was okay with it. Maybe we could leave the affair behind us. Threatened with loss, we treasured each other even more. But it wasn’t just an affair.

There was a fetus growing in that woman’s belly. Soon it would be a baby, then a toddler, then a child. It would be an ever-growing reminder of what Joe had done.

Leave, stay, leave, stay. I couldn’t decide.

A horrible reality

Then one day I turned on the radio and I heard a Buddhist monk talking. “Reality is neither pleasant nor unpleasant in and of itself,” he said. “It is only pleasant or unpleasant as experienced by us, through our perceptions.”

Only through my perceptions? But my reality seemed horrible, no matter how I looked at it. Not only had Joe cheated on me, he was having a child with someone else. The child would be in our lives forever.

“Reality…is only pleasant or unpleasant as experienced by us, through our perceptions.”

The monk went on. “We are like an artist who is frightened by his own drawing of a ghost,” he said. “Our creations become real to us and even haunt us.”

What did that even mean? I closed my eyes and tried to change my perceptions. My situation wasn’t awful. I should feel sympathy and love for the mistress, for the child. Breathe in, breathe out. Love, sympathy, love, sympathy.

I couldn’t do it. I still hated her. I was still miserable.

Only altering the situation would make it tolerable. If Joe changed his mind about raising the child. If we took the child and pushed the mistress away. If I were like the child’s second mother. If the child didn’t exist. If Joe had never had an affair.

Photo by sambeckwith

If, if, if.

Towards healing

I went to Prague. I needed to get away. “Come with us,” my friends said. I told myself not to think of Joe.

I’d only enjoy what I saw – Prague Castle and its stained glass windows, the Charles Bridge at night, the Jewish Quarter and the temple where the Golem’s remains supposedly lay. Golem, the wonderful and terrible monster molded from mud and magic, protector turned destroyer.

In Karlovy Vary, a spa town outside Prague, my mind crept towards Joe again. My friends and I stood on a little bridge over the canal. The sun was strong, and the water sparkled. I went silent.

“Are you okay?” one of my friends asked me.

I took a breath. “I don’t think I can do this,” I said.

My voice was quiet but the words loud. I said them again: “I don’t think I can do this.”

Later I’d realize it was my perceptions that needed changing, from rejection to acceptance, from anger to love. But what I needed to accept wasn’t the situation. It was the fact that I couldn’t accept it, that I needed to leave, and that I’d have the strength to tell my parents and bear their grief. The love and sympathy I needed to feel was towards myself.

My misery and rage were ghosts that I had created. They were monsters out of mud. Because I had created them, I could destroy them too.


Have you ever received advice or help from an unexpected quarter when you’ve had a tough decision to make? Share your thoughts in the comments below.



About The Author

Angela Tung

After ten years as a corporate cog in New York, Angela recently moved to San Francisco to write full-time. Before her corporate life, she was an English teacher in China, a meeting planner in Boston, and an editorial assistant in New York. Angela also enjoys photography, running, and eating almost anything but especially noodles. You can find her at:

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  • Julie


    Thank you for sharing this experience.

  • Leigh Shulman

    Yes, Angela, thank you.

    It’s not easy admitting when things aren’t working in a relationship. Nor is it easy expressing those things that many will judge. Like having a cheating husband. Ending a relationship. Disappointing our parents.

    I think people battle all these things when considering the end of a relationship, but people so rarely talk about them openly. And certainly not with the strength of character and self-understanding you show here.

    • angela

      leigh, you’re so right that disappointing my parents was a huge part of it. i kept thinking it was not wanting to admit i was wrong or having them blame me, but i also didn’t want to look like i had failed in their eyes.

  • joshywashington

    you are never wrong, or a nincompoop, to love someone. Love takes courage and opens you up to pain and loss but remember people who love are brave people. people who hate are cowards.

    • angela

      aw thanks!

  • Christine Garvin

    Beautiful story, and so much a reality for many couples. Not the exact same pieces of the puzzle, but the pain of being wronged and whether or not to stay in the situation. The feel of, “I can’t just give up” but also, “I can’t just be ok with it.” The push-pull. The answer. For each of us, it is different, and each of us must grapple with it at one point or another.

  • Candice

    You’re a brave lady, Angela. I’m so glad you found the courage to leave.

  • Nick Rowlands

    Echoing Candice, glad you found the courage to share this story too. Thank you.

  • Amanda Ferrandino

    Beautiful, Angela. I had a similar experience of finally understanding that I had to love and sympathize with myself. It’s nice to hear someone else realized that too. I’m sending good vibes to you, girl!

  • angela

    thanks to everybody for your kind words!

  • Heather

    Thanks for sharing this Angela.

  • Anne Hoffman

    Wow, this is awesome. You are so brave to share it.

  • Shreya

    way to go Angela!

  • Andrea

    Thanks for writing and sharing this article, Angela.

  • Tony

    For couples still working through issues like this your writing shares how tough it can be both to reconcile this within yourself but also the extra effort required if couples stay together. Your decision was one you needed to make. For some the path may be reconciling the pain one causes to a loved one and a movement toward change and growth that can be healthy for both.

  • Mary Sojourner

    Brava.  For your clean writing and your clean decision.  You are not a girl – you are a strong woman.

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