Nicole Cleveland always thought her marriage would be over if her husband were unfaithful. But then it happened. In her new book, So He Cheated, Now What?, she examines the reasons for infidelity and advises women that there’s still hope for their marriages, even if he cheats.
What do celebrities Fantasia Barrino and Alicia Keys, who have been in the news recently for having affairs with married men, have in common with author Nicole Cleveland? Nothing. Cleveland does share a bond with actress Sandra Bullock, who recently divorced Jesse James because he was unfaithful. The difference is Cleveland chose to stay with her husband, Jerry, even after his affair produced a baby. She writes about it in her book, So He Cheated, Now What?
Cleveland (left), a development manager with the public broadcasting station in Norfolk, Virginia, has turned the experience into a ministry that helps women heal. She launched BreatheAgainMagazine.com in 2006, where others who have overcome major obstacles encourage women. To Christians, marriage represents not only a lifetime commitment to one’s mate but a foreshadowing of the relationship between Jesus and His church. However, several published reports estimate divorce among Christians in the U.S. is higher than the 50 percent national average. Infidelity is often the main reason. Published reports indicate an estimated 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women have been unfaithful. I talked with Cleveland about her book and message, which is also instructive to us men who have been unfaithful or are considering it.
URBAN FAITH: When you see news stories about infidelity what’s your reaction?
NICOLE CLEVELAND: I tell everyone that it’s never going to stop. When it’s high profile celebrities, like in the case of Sandra Bullock, it’s unfortunate because they don’t have a chance to heal. I wasn’t in the public eye like that.
Could dealing with it privately be worse?
In public it’s worse because you can’t really grieve. Everyone, even people you don’t know, is telling you what you should do. The one who was cheated on doesn’t have time and space to do what they need to do to heal. But on the flip side, when you’re suffering privately by yourself, it’s particularly hurtful because you don’t have anyone to talk to. You don’t want others to know and you can feel ashamed.
Why is So He Cheated, Now What? more of a workbook than a narrative about what happened with you and your husband?
I wanted to give actionable steps. I wanted to speak to the person who is going through it and tell them what to do. I wanted to let them know that they are not alone. I really wanted to hone in on that person who is hurt now. I wanted less drama. People want to talk about whether the other woman or the man is wrong, but what about the person who is hurting right now? The focus is off of that hurting person and it’s on revenge instead.
How does it affect you to hear of others wounded by infidelity?
I hear from women everyday through my website. They email me and tell me they don’t have any idea what they’re going to do. People call me at 10, 11 o’clock at night because they’re having an episode or flash back. I sometimes laugh because it takes me back to the same state. I can tell them what stage they’re in and what they’re going to feel or do next. Sometimes I cry with them. They say, “You think I’m stupid, you think I’m dumb.” Absolutely not. I’ve been there. My heart goes out to them.
Do you ever feel locked into talking and writing about infidelity only?
I do feel like that sometimes because it is reliving it again over and over. But when I tell my story I get healing from it each time. I believe it’s because mine is centered on faith and God and what He’s done for me. I have a mandate to tell the story. I don’t do it for me I do it for others. The bible says we overcome by the power of our testimony so someone needs to hear the story.
How can couples prevent infidelity?
You have to keep the communication tight. You can’t put things before your marriage. We were really busy in the church. Church is supposed to bring you together, but sometimes it can be that thing that helps pull you apart. We allowed the enemy to sneak in. I don’t condone what my husband has done, but we need to move forward. Our relationship is better now. We’re friends. We were like roommates before. We were like robots doing what we needed to do. We now take out time for ourselves. We laugh together.
I bet you’ve had women roll their eyes when you say that.
Oh yeah, but I say you never know what you would do until you’re in the situation. I was that woman who rolled her neck and rolled her eyes and said I would never do that. Then I had to eat my words.
Why did you stay with your husband?
I wanted my marriage to work. I love him. I love my family.
Why do people feel infidelity is the unpardonable sin?
We are so caught up with what others think about us. It comes from arrogance and what you would put up with. It’s also betrayal. I couldn’t have done it on my own. God took me through it. As women, we sit around and talk about stuff like that. “If he cheated, I would bust him upside the head.” Look at all the movies. There is such a big focus on adultery.
Why do you think?
It’s drama and people can relate to it. We like other people’s misery. Look at the Tiger Woods situation. Whose business is their marriage? I did a lot of interviews around that. I felt for his wife (Elin Nordegren) because she had no time to do privately what she needed to do for herself. A lot of times the people who say they wouldn’t do something are the ones that would.
That goes for people who say they would never cheat too?
That’s true, very true.
Why do people cheat?
I know my situation, but each is different. It goes back to that “make believe” aspect of it. You have to be who you really are at home. You have to come correct. The other person is allowing you to be king of whatever you feel you need to be king of. You don’t have to deal with laundry or picking up kids. Maybe you’re not hearing from your spouse that you look good or smell good. This goes both ways, by the way. Then there’s the conversation about the bills. At home it’s all about what you didn’t do right. My husband and I always go back to the movie John Q to the scene where the wife tells the husband “Do something!” He makes a very drastic decision that goes bad and he ends up saying, “Well, you told me to do something.” We don’t realize we’re doing that as women. We’re so focused on what we’re supposed to be doing – family and work and extra activities for the kids. Very few men marry their mistresses.
What’s next for you?
My goal is for the book to reach the people that it’s reaching. I want women to know that the pain will go away and someone else has been where you’ve been; they’ve cried the same tears and they’ve made it. So can you.