Over the past four seasons of Married to Medicine, Dr. Jackie Walters has inspired millions of fans by bravely sharing some of her most personal problems.
From her own struggle with infertility to her battle with breast cancer (she’s a two-time survivor), there’s not much the reality star has kept private. But there’s one topic the 59-year-old OB/GYN didn’t anticipate on tackling: her husband Curtis Walters’ infidelity.
News of the affair first broke when photos of Curtis with another woman went viral. The mistress was allegedly unaware Curtis was even married until their hookup make the rounds on the Internet. Dr. Jackie then addressed the scandal in the season 4 finale, shocking everyone.
“I didn’t intend to share it,” Dr. Jackie tells PEOPLE ahead of the season 5 premiere Sunday. “However, it was addressed. It’s one of those things that you do better than healing in private than you do allowing the public to share it. So yeah, tough is… tough is probably an understatement.”
Since then, she and Curtis have been working through their conflict as they attempt to save their marriage.
“I want to figure out a way to fix it,” Curtis begs her in the season 5 trailer. “How do you fix humiliation?” Dr. Jackie asks in return. “As doctors, we’re trained to fix almost any situation. But there’s not amount of medicine that can fix these marriages.”
Things haven’t been easy. And while the two are still together, Dr. Jackie admits to PEOPLE she’s still working through a long journey to forgiveness.
“If you asked me to describe Dr. Jackie in season 5, I think my line would be, ‘Dr. Jackie gets to decide on the courage to forgive vs. the freedom not to.’ That’s kind of where I live in season 5,” she says.
“The forgiveness part of infidelity is a spiritual journey and it does not always happen overnight,” she continues. “I’m certainly at a place where I can forgive most, if not everybody. But how can infidelity-damaged relationships survive?”
“It’s such a rollercoaster effect. And deciding to stay or not to stay changes from day to day. Whether you stay with the person or not, you still have to walk in forgiveness. It doesn’t always end in saving the relationship. I think unforgiveness is poison to me and not to the person. It takes a lot of work … and sometimes it doesn’t work.”
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The one thing Dr. Jackie isn’t doing is blaming herself for Curtis’ affair.
“I have refused to own any rights to that choice that Curtis made,” she says. “I firmly think infidelity damages a relationship because there are a host of conditions and qualifications and considerations that you have to go through and ask, ‘What is it that got my significant other to that place?’ So I own none of it. Infidelity to me is a choice. I cannot make you make a choice. You choose to respond, nobody made you respond that way.”
In the meantime, Dr. Jackie is focusing on the most important thing: forgiving herself.
“I’m allowing the mistakes and the pain to have a purpose,” she says. “And building self-love and self-consideration. I’m guilty of it, putting everybody before me. But this season, I’ve learned to love me. And loving me isn’t selfish.”
Married to Medicine airs Sundays (10 p.m. ET) on Bravo.