Your mouth runs dry and your heart skips a beat when you find out. Maybe you had a hunch. You searched all over and finally your suspicions were confirmed. Or you could have heard it from a friend. Some just stumble into the wrong thing and the secret is out. Then there are those who are confronted by their spouse and told straight out about the affair, often to relieve guilt and ask for forgiveness. It’s difficult to evaluate whether or not you should forgive infidelity or get a divorce. It’s a question that changes depending upon every couple, and their situation. Most couples don’t survive an infidelity. One study found that 20% of married couples were stronger afterward. It was a wakeup call that shook one or both parties out of their sleep and showed them what needed to be changed in order to reconnect with their relationship. Some people will say “Once a cheater, always a cheater.” Others believe it’s not that clear cut.
The first thing to do is allow yourself to feel your emotions. Grieve for the pain, the sense of a loss of innocence, the deceit and the treachery. One poll showed that men are more bothered by physical infidelity, while women are more disturbed by emotional infidelity. Sometimes you will feel confused and lonely. Your bond of trust has been severed. If the relationship is to survive it must be re-established. There will be a lot of work to do. But no relationship lasts long without resting on a firm foundation of trust.
Don’t make any decisions early on. But do understand that you must make one. You should see if your partner feels bad for what they’ve done. Do they empathize with your situation? If they do then see if you can empathize with them and the reason that they strayed. There are lots of reasons. A fear of commitment or a need for validation are some reasons. Others are not feeling sexy, attractive or desirable anymore to one’s mate. Sometimes couples lose their connection. They drift apart. At other times it’s revenge for some terrible transgression, or even as revenge for a spouse’s cheating. If you decide that there is enough to salvage, consider marriage counseling. Learning how to communicate is so important. Sometimes people just get so wrapped up in their jobs and other priorities that they forget what’s really important in their life. Some couples don’t even talk about sex, or what they want in the bedroom. Those who are saved by infidelity usually say that it helped them wake up to the crisis that has occurred in their relationship. Some don’t want to forgive their spouse for cheating. But they want to come to understand what forces led them down that path. They don’t have to forgive but must come to accept the paradigm that caused this phenomenon to occur.
Whether or not you stay with your spouse after an affair is a very personal decision. No one can make it for you. But if you make the wrong one you will have to live with the consequences. Don’t rush it. Take your time. Do some soul searching. Once the pain clears, find out what you really have in this relationship. If this is a wakeup call that the relationship is unfulfilling, than perhaps it’s best to get a divorce. But if there were extenuating circumstances that have to be worked out, if you truly love each other and trust in one another but for this one tangent, and if your problems can be worked out and you do see a far more successful marriage down the road, than perhaps it’s best to try and work things out. Don’t stay together for the children’s sake. You’ll only make yourself and, in consequence, them dreadfully unhappy. Plus, what kind of love lives will they lead, modeled after yours? Financial reasons have a lot of people staying separated long-term today. It’s important to know the financial and legal outcome of that decision. Take your time. Reach deep down inside yourself and your answer, and the way forward, will come. If you know that you want to stay together be sure to pick up a copy of the book, Intimacy After Infidelity: How to Rebuild and Affair-Proof Your Marriage by Steven Solomon, Ph.D. and Lorie Teagno, Ph.D.