Millions of marriages end due to infidelity every year. Once the initial shock wears off there is one big decision that needs to be made. Should the marriage end or can it be saved? There’s no right answer, but there is definitely one that brings more peace of mind.
Jenna came to see me after discovering that her husband of 25 years had been having an affair. She arrived in my office in tears, broken-hearted and in shock over learning that he had been seeing another woman from his office for the past two months.
I’ve seen this early phase of trauma many times, and I know from experience that Jenna will have some even bigger hurdles as she progresses down the road of being an infidelity victim. She is one of many who will be living through the nightmare of an affair, and struggling with the tortuous decision to stay or leave her marriage.
Although researchers find it hard to really know how many marriages are disrupted by infidelity, the number hovers around 20 million. We know that honesty is not in the forefront of a cheaters mind so this number is probably a rough gauge based on the source of actual reports and full disclosure. Even if we consider this to be a pretty good estimate, we can presume that there are millions of people out there either trying to save their marriages from divorce, or to figure out how to save themselves.
The question of whether a marriage can survive an infidelity is not unlike asking about the meaning of love. It’s complicated, nuanced, personal and contextual. In her book “After the Affair”, Janis Abrahms Spring, Ph.D, says that couple’s can survive infidelity provided that each partner is willing to look honestly at themselves and each other, and that each is able to acquire the skills needed to get through the shattering crisis.
Other authors base the outcome on the injured partner’s willingness to forgive and let go, and also on the level of change the unfaithful partner is capable of. To make things even more confusing we have to consider the depth of betrayal, the willingness to give up the affair, and how truly remorseful the perpetrator feels.
Deciding to stay or go after an affair is by far the hardest decision anyone can make. The only thing slightly harder is being robbed of even having this choice when the cheating partner makes the choice himself or herself.
Pros and Cons
The pros and cons list for this kind of dilemma can end up being a scroll. Some might say that all marriages should be saved, and that the rate of divorce is high because people don’t want to take the time and energy to work through something so difficult.
In my experience most couples would prefer to stay married for religious reasons, the children, the investment they’ve made or the fear of starting over alone. More often than not the betrayed person chooses to remain in marriage because it’s too scary not to.
Staying married means avoiding the draining and destructive process that so often accompanies divorce. Families get to remain in tact, children stay in their home, finances don’t get disrupted, and life ultimately stays the same.
On the con side there’s the issue of being able to forget, let alone forgive. Staying in a marriage after a betrayal means always knowing that a partner cheated, and many people don’t want to live with this kind of worry. Overtime trust can be rebuilt, but the memory remains and the relationship would never be fully the same.
Staying also means that there is an increased risk in it happening again. Once a cheater, always a cheater may not be true in every case, but once that line has been crossed it’s easier to cross it again. Past behavior is the greatest determiner of future behavior so most bets would be on the cheater repeating the same mistake.
Fit or Flop
Leaving a partner after an infidelity is the healthier choice. Mistakes happen, and no one is perfect but the majority of married people make this kind of commitment because they trust that there partner will honor and respect them.
Every story and situation is different but betrayal of this kind is profound and extremely damaging to the heart, mind and soul. Surviving this heartbreak is absolutely possible, but it changes the relationship forever in ways that can never be repaired.