Standing is a term that describes a faithful partner’s refusal to accept the demise of a relationship, regardless of the actions of the cheater. It could be defined as the faithful partner committing to and maintaining a unilateral relationship in perpetuity, despite the cheater’s actions, wants and wishes, and despite the cheater being in a new relationship (either with their exit-affair partner, or with someone else). Extreme Standing is typified by someone continuing to stand for their marriage, even after it has been legally dissolved.
Standing means that even though your cheater has been living with the affair partner for years, you continue to behave in a way that honors your cheater and your marriage to the cheater. Many standers consider divorce immoral, others are just unwilling to let the relationship go. Either way, extreme Standing opposes dating other people, it opposes doing anything active that moves the faithful partner out of the affair drama, and it opposes either party filing for divorce.
There are many infidelity support forums that do support Standing, and consider it a viable outcome to pursue after an affair. This site takes a firm position against Standing, believing that it’s potentially harmful to encourage anyone to invest in, tie themselves to, and subjugate themselves for a relationship that no longer exists to all intents and purposes. Additionally, it’s not uncommon for long-term cheaters to also engage in abusive, dismissive, demeaning, and taunting behavior towards the faithful partner – we don’t believe that anyone should willingly expose themselves to this.
When a relationship is affected by the discovery of an affair, the faithful partner is often frozen in fear and confusion, completely blindsided. Generally the first reaction is one of anger, a sense of injustice and a desire for revenge, but it often mutates into a panicked attempt to win the cheater back and keep the family unit intact.
Before an affair hit their relationship, many people would claim to be completely clear and steadfast about what their reaction would be if their partner had an affair. It’s common to hear people say that it would be a deal-breaker, that they don’t understand those that would stay, and that they have too much self-respect to stay and would leave immediately, no question.
Frozen by an Affair
In reality, it is much more likely that you would also be temporarily shocked into inaction and indecision. You are faced with sweeping changes to your lifestyle, your financial position, your home and your family. The negative impact associated with the loss of these things can be considerable.
When we build relationships, we tend not to also build independent financial means in case we have to quickly jettison from the partnership, and this is brought into sharp focus when suddenly faced with an affair and the possibility of you or your partner leaving the relationship.
There is much to be considered when dealing with an affair in your relationship, and it can be a time where you find yourself standing at a crossroad, conflicted.
Evaluating your options is important. People will sometimes advise you not to make rash or hasty decisions that you might come to regret. I agree but caution that you don’t confuse a rash decision with a speedy one.
The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision.
If you choose to act quickly because you are clear about what this means for you, so be it. You do not have to wait it out, or ‘give yourself time’ if you already have your answer. It is entirely okay to act of your own volition and not just wait to react to your cheating partner. Infidelity has already robbed you of a say in your relationship, and waiting for your cheater to decide your fate for you is likely not to be in your own best interest. Personal power in your own choices is essential if you are to live comfortably with the consequences of your decisions.
Conversely, if you don’t find yourself reaching a clear and speedy decision, it’s entirely okay to take your time. Do not allow yourself to be put under pressure to choose one way or another until you have assimilated and evaluated your options and how you can move yourself further towards your goals for yourself. Be clear that you can only make choices for yourself – setting ‘getting my partner back‘ as your goal for yourself while they are still in the affair is a recipe for failure, disappointment and heartache.
Remain aware of your stagnation because inaction is not a positive or healthy choice if it is founded in denial, revenge, fear or apathy.
Stagnation is self-abdication.
~ Ryan Talbot
Standing: Enduring Inaction
I use the term ‘enduring inaction’ to describe consistent and long-lasting inaction after the cheater leaves the marital home against the wishes of the faithful partner. Though the cheater has set up their new life and is conducting themselves wholly in that life, even permanently living with the other person, neither party moves to end the marriage. Both parties may even date.
This arrangement can go on for years, without any plans to divorce. The ‘affair’ may still be ongoing at this point, though it could be more aptly called ‘the new relationship’ than ‘the affair’. There are no discussions about reconciliation and there is no intent to ‘take a break’ from the marriage with a plan of returning in the future. Despite this, the betrayed partner has no intention of letting their spouse go without a fight.
This refusal to act to end what is clearly a dead marriage can be dressed up and presented as some heroic form of ‘standing’ (a term used by those who refuse to accept the demise of their marriage), or for financial reasons, or ‘for the kids’.
This is essentially an arrangement where one partner is faithful and the other isn’t, and it’s one that both parties are agreeing to by their long-term participation in it.
Underlying Motivations for Enduring Inaction
Other than the religious considerations, it can be unclear why someone would take this extreme Standing approach. There are a few common themes in the Standers IHG has encountered:
1. So that you do not ‘release’ your cheating partner.
Despite the fact that the cheating spouse has already left and is living with the other person, by not taking action to start a divorce you are effectively preventing them from remarrying. What you gain is a sense of ‘winning’ over the other person, whom you likely feel to be wholly malevolent.
You may feel that your life has been devoted to your marriage and the nurturing of the family unit, and ending it negates that part of your life and perhaps removes your sense of family and security. You may even feel that despite the living arrangements, the marriage remaining legally intact connects you forever to your spouse. On some level, despite the time passed, you harbor a hope that they will see what they lost and come back to you, repentant and anguished over what they put their family through.
2. So that you can continue to punish them.
Leaving you against your wishes, having the affair to begin with, abandoning you (and perhaps your children) – all this has caused immeasurable hurt and pain, and yet you choose to remain tied to this ‘terrible person’.
Seeing your cheating partner living a new life, seemingly unperturbed by these crimes against you, is unacceptable because ultimately, you want them to pay for what they put you through.
And to add insult to injury, you perceive that they are happy despite what they did to you and your family. And so you wait it out so that you can witness karma, or a divine being, or even a mere mortal, mete out punishment and show them the error of their ways. And then they will be ‘cured’, the ‘terrible person’ will be cleansed and they will come back to you contrite, remorseful and changed, and you can teach them what the real love of a good person means … or you can spurn them out of pure revenge.
Filing for divorce, letting go, and choosing to have a life of your own would mean that they don’t get to ‘see your pain’. It means that they might see you as healed, and you fear that them seeing you move on might lessen the enormity of what they did to you. Staying mired in the pain, listless and withdrawn when you interact with them keeps your pain visible. Perhaps you are looking for an indication that they do feel guilt for their actions and in reality you would like to see them suffer some torment too over it.
3. So that you can continue to claim the status of the “wronged and faithful good person”.
In your eyes, as long as you are married to them, that makes them a cheater still. Divorcing would simply make them someone who is in a new relationship, and then you would lose the moral high-ground and your position of being the righteous injured party. Staying married but rejected means you can be perceived as the good person, standing by their spouse ‘for better or for worse’. It also allows your spouse to draw comparisons between you and the other person – if you’re this good, faithful person you contrast against the awful person who could break up a marriage and a family, and have an affair with a married person.
The loss of your self-perception as the stoic hero or heroine who is battling through their spouse’s infidelity and bravely facing life despite your pain, would mean having to face the reality of an open marriage that you’re not prepared to do anything about.
4. Why the cheater doesn’t file.
I can only imagine that it’s primarily for financial and/or societal reasons, but whatever the reason it will be because not filing benefits the cheater in some way. Divorce in a long-term relationship with children is costly. Selling a house in today’s market might not be the most astute financial decision – perhaps they think it’s better to wait for the market to improve. Perhaps they don’t want to enter into another marital arrangement and they are completely content with their relationship status with the ‘other person’, so they have no real impetus to take the financial hit that divorce will mean. Perhaps they feel that in staying married, they avoid any stigma of divorce for themselves, you and the children.
The Martyr Complex
No matter what you tell yourself, your reasons for staying in the marriage are manipulations designed to be punitive to your spouse, and to satisfy your belief in your superior morals. You may have even become a martyr to your marriage.
After a matter of years it is no longer about being frozen in inaction – it’s a deliberate and conscious self-defeating strategy. Your family unit has been damaged and you mourn the loss of the life that you thought you had. You made sacrifices, and perhaps things weren’t perfect in the marriage, but you accepted the negatives because your spouse and your family were your dream for yourself. There is often a failure to understand why your spouse couldn’t make the same sacrifices.
Infidelity can mess with our heads, there is no doubt. But to live as if someone does not have a right to exit your relationship, or as if you are ‘standing’ in sacrifice for them because they WILL eventually come to their senses … that suggests an unhealthy level of obsession, ego, and self-righteousness. (And for the record, no, an affair is not an honorable exit any relationship, but people ARE still entitled to leave a relationship they no longer wish to be in.)
moral voices can also become sanctimonious bullies
~ Nicholas Kristof
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.
~ C.S. Lewis
Shackling Yourself to the Cheater
Choosing inaction by Standing makes your life entirely about the cheater and their affair, so you can safely reside in the security of your role as the betrayed spouse. It gives you a sense of power over your absent spouse, and control over the otherwise finished marriage, which in your mind isn’t over until YOU say it is.
Choosing inaction is entirely NOT about personal growth, your own life, your acceptance of others’ right to choice, your children, or being happy.
Standing at the crossroads is fine for a while. After that, it becomes an act of self-flagellation, vengeance, cowardice, or martyrdom. Or all four.