So, you’ve discovered that your partner has had an affair. They’ve said sorry a few (hundred) times, and they have proclaimed their undying love for you. They’ve probably told you how the affair was a mistake, and have declared that they want the relationship to work.
In all likelihood you’re angry, confused, and don’t know if you want to stay in the relationship after the affair. You’re trying to decide if reconciliation is right for you, and it’s being complicated by your history in the relationship, your feelings for your partner (before you knew of the affair) and your feelings towards them after discovering it.
Wanting the Marriage to Work
It’s a common reaction after an affair for one or both parties to say that they want the marriage to work. There are often familial, religious, and societal pressures to stay in a marriage after an affair, which influence towards ‘saving the marriage’. Even well-meaning friends and relatives have their own agenda in what they want for you, and this might not be what is best for you or what you want for yourself.
The difficulty comes in trying to pin down what ‘wanting the marriage/relationship to work‘ really means, because the old relationship you believed you were in, isn’t the one that you are in after the affair.
Instead of thinking that you want your relationship to work, ask instead what new relationship you would want with your partner. Ask yourself if you are prepared to enter a new relationship with someone who you absolutely know is willing to cheat on you. Ask if you gain more by being with them, than you lose when dealing with doubt, trust issues, and concerns about their willingness to risk your well-being. Is reconciliation right for you?
Your cheater may try to take control and attempt to persuade you to recommit to them immediately. They may be (rightly) concerned that you might leave, that you might immediately file for divorce, and that their lifestyle will be negatively affected by these things. It’s in their own interest to try to shape the outcome of the situation, after all, lying to you during their affair was nothing more than control and management of information, intended to keep you in the relationship while they cheated.
Don’t allow yourself to be pressured into an immediate response. Their affair was a significant and brutal assault on your relationship and it’s understandable and rational to want to take some time to weigh your options and consider what you want in the future. Understand that a reactive decision to stay or go may not be in your best interests, and that taking your time to define your dreams and goals is valid and appropriate.
Don’t stagnate, but do invest the time in your future, by considering how remaining with your cheater (or striking out without them) takes you further towards your own objectives for yourself.
“If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things.”
~ Albert Einstein
Take Off the Rose Colored Glasses
The rejection and impact on your self-esteem after an affair is difficult to handle. It can be a relief to hear your cheater affirm how much they love you. It’s easy to believe in the new dream of Happy Ever After, and loving each other through the hard times, and often, the faithful partner wants the golden glow of idealistic reconciliation.
It’s understandable for a faithful partner to want to just sink back into the security and familiarity of the relationship they thought they had. Looking at the cheater in the cold light of day can suck out those romanticized, fairytale endings where past hardships and upsets carry you both, stronger and more connected, into the future.
It’s important that you see the ugly truth of what your cheater’s affair says. The truth is that the cheater is willing to be unfaithful in the right circumstances and that, to them, any pain this causes you is acceptable collateral damage. The cheater made deliberate and clear choices that took them into the affair, and the potential for future affairs is high unless there is significant change in their thinking. Only when you accept the truth can you genuinely make an informed decision to stay or go.
Your cheater may want to make it work: Ask yourself what ‘wanting to make your marriage work‘ looks like in your cheater right now. What are they doing, what have they done since the affair, what are they planning to do next? Have they done anything at all except say that they’re sorry and how much they love you? What measurable and realistic change are they seeking, undertaking, or planning? What steps are they taking, of their own volition, to change, repair and rebuild their relationship with you?
It’s all too easy to sink into the mire of an affair and to react in such a way that’s all about the cheater. Refocusing your energies to you and what you want in your life can sound daunting and it can be difficult to know where to start.
Firstly, breathe. Take some space – go out into the world and find somewhere beautiful to sit, and then take some deep, calming breaths and let yourself breathe without smelling the stench of the affair for a while. Consider:
- Where you are. How you feel. What you want. What you might want tomorrow. What you might want 6 months from now.
- What you can live with. What you can’t live with.
- What you want to put their genitals through a meat grinder for. What you want to know.
- What you expect from the cheater. What your ideal contrite partner looks like – what they do, say, believe. What they can do to help you through this.
- What external support you want right now and what support do you have? How are you going to close the gap between the two?
- How you want your life to look today, tomorrow and next week.
- Who are the people in your life that are unimportant, or toxic, or just ‘meh’: Who are they and why are they in your life at all? Who do you know, who do you want to know, who did you used to know? Do you really want to spend time with these people?
- What you love to do, what you loved that you no longer get to do, what you always wanted to do.
- What are your dreams for yourself outside your marriage?
- Who are you, who were you, who do you want to be?
- Would you be staying because it’s too scary to leave? Would it be ‘for the kids‘? Would you be staying because you feel as if you don’t have other options, either financially or otherwise? Would you be staying because you’re afraid that you would otherwise be alone for the rest of your life?
Ask yourself all of these things (and more!) and be real with yourself over it. Once you know what you want you can start getting a plan together.
No matter how badly you feel, you will get through this – it does get better. If you make choices that move you closer to your personal goals then no choice you make is the wrong choice.
You don’t need to scramble to stay with a cheater. You might decide you want to leave and divorce, and that would be entirely okay.
You don’t need to prove anything to the world by walking away. You might choose to stay because it takes you closer to your dreams for yourself, and that is as valid a choice as anyone else’s.
No matter what you decide, decide it with your eyes wide open, with a clear view of who your cheater really is, and a clear view of who you really are and who you really want to be.
I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.
~ Charlotte Brontë