Many of us have said to ourselves, “I have zero tolerance for cheating. If he/she ever cheats on me, I will walk away”. Sound familiar? It seems like a pretty cut and dried decision.
But when infidelity does occur, it’s seldom so clear. Infidelity is one of the most distressing, confusing, and traumatic events that can happen in a marriage. Nothing makes more sense and nothing feels cut and parched. It’s such a confusing situation that people sometimes agonize for years, asking themselves over and over again, “Should I stay or should I go away?”.
I want to be very clear that I don’t think couples should break up because of infidelity. Affair recovery is very possible. As a couples therapist, I have seen many couples come out of a terrible betrayal and build stronger, healthier, and happier marriages. I believe if both partners want to stay together and are willing to work hard to stay together then most can survive infidelity.
But while I truly believe in affair recovery, sometimes it can be best to just walk away.
The three big reasons to walk away after infidelity
Here are three situations where I think you should seriously consider walking away.
1. You will not end the affair.
It is not possible for a couple to be cured of an affair while the affair is still ongoing. The partners must commit to each other. The affair partner has to make a decision. And choose clearly. It’s okay to be unsure whether the marriage can or should go ahead. It’s okay to acknowledge that there are some significant issues in the marriage and it may not survive. But it’s not okay to continue sleeping with someone if it’s outside of the marriage contract.
This situation puts the betrayed partner in the impossible position of having to wait and see if they are “picked” or not. And that only turns the knife deeper. Plus, it shows such a callous disregard and lack of empathy for their partner’s pain that it’s hard to imagine how they can be trusted to genuinely care about their partner.
I’m not saying they have to cut all contact completely. Sometimes this is just not possible. You can work with the person, or the person can be part of their social circle or a member of their church or tennis club. This decision about the extent of contact, if any, must be worked out by the couple together.
But I don’t think it’s possible to seriously work on bringing the marriage back together while one or both partners are actively involved in an affair. You just can’t.
2. You won’t acknowledge the pain.
“You’re overreacting”, “Get over it”, “It’s not that big of a deal”. These are the words of a partner unwilling to acknowledge the gravity of what they have done and the pain it has caused.
Some unfaithful partners act this way because it’s just so painful for them to see their partner’s agony. And they only know how to deal with it by trying to silence them by minimizing their pain and making them feel wrong for feeling so hurt.
Other times, the partner is genuinely unable to see “what the big deal is” and lacks the ability to feel empathy for their partner’s pain. I see these people in couples therapy tapping their feet, rolling their eyes, counting down the clock, impatiently waiting for their partner to just “get it all over”.
3. They used infidelity as a weapon.
Any kind of infidelity is terrible. But some are worse than others. Occasionally you will see someone using infidelity to inflict pain.
who they sleep with. Sometimes the partner chooses to cheat with someone specifically designed to inflict maximum pain. For example, they sleep with their partner’s brother/sister, best friend, boss, parents, etc. It feels like they’ve sought out and slept with the single one who could cause the most pain, humiliation and harm.
who they tell. Instead of trying to hide the affair, they flaunt it. They openly walk around town together, double date your friends, tell your family, go out of their way to let all the important people in your life know they’re cheating on you.
In these situations, your partner intentionally tries to hurt you. And they don’t just want to hurt you, they want to humiliate you. They don’t regret the pain they caused, they’re glad they caused it. This behavior shows such a high level of anger combined with an inability to truly understand or care about the pain they are causing. This stay may be an act of self-destruction on your part. It’s one thing for your partner to make a mistake, but it’s another thing when they’re trying to burn you and the marriage down.
affair recovery. Coming back from the abyss.
An affair is a terrible break in a relationship. But it doesn’t have to be the end. Surviving infidelity is possible. I’ve seen couples come out of infidelity and build better, happier, more loving marriages. In fact, one of the reasons I find affair recovery work so satisfying is because I can see the tremendous resilience of couples. How to fight back and find each other again.
At the same time, if one or more of these three conditions seem familiar to you. It’s time to ask yourself, “Does my partner really have the willingness and ability to change?”
I hope you found this interesting and useful. Please leave a comment, I’d love to hear your opinion.
Previously published on jbamft.com
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