This article is about imperfect relationships. When He Cheats or She Cheats (interchangeable) the whole relationship is on the line. This is the hard stuff. Whether you’re blind-sided by the cheating or it was inevitable, you’ve become that dreaded statistic. Studies vary, but research says 60% of men and 45% of women cheat, affecting 1 out of every 2.7 marriages.
Emotionally devastating and heartbreaking, cheating impacts the person being cheated on the most. I’d like to challenge you to read this article from a pragmatic point of view. Emotions run high on this topic, and decisions are many times made, to the detriment of the victim. Unless this is a situation where the cheater wants to leave the relationship, many move forward and make the marriage work. In fact 46% do not end in divorce. Not everyone is willing to throw away everything they’ve worked for together over it.
The hardest parts to handle when being cheated on is our sense of loss. The expectations and dreams for what the marriage was supposed to look like are challenged or lost. Ego, self-worth, anger, betrayal, all these emotions must be dealt with one-by-one. But it happened, now what?
Choices After An Affair
There are 4 major choices after affair. In fact the person with all the power is the person who was cheated on. Unless your partner is leaving you for the other person, in that case this article may help you rethink what is important to you, if and when you decide to take on a new relationship moving forward. If your partner wants to stay together, your choices are:
- Ignore that the Affair Happened
- Split up
- Forgive, if they show remorse and ask for forgiveness
- Renegotiate with new terms
Why Ignore An Affair?
Some people choose to ignore an affair rather than facing all the drama and misery head-on. This is their choice. For some facing it head on, forces them to make decisions they don’t want to or that will impact them more negatively than staying. It may mean losing a family business, their sole source of income. They may wish to avoid the embarrassment of telling their friends and family. Young children may be involved and vulnerable.
STORY: “Why should I lose half my shit, because he can’t keep his dick in his pants? He isn’t planning to leave me.” My question to this was Why was this one sided? Why didn’t she have the same freedom? “Oh I do” she said ”He just doesn’t know it!” – Ok so passive aggressively ignoring it seemed to work for them. They were married 27 years. I also asked why they just didn’t openly renegotiate since they were both “cheating anyway”? Her answer was this kept it to the bare minimum and they didn’t need to talk about it.
Others may ignore it because the value of the relationship is not solely based on fidelity. I had one woman tell me that she loves her life but doesn’t actually like sex, so for her this takes care of that. He cheats, she pretends it never happened, he dotes on her because he feels guilty, and they raise their family together.
And then there is those who ignore the cheating because of low self-esteem, the “nobody else is ever going to love me.” This is the silent pain and sometimes the feelings of self-worth are so low that tackling it is beyond comprehension. Whatever the reason, ignoring infidelity is a choice.
Consequences of Splitting up
Splitting up is sometimes the only answer. If the affair was the final straw in a long battle trying to keep a bad relationship together, then splitting up may be the best option for your self esteem and happiness. Everybody deserves to be with someone who treats them well and values them as a person, and puts the relationship as a top priority. However, this is not always the easiest option. There may be children involved, businesses, marital home and property, elderly parents to care for, and the list goes on.
The questions to ask yourself are:
- Will I benefit more from splitting up then staying? If the answer is yes then you can stop reading here.
- Who does splitting up punish more, me or him?
- Why did the affair happen? Is there a key element missing in the relationship to consider? Is either one of you going through the mid-life crisis and battling self-esteem issues?(Phase) Has your relationship deteriorated into roommate status? Are they just selfish and self-centered, or has the relationship been stagnant a long time? Do you still love this person? Does your partner work away from home and get lonely? All things to consider when making your decision.
- Are you splitting up because that is what you’re supposed to do? Was an affair a non-negotiable line in your marriage? If so, why? Your belief system doesn’t allow it? Your ego? Expectations? Family pressure? Or does it just hurt too much to mend?
Nobody knows what happens behind closed doors. If splitting up is your best option, do it.
Forgiveness – Rebuilding
Other couples see the affair as a wake up call. They do the work to repair the marriage and move forward stronger, forging new bonds and continuing a with a monogamous marriage. They take the lessons learned and turn it into something better. They learn to communicate, usually through counseling, and make the decision together to make it work. This is usually successful if the cheater shows remorse for the affair, asks for forgiveness, and changes their behavior. Not an easy option.
Forgiveness takes a willingness to be vulnerable and to face the challenges head on. It means learning to communicate in a way that bridges the gap caused by the affair. Forgiveness is not just so the cheater can feel better. The opposite is true, when someone forgives you for a mistake, it forces you to examine your own flaws and own up to them Forgiveness is not for them, forgiveness is for you. It allows you to let it go, to heal, move forward and be happy. Forgiveness means you don’t use the past as a whipping stick every time something negative rears its ugly head.
Couples who choose to forgive and move forward expecting monogamy take a risk. They risk disappointment if the other person doesn’t comply. For this to be successful BOTH parties must agree. BOTH parties have to follow the new guidelines. Otherwise, they start this process over. The couples that do decide to work together, can many times come through this, with incredibly strong relationships. This is not for the weak, it takes two strong people to make this work.
Renegotiating – Non-Monogamy After An Affair
It’s happened, your worst case scenario has come to light. But you don’t want to split up, and you don’t want to go back to the way it was prior to the affair. It’s time to write your own Cinderella story. This option also takes a lot of work, communication, and rebuilding trust, based on the facts. The fact is the affair happened. Your life built around monogamy as the standard has been broken and you can’t look at it the same ever again.
Some couples renegotiate with monogamy NOT being the pinnacle of whether the relationship is broken or not. Some couples opt for non-monogamy. For this to be successful the following key elements are required:
- The relationship is based on “friendship first” not sexual compliance. Friendship first means that you negotiate from the standpoint of what is actually best for each other and the relationship. If one person has a very high sex drive and the other doesn’t for instance, looking at the relationship through the friendship lens, couples can actively see their partners needs for what they are, without it impacting who they are themselves. They simply don’t feel like less of a person because their partner needs more than they can give or even want to give. Just like two friends where one is promiscuous and one is not.
- Both parties are equally free to have other sexual partners. That doesn’t mean they do. It means that nobody is owned by the other, and their choices are personal. Neither partner is giving ultimatums or setting “rules” that don’t apply to themselves.
- Both parties value the relationship, love and care for each other, and want to continue together, but on a new path.
- Both parties value honesty more than fidelity. In their world sex with other people isn’t cheating.
STORY: Honesty is the most valuable aspect of our relationship. We both have the freedom to admit attraction to other people. So many of our friends are cheating and going behind each others back. We choose to be honest and share that typically ”secret” side with each other. I feel like we are stronger for it, and it’s way more fun. We value happiness, joy, sex positivity, and experiences over monogomay. – A
Some negotiate to have solo sexual encounters (solo dates), others choose inclusive partners (poly) where a loving relationship is shared by all, even if only one partner is sexually active with more than one person (think sister wives). Another option is swinging where they get their need for diversity by having recreational sex with others as a couple. There are many variations on this theme, or they may opt to play with others under the banner of “fair play” meaning both have a separate partner for the evening. The point is, these couples also chose to forgive and move forward, but not back to the standards they started with. They renegotiated to stay together.
Regardless of what decision is best for you, unless the affair means the other person wants to leave, you have choices. This is your time to evaluate what is important, make changes and move forward. Relationships require negotiation at many stages: job loss, health issues, having children, financial obligations, whether one parent can stay home, retirement, religious beliefs. Life happens, things change, you both will change. Couples who renegotiate these changes successfully can have a lifetime of happiness together.
This article was not advocating any single choice. Regardless of what decision you choose, here are a few good reads to guide you along the way. Counseling should also be considered.
As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This helps pay for the awesome content.
Your Husband Left Now What? – A Practical Guide to Making it Through Your Divorce in One Piece
The impact of a marriage break-up can be shocking, overwhelming—even devastating. This practical guide supports women who have experienced the breakdown of their marriage and empowers them to rise out of despair and boldly create a new life. Buy on Amazon
Healing from Infidelity: The Divorce Busting® Guide to Rebuilding Your Marriage After an Affair
Little compares to the devastation people feel upon discovering their spouse has been unfaithful. Shocked, devastated and overwhelmed, couples often hit stalemates as they struggle to get past intense emotional pain, mistrust, resentment and never-ending arguments about the betrayal. Buy on Amazon
When Good People Have Affairs: Inside the Hearts & Minds of People in Two Relationships
For men and women caught in the powerful drama over what to do when an affair reaches into their emotional lives. How to cut through the thickets of fear, hurt and confusion to find their ways to happier, more solid relationships with the person who’s right for them. This book identifies seventeen types of affairs, helping readers figure out which type they’re in and what it means. Buy on Amazon
Designer Relationships: A Guide to Happy Monogamy, Positive Polyamory, and Optimistic Open Relationships
possibilities are limitless, and thinking about a partnership as something people can craft allows for flexibility and change. Relationships can open and close or have varying degrees and kinds of openness as circumstances demand. In the context of a designer relationship, decisions are made mutually, consciously, and deliberately. Buy on Amazon
Opening Up: A Guide To Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships
Drawing on in-depth interviews with over a hundred women and men, Opening Up explores the real-life benefits and challenges of all styles of open relationships — from partnered non-monogamy to solo polyamory. . Buy on Amazon
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Wow, great article Elaine! I can relate to this article so much. I love the choices. Way to empower and enlighten. I have lived these choices and have successfully navigated the renegotiation part, we are happier than ever now. I remember going through the full gammet of emotional decisions and ultimately had to decide what I wanted. Excellent article!!
Lindsay, thank you so much for sharing! These decisions are hard, am so glad you found your answer within yourself! It’s a rare ability in an emotional time! Celebrating with you!
It is a helpful article for the current society and future.
I like having choices before you are married and also after you are married.
I think writing down what you want have if you are married and the same for the other person.
See the matches and the mismatches. Then go through the mismatches and ask how you manage and address them.
Be absolutely honest because it is your life.
I am not sure if there are perfect marriages because every human is unique and has different attributes.
You are not risking anything g before you marry so go as deep as possible with what happens when..
It is different when you are married.
Your consideration, thoughts to live with the situation that you promise during your wedding. Give it respect. However, there are sacrifices needed in married life to keep your family up and running. If You tried your best and you don’t yourself, any of you think together what to do.
Do not try to make things complicated, try to be smart and wise to deal with any difficult situation.
Anusuya these are thoughts to ponder, and yes ideally are discussed before marriage. Life has a way of throwing us curve balls, how we deal with those is so individual. Each couple will ultimately decided together the final outcome of the relationship, just wanted to open the topic so that we can be more supportive of each other if couples we know choose to work thing out rather than expect that everyone should split.
This is a good article and I found it very interesting to think about. In my opinion cheating should mean the end of a relationship because it means that they clearly don’t love the person they are dating, but I think that’s only because I could not be in a polyamorous relationship. Trust is a very important part of a relationship. However, I can understand that other people think differently and can work around these choices.
Harvey thank you for your insight. The last two choices, to work it out, or to move to an open relationship are definitely not for everyone, but after watching friends successfully navigate this and others go through excruciatingly difficult divorces many times at the detriment of the spouse who did not cheat, I wanted to open this topic up for thought. Im big on advocating for not punishing yourself for another’s bad behaviour. But for many this is a non-negotiable line and I respect that. Cheating is a very complex issue and does not necessarily mean that one does not love their partner, valuing the relationship above all else definitely is, but that is a whole new subject matter.