Infidelity in the United States is said to be responsible for 20-40% of divorces according to the American Psychological Association, and if you’re reading this then you might be part of these statistics.
Maybe you just found out about an affair your partner has been having, or you’ve known for a while and have been torturously debating your next move for months.
You’re not alone in asking the life-changing question that almost everyone in your situation asks:
Should I stay or should I go?
Unfortunately, there’s no right answer, but there are definitely steps to take for more clarity.
What to Consider
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 describes the possibility of reconciliation as being dependent on both partners willingness to do the work.
She says, “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 factors include the injured partner’s willingness to forgive and let go, and also on the level of change the unfaithful partner is willing or capable of making.
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.
Why Partners Stay or Go
In my experience I see most couples staying married for religious reasons, financial strain, the children, the investment they’ve made, or the fear of starting over alone.
Staying married means avoiding the draining and destructive process that so often accompanies divorce. Families get to remain intact, children stay in their home, finances don’t get disrupted, and life ultimately stays the same.
There are many issues that make it almost impossible to stay.
The ability to forget, let alone forgive, worry and concern about it happening again, and compromised self-esteem all make it difficult to remain in a tainted marriage. Infidelity changes the nature of the relationship forever so unless this can be accepted, and seen as an opportunity for change and growth, it will be hard to keep going.
So, What Should You Do?
Start by making a pros and cons list. Think of every possible reason it makes sense to go or stay. Review it and add to it daily for at least two weeks.
Remember that staying and going are not your only options. Consider a third option, which is to work on the marriage to determine if it can indeed be saved. This is where a really good couple’s therapist experienced in infidelity comes into the picture.
Don’t consult friends or family until you are clear within yourself. Bad and unsolicited advice will only confuse you more.
Also, if you do decide to stay, you may not want anyone to know about this pit stop in your marital journey.
Every story and situation are 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’t always be repaired.