- Gender and Relationships
Should You Leave After an Affair?
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Infidelity can wreak havoc on our relationships. This article provides guidance for maintaining sanity and self-esteem when we suspect our partner of cheating.
Great checklist for helping clarify your position on whether to stay or go.
If Your Partner has Cheated, What Should You Do?
“Of course I’d leave someone who cheated on me!” How many times have you said this in the early days of love? Yet when the worst happens and we discover that our partner has had an affair, these words suddenly feel more scary than confident. Whether to stay and salvage the relationship or leave it in the dust is a very personal decision, and common wisdom may not offer the best answer.
Even if we suspected it was happening, finding confirmation of infidelity zaps us like a taser. Our initial reaction is shock. We may try to deny it by creating excuses that minimize the wrongdoing, because we don’t want to feel like we were such bad partners that we couldn’t keep our partner interested. Then rage rears its head and we plan vengeance – which we often envision as a departure that leave our partner feeling guilty and ashamed forever.
In a day or two, we feel moments of calm when we second-guess our decision. Do we really want to give up all that we had in our love relationship? It’s especially complicated married couples or anyone with children or financial entanglements, and we shift back and forth between extremes - leave, stay, leave, stay.
Men and women have to examine these issues from somewhat different perspectives. Despite progress toward sexual equality over the last few decades, sexual discrimination means women typically earn less than men, and receive preference when it comes to custody and child support. Men may be on the hook for a great deal of money, and despite their contributions, women’s standards of living tend to drop sharply after a divorce.
Contrary to popular opinion that it’s shallow to put money ahead of self-esteem, sometimes our lifestyle contributes to how we feel about ourselves. It’s a dirty little secret, perhaps, and rarely spoken aloud, but when there’s a chance of salvaging the relationship and maintaining the status quo, it may well be worth the effort.
Certainly we need to consider the effect of separation on children. Following divorce, many children suffer problems in school, believe they are to blame for the divorce, and wish for their parents to reunite. They also incorporate their parents’ behaviors into their own value systems. Do we want them to learn to cut and run when the going gets tough or to stick it out and make things work?
When infidelity takes place, it’s a sure sign that the relationship went astray in another area. Sometimes the breakdown is due to basic incompatibility – in which case the relationship cannot be recovered no matter how hard we try. When it’s due to a short-term, transient problem, and both partners want to find the closeness they once felt, healing from an affair is not only possible, it can strengthen the couple’s commitment and appreciation for each other.
Peer pressure doesn’t make the decision easier, either. It’s important to evaluate the long-term risks and benefits of each option to make the best choice, no matter what friends and family think.
Here are some questions to ask if you’re faced with making this decision:
- Do I believe my partner will avoid risk factors that led to this?
- What needs was my partner trying to fulfill with this affair? Am I able to take action to meet these needs? Am I willing to undertake the necessary actions?
- How will my standard of living change if I leave?
- Who else will be affected? How?
When our love has been betrayed, it’s difficult to heal. These are the things that create emotional baggage – lifelong unhealthy responses that create problems in our relationships. But they’re not insurmountable if both partners have the right mindset for recovery, no matter what popular opinion would advise.