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Can your marriage survive an affair?

Updated on June 10, 2013
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Triumph in your marriage against all odds

From personal experience, research, and seeing other marriages’ trials and triumphs, it is my own personal opinion that any marriage (with few exceptions) can be worked through and come out as the long-lasting, loving, honest, and fulfilling union we all had our hearts set on the day we said “I do.”

Each marriage struggles in some form or another and at varying levels and I will be posting more on each topic, however, today I would like to focus on one of the number one leading causes of divorce and marital issues. Adultery.

Now, before you read this article, please keep in mind that these are merely opinions and suggestions from my point of view based on my beliefs, research, and experiences with married couples struggling with adultery in their marriage or relationship.

In a simple form, adultery, (affairs, infidelity, or “cheating”) is being unfaithful in a sexual nature to your spouse or significant other in a marriage or relationship. Adultery can be physical or emotional. An example of physical adultery would be something such as finding another person and engaging in sexual acts outside of your marriage. An emotional example would be something such as “online affairs” or chat rooms where you become inappropriately intimate with another. Each example or kind of affair can have similar damaging and utterly devastating effects in a marriage or relationship.

As we walk down the aisle and promise our love, commitment, and devotion to the love of our life, we make a moral, ethical, and legal contract to remain faithful and true. Taking these vows when life is bright, when we are remarkably happy, and everything seems that they are going the way that they should be for the most part. Hope and joy fills our hearts and the future is filled with possibilities. The relationship is still in a new stage. Stresses of life haven’t taken their toll yet. But, within a few years of the marriage something happens. We lose that spark. Bills start to stack up, kids are on their way, and jobs are demanding more time and energy from you. Then there’s that age old question knocking on our heads, “what happened?” Marriage dynamics of course change over time, there is no doubt about that. Changes have to happen to work with the natural order of lives and relationships. Problems, however, start to arise when we fail to ignore or forget to adapt to those changes. And more specifically to each other’s needs and they also change with the relationship. When a spouse fails to meet the needs of themselves as well as that of their loved one, adultery can come into play.

Contrary to what you may think or have been told, cheating or adultery is not just merely about sex. Spouses often cheat even if their sex life is good in their marriage. People cheat for many reasons. Research suggests that the majority or the most common reasons adultery starts is for an emotional connection. That feeling of being wanted or needed. To be heard or appreciated. If those feelings are lacking in the relationship it can cause a spouse to obtain them elsewhere. Which in most every case, leads to a sexual act. For example, I am going to use two stereotypes: “The unloved and misunderstood wife” or “The controlled and criticized husband” are types of people who are most likely to stray outside of their relationship in search to feel understood and appreciated, even if the overall goal isn’t sex with another person. To the other person (the one being cheated on) it is more often looked at as a selfish and foolish betrayal of trust and love which will more than likely bring devastating consequences.

With several interviews and personal talks with married couples who have survived cheating in a relationship as well with couples that called it quits I found that they both had one thing in common; that adultery just didn’t or doesn’t happen overnight. That instead it was a combination of long and unresolved issues. One man described it to me as “similar to an ice burg. You can see the top and the acts. It is still massive, but what’s lying underneath is even bigger.”

Not every couple can work through the traumatizing and devastating effects of a spouse having an affair. Whether it be anger keeping them from wanting to try, or the cheating spouse simply will not stop. If any of those two are the cases, it simply cannot work as a loving and complete marriage. But, if each couple is truly 100% on board with working through the issues then complete restoration (maybe even a stronger marriage) is completely possible and achievable.

If you have caught your spouse cheating or have cheated yourself, you are far from alone. Adultery is very widespread. Plaguing marriages and relationships more and more with each passing year. In recent studies, adultery was found to effect 1 in every 3 couples. In one study reported in the Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy, by the time couples reach their forties, approximately 50% of wives and 60% of husbands will have had an extramarital affair. Some psychologists have estimated that only 35% of those couples will stay together. With that being said, unfortunately, the majority of couples that suffer an affair will more than likely end.

Despite those overwhelming and gloomy results, the good news is that there IS life after adultery. Couples that honestly choose to tough it out and seek help have significantly increased odds of staying together.

Again, with my conversations with couples that have made it through adultery in their relationship say that without question, the hardest part of working through an affair is looking beyond the act of the adultery itself. Some couples have taken years to get past that point. But once a couple has been able to look past that and start digging deeper into the root causes, each side will becoming stronger and more understanding of their significant other even more so than before.

Here is a quote from one woman I interviewed about four months ago.

“If all you can do is think about and look at what your husband did and completely ignore the reasons or underlying causes of why he did it or if he just wants to dig his heels in and justify what he’s done, then it’s guaranteed that your relationship will not survive this. But if you both have the willingness to look and dig a lot deeper and the both of you want to make it work, then there’s hope for you and chances are you’ll be stronger than you once were.”

I agree whole heartedly with this woman. She was a survivor. Later on in the interview she explained to me that it was not an easy or short process. It took her a long time to quit thinking about the other women he had went to bed with and after about 18 months, she was able to push past what her husband had done and was able to start looking at the reasons why. Which she said made the process so much easier. She also stated that it’s been five years since she found out about his affairs, and while trust is still somewhat shaky, their marriage is growing stronger and stronger day by day.

So here is the real question? Can your marriage survive the devastation of an affair?

YES!

Betrayal of cheating cuts so deep. It’s much more than a broken vow. It can feel like physical or emotional abuse. Completely destroying the one person you broke that promise to. It hurts. It can lead to long term issues for the spouse that was cheated on such as: anxiety, depression, humiliation, guilt, poor self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness or that they somehow “had it coming.”

Most spouses are able to come to terms with the fact that their loved one cheated, but it’s not being able to let go of the fear of them doing it again that puts a big wedge in between making it work and rebuilding trust. Trust is the major foundation of any relationship and once it’s broken on such extreme levels, it is near to impossible to rebuild unless both are willing to surrender to fact that in reality, there is no control over what the other may or may not do.

Here’s where I find the main problem lies. It is so much easier to just throw in the towel and start anew. It’s so much easier to just walk away than it is to surrender and truly trust again. Even if you want to trust again, unless you are willing to put in the work yourself (both sides) it will be easier to walk away.

For a relationship or marriage to survive, one of the most crucial things that both have to realize is that they EACH have to make personal changes to their own ways of thought and acts. If both partners can commit to the changes that need to be made then they will become aware that even after adultery, there is the potential to have a marriage even stronger than before. The cheater must feel an honest sense of sorrow and humility. The person that was cheated on must let go of being the victim and forgive. Making sure to never use that in any future arguments as leverage against the other. Remember though, if you were the person being cheated on and you are not yet ready to forgive, take more time for yourself. Because healing and rebuilding can only happen if both people are in it fully.

Not all marriages will survive adultery. Sometimes the one that cheated simply cannot commit to being faithful to his or her spouse and will leave. Sometimes the one cheated on will terminate a marriage thinking that they cannot overcome the betrayal or pain. No matter how it works out, you should deal with the underlying issues of the adultery in your marriage. Either why you did it, or what it did to you after you experienced being cheated on. This way, you will be able to make certain that you will not find yourself in a similar relationship. No matter what side you find yourself on, finding a counselor would probably be a big benefit for you giving you the essential tools needed for the healing process. Adultery can be life altering, but it doesn’t have to reflect the person you are or define your future. Use it as a tool or a lesson in your future encounters if you so choose to end the relationship or use it in your current one as a way to ensure mistakes are not made again.

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