Devastation, anger, betrayal -- without a doubt, these are the emotions certain to overwhelm any marriage in the wake of infidelity. But what isn't quite as clear when the dust settles is whether to stay married or get divorced after an affair.
With careers, property, money, family and feelings in the mix, neither decision is an easy one. So HuffPost Canada asked two bloggers, one who did the cheating, the other who got cheated on, why they think it's better to stick out the post-affair storm and rebuild the relationship, or head for higher ground solo.
Rick Reynolds, Affairrecovery.com founder, believes working to salvage an unhappy marriage leads to bliss. Delaine Moore, author of The Secret Sex Life of a Single Mom, says some need to cut loose from a dysfunctional marriage to find true joy.
So should you stay or should you go? Pick a side and then read the pros and cons. Afterwards, start a debate of your own in the comments section.
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You should stay married after an affair.
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Who makes the better argument?
Many people think affairs automatically end relationships. That's both sad and wrong. Heaven help the person who announces they are choosing to stay and work at their marriage after an affair. These people are not weak or co-dependent and they shouldn't be ostracized by friends or family. They are courageous.
When it comes to infidelity, our culture is more accepting of divorce, where children are torn and family and friends divided, than we are of exploring whether there is opportunity for reconciliation, a stronger marriage, and a deeper love. I know because in 1984 I was unfaithful and my wife displayed the most amazing strength and courage I had ever witnessed. Instead of kicking me to the curb (which I deserved) she had the guts to work through my failure and help us build a new life with meaning in the aftermath of my affair. We learned that severe crisis could lead to radical transformation.
Perhaps we believe that encouraging people to salvage broken marriages would destine them to a life of misery. Wouldn't they be better off to get divorced and start anew?
What you don't know is that staying married actually increases your odds for happiness. Sixty-four per cent of unhappy spouses who avoided divorce ended up happily married five years later according to this study, conducted by leading marriage scholars and the Institute for American Values. They also found that the more unhappy the marriage, the more dramatic the turnaround: 78 per cent of adults who said their marriages were very unhappy, yet avoided divorce, ended up happily married five years later. More often than not, couples who fight through the crisis of infidelity are better off than those choosing divorce. But here's the real kicker -- only 19 per cent of unhappy spouses who divorced or separated were happily married five years later.
Saving a relationship after an affair can work when:
- There is no physical abuse.
- The unfaithful spouse is repentant and grieves the harm done to their mate.
- The unfaithful spouse is honest and gives their mate the needed information for healing and recovery.
- The unfaithful spouse takes responsibility for their actions and doesn't place blame on their mate.
- The unfaithful spouse takes the necessary steps for recovery.
- The unfaithful spouse seeks to understand their mate's perspective.
- The injured spouse will look for what was good about their marriage and spouse.
- The injured spouse witnesses their mate making meaningful changes.
- The injured spouse finds reason to stay and work on the marriage and is open to forgiveness.
- Through changes made, the injured spouse and the unfaithful spouse find hope for a better future.
- Both parties work together to discover why the infidelity happened.
In these circumstances, staying married after an affair is a recipe for an extraordinary life.
Many couples choosing to work through an affair don't just survive, they find a better life, but it takes tenacity and specific steps to recover. I believe this because I've personally seen it happen to thousands of marriages over the past 22 years. Even though their lives have been shattered and recovery is very difficult, all is not lost. However, if you haven't experienced infidelity, keep it that way because it's not worth the unfathomable pain and devastation. For those that have, if it's possible to find the marriage they've always wanted, why would they choose to sit in a lonely empty room? Divorce and infidelity are catastrophic. Infidelity can not only be overcome, but it can also allow couples to transcend old ways of being and find new ways of living. Both spouses can work together toward a new and different life.
Is your marriage worth saving? Take the free Affair Analyzer at AffairRecovery.com where you can find out more about the process of recovery.
Affair Recovery specializes in helping people heal after infidelity. After recovering from his own affair 25 years ago and helping 2,000+ other couples do the same, founder Rick Reynolds and his team have developed research-validated, groundbreaking online and in-person programs for redeeming the losses created by infidelity, betrayal, and sexual addiction. To learn more, visit www.AffairRecovery.com.
Could you ever truly feel special again?
I'd like you to ask yourself this question, imagining that your spouse has cheated on you. Don't downplay it -- feel the shock and horror, the full magnitude of his/her betrayal. Not only did he exchange bodily fluids and pillow talk with someone else, he snuck around and lied to your face over and over again, while you were what -- at home caring for the kids? Working extra hours to pay for an upcoming vacation? Cooking the family dinner?
The reality of your love, your shared life together, is about to be rewritten -- and have no qualms about it, it's penned with the blood of your heart.
Some say that with "courage" and "hard work," a marriage can be rebuilt stronger than ever. But drawing from both personal and professional experience working with victims of infidelity, I believe that "stronger than ever" is the exception, not the norm; that a "mediocre" marriage is the best most can achieve (and pfft, who wants mediocre?!). And though I always encourage couples to 100 per cent commit to trying to save their marriage, except in the case of domestic abuse, I caution them to put time markers/limits on it. For the reality is that people can only change and forgive so much, and their "courage" and "hard work" may be better spent divorcing and starting over.
Whatever the words "hard work" mean to you, you'll need to multiply that by 10 to even begin understanding what's involved in rebuilding a marriage after an affair. Each person not only has to deal with individual feelings like shame, guilt, blame, anger, embarrassment, resentment, denial, mistrust, lust (and then some), they THEN have to learn to trust, love and communicate with each other in higher ways or ways they've never done before.
Sound exhausting? It is. But here's another nugget for you: a lot of people simply don't have the desire -- or the capability -- to wade through the all the emotional garbage to make the changes staying together requires. So again, keep in mind how much of YOUR life you are willing to potentially waste taking this risk.
If all this hard work gets you nowhere, it doesn't mean he's a bad person or she's a bad person, nor must it mean he's not giving 100 per cent or neither is she. Liken it to two people, tied together, who are stuck in a pool of garbage, desperately using what personal resources they have to try and stay afloat. Like it or not, cutting the ropes between them may the only way they each start living -- not just surviving -- again.
My ex-husband and I did everything the therapists and books told us to do in the aftermath of his affair. With three kids, a home and a life we'd built together, we had a lot on the line and we were 100 per cent committed to making it work.
But after two years of courageously "working hard," I finally came to the decision that it was time to end it. Deep down I knew that I had changed and what I needed in a partner had changed. He simply wasn't capable of being that person -- never would be. And it wasn't fair to either one of us to allow our marriage vows, which we'd made in our 20s when we were so naïve and inexperienced in life and love, to hold us prisoner in a marriage for the rest of our lives.
Despite my decision to divorce him, it's important I mention that I forgave my ex-husband for his affair. Yes, that's right -- I forgave him but still didn't want him (*Grin). But what was the alternative? To allow my harboured anger and hurt to contaminate my soul and all future relationships? Forgiveness to me meant extracting the many lessons I learned from our time together, feeling grateful for them and acknowledging the good, bad and humanity of my former spouse. It meant allowing our marriage to transform into friendship so that the two of us could effectively co-parent. It meant accepting that this stage, this cycle of my life was over, and trusting that from the ashes of death, new beginnings would shoot and grow.
One thing I know for sure is that whether a person decides to stay or go in the wake of an affair, he/she is going to be tested and tested hard -- there's no escaping it. The changes that lie ahead on either path will bring her face to face with her weaknesses, fears, and the dark sides of her character. And more than once, she'll find herself stumbling, falling and nursing new cuts and bruises.
But as a woman who chose the divorce path, I can also speak to the adventure, joy and personal growth I experienced. From navigating the dating/sex trenches and learning how to single parent, to tidying up my family's finances and charting a new career for myself, I uncovered strength, passion, and a level of self-respect I'd never experienced before.
And as for ever truly feeling special again, I know what that feels like again too; it's four years later and I'm with a man who is faithful and true, who mirrors the fuller person I am today.
Thank God I never settled for "mediocre." Would YOU?
Delaine shares how she rediscovered passion during the first year of her divorce in her just released memoir, The Secret Sex Life of a Single Mom.
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You should stay married after an affair.
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Rick ReynoldsDelaine MooreNeither argumenthas changed the most minds