Readers email me frequently, asking for advice on what to do after a spouse cheats. Some of them want to try to work it out, while others are vehemently headed for divorce court. But a lot of spouses are unsure, and their indecision on whether they should stay or leave can go on for months, even years. Although I usually have an opinion on what I think someone should do, I don’t like to give it. Instead, I try to offer advice to help them arrive at what they think is the best choice; leaving or forgiving a cheater.
There are so many factors in deciding whether to stay or leave after cheating, and every situation is unique. Does the couple have kids? Is this the first cheating event? Does the cheater have remorse? Was the cheating a one-time thing or a relationship? Why did the cheater cheat?
Here is one story of a woman trying to figure out whether or not she should try to work things out with her cheating husband:
My husband and I have been married 5 years and together 11. We have 2 kids. Last year I found out he was having an affair. I gave him multiple chances to make things right and he never did. He would never end it with the other woman. About 3 months ago he finally did end it with her and is now begging for me back. I’m so scared to give him another chance just to end up hurt again. I don’t know if I can’t get past all the lies he told me and all the things that just run over and over in my head about him and this other woman. It’s obsessive and I’m so exhausted. He’s willing to do all the things he needs to do now such as therapy and finding a job at home (he works away) I just don’t feel the urge to put any effort in. I told him I think we need a divorce but I haven’t actually filed yet. I’m so afraid of how things will turn out. I’m a stay at home mom and have very little college education. Divorce or stay married?
There are two big obstacles here when it comes to this and other couples who consider staying together after cheating:
Lack of trust
Let’s start with resentment. This woman tried to make things work with her husband last year, even though she knew he was cheating. She gave him “multiple chances.” As in all cases of cheating, there are so many lies that the cheater tells, and when the spouse looks back, they are angry by that. Think about the nights this woman was probably waiting up for her husband, or the times she tried to reach him and he was unavailable and then couldn’t give her an explanation why. That would piss anyone off, and the resentment over it might last a long time–maybe forever. Think about how that made her feel, a stay-at-home mom with two young kids, while he was making love with another woman. I’m not surprised that this reader is exhausted and obsessed when thinking about it. I would be the same way. And now, for whatever reason, it didn’t work out with the woman so he now wants his wife back. The question is, why does he want her back? Because he doesn’t want to be alone? Maybe he will meet someone new and cheat again. Or, did he realize that he still loves his wife and wants to make the marriage work? Only this woman’s gut will give her the answer to that question.
On to lack of trust. How do you get past the lies and the fact that the person slept with and/or had a relationship with another woman? How do you not go crazy wondering every day if he is cheating again? What if he gets a late night text? Are you going to think it’s from a woman? What if he is unaccounted for for a period of time? Are you going to think he was with at some hotel having sex? I’m not saying it’s impossible to gain back trust after cheating, I’m just saying it doesn’t seem easy and the only way it will work is if both partners are genuinely and fully committed to staying together. I think therapy is a very effective tool for this, but they also need to make a very big effort to rekindle their relationship, have dates, enjoy each other, and have sex. And lastly, they need to make a commitment to each other that they are going to communicate honestly and openly with one another, mainly the cheater being honest if the urge to cheat comes up again. And, the person who was cheated on must make an effort not to harbor the past resentment and to start fresh, and not continue to punish the cheater.
The last thing I want to address is this reader’s fear of getting divorced. It is very valid and understandable. But, I do not think it should stop her, even with her lack of job experience and education, if divorce is what she truly feels is the right thing. I know it’s very very scary to go through a divorce and start life as a single parent. It’s lonely and sad and feels hopeless at times. There is lots of anxiety and stress that goes with it, and a person truly truly has to mature and gain courage and inner-strength to get through a divorce. I always tell people that divorce is really really hard at the beginning, and that it takes months, even years to find a life that works for you. But, if you feel divorce is the right decision, you will be so happy you did it. But, you have to be patient in getting to a really good place. I’m not saying the whole divorce journey is awful. There are so many happy and wonderful times—just like in any life. But, happily ever after doesn’t happen in three months. It takes awhile. But it happens for those who make good decisions and life choices.
9 Questions to ask yourself if you are thinking of staying: (trust your gut when answering yourself)
1. Will he cheat again?
2. Why does he want me back? (what are his real reasons?)
3. Can I ever trust him again?
4. Can I let go of the resentment I hold?
5. Do his actions speak louder than his words?
6. If I stay, will we be in this same place 3 or 5 or 10 years from now?
7. Do I still have love for him?
8. Do I like him?
9. How can I not be mad at him anymore?
Like this article? Check out “Resentment: The Root of All Causes of Divorce”