Fortunately, I haven’t faced that situation. My two failed marriages had many problems, but infidelity wasn’t one of them.
Honestly, I don’t know how I would have reacted if one of my wives had had an affair. Would I have been furious and told her to leave? Would I have been devastated and unable to speak? Would I have looked for remorse on her part – and been willing to forgive?
I have no idea.
I’ve read a number of articles on the effect of infidelity on a marriage or serious relationship. Some experts say the indiscretion can be overcome with therapy and the passage of time. Others say that infidelity is such a breach of trust that the relationship can never be restored.
Think about it. Ten minutes of quickie sex with someone you just met can destroy a marriage that’s lasted for decades. Is that consequence too severe? Yes, perhaps. But everyone is wired differently. Some people can forgive virtually anything, including an affair. But for others, even the suspicion of an affair is enough to kill the relationship.
Recently, I saw a fascinating article on Huffington Post titled “Sticking It Out Through Infidelity: Courage or Cowardice?”
Now that’s a question.
“Do we leave as a matter of principle?” the author, D.A. Wolf, writes. “Is that an act of cowardice? Certainly circumstances affect our decision to work through betrayal or walk away.”
She’s exactly right. There’s no one-size-fits-all response to infidelity.
“The alcohol-induced dalliance that takes place out of town is a far cry from a six-month affair with a close friend,” Wolf continues. “We may be able to get past the former, and never move beyond the betrayal of the latter.”
I’m intrigued by women (or men) who stay with a spouse even after multiple affairs.
“Some choose to turn a blind eye if encounters are infrequent and discreet,” Wolf writes. “Others may indulge in reciprocal wandering – a sort of tit-for-tat pursuit of pleasure.”
I’m getting depressed just thinking about all the ramifications of an affair.
Sexual affairs aren’t the only type
Wolf asks another good question: What about emotional affairs? That is, sharing private matters and getting support from someone other than your spouse or committed partner?
“Is emotional infidelity as damaging as a sexual liaison?” the writer says. “Is it less of a betrayal – or more? Is it punished as harshly as sexual infidelity or forgiven more easily?”
If you’re married or in a serious relationship, I think you should ask yourself how you would respond to infidelity – sexual or emotional. Your actual response might differ, but some forethought would help you survive the shock of an affair. Then you could address the fate of the relationship.
Wolf never does answer her original question: Is sticking it out through infidelity courage or cowardice?
“People change,” she concludes. “Life events happen. Some relationships will decay no matter how much of ourselves we invest. Others are salvageable – with work, maturity, and perspective.”
I would argue that marriages are worth preserving if at all possible. Divorce is too often an excuse for giving up. Filing for divorce is easier than committing to months, or even years, of rebuilding trust after infidelity.
But the rewards of a good marriage are worth extraordinary effort. Looking back, I can remember bright spots in my unsuccessful marriages – and I miss them.
I would never fault a person’s response to an affair. Relationships are unique and complicated. My only advice: Work hard on the relationship to lessen the chance of facing infidelity.