When a spouse cheats, the devastation is felt by the entire family. Trust is broken and no one looks at the cheater in the same way again. People who cheat on a partner lose the respect of family, friends, and even co-workers (if they are aware). Yet, infidelity is at an all time high in our country. Can a marriage survive infidelity?
If so, will it ever be the same again? I was in a marriage where my husband was unfaithful. I've had many years to gain some insight and understanding of the issues caused by infidelity, and have received personal counseling to deal with these issues.
These statistics by the Associated Press are very concerning:
- 22 percent of married men have strayed at least once during their married lives.
- 14 percent of married women have had affairs at least once during their married lives. Younger people are more likely candidates; in fact, younger women are as likely as younger men to be unfaithful.
- 70 percent of married women and 54 percent of married men did not know of their spouses' extramarital activity.
- 5 percent of married men and 3 percent of married women reported having sex with someone other than their spouse in the year 1997.
- 22 percent of men and 14 percent of women admitted to having sexual relations outside their marriage sometime in their past. 90 percent of Americans believe adultery is morally wrong.
- 17 percent of divorces in the world are caused by infidelity. In my own marriage, having been married for nineteen years, I trusted him completely.
He was a Sunday school teacher, an excellent father, and had been a very good husband to me. No one could have convinced me he was cheating if he hadn't told me himself. After that, my world as I knew it was over. Of course, as they say, hindsight is 20/20. When I look back over the events leading up to his confession, I realize I should have seen the warning signs. Many other people knew of his affair.
Some even tried to warn me in with disguised comments which I didn't understand. But, as I said, I was so trusting. She was a friend. I had babysat her children. I had taken her meals during illnesses. She had been a guest in our home many times. They began working together at our children's school in some projects. This escalated into phone calls while he was at work, and eventually to meeting at our home or her home during daytime hours when their spouses were away and the children at school. I had decided to return to school to finish my degree, since my youngest had started school.
My self-esteem improved as I realized I could be more than just a mother, wife, and homemaker. I think the dynamic in our relationship changed because of that. I wasn't as dependent on him anymore emotionally, I was busy with school work, we had to deal with all the other stressful things in our life like bills, children's activities, etc. and I believe we grew distant from each other without meaning to have that happen. I think when people have been married for twenty years, they take for granted that they will be together forever, and that their marriage is solid.
I've since learned that no marriage is solid unless it's tended to on a regular basis. My husband and "friend" continued their affair for a year. During this time, I had others warn me that she was not who she seemed to be, and that if they were me, they would not allow her in their homes. I just couldn't understand why other people had such a strong opinion of her, as she seemed like such a nice person to me.
The first inkling I had that something was wrong was when my husband unexpectedly came home during the middle of the day one day I didn't have classes, brought roses, cried, and told me what a wonderful wife I was and how he didn't deserve me. The tears were an unusual occurrence, the roses even more unusual. I thought about it a lot after he went back to work, wondering what he was feeling so guilty about.
That night we had our "talk." After some long interrogation on my part, he told me of the affair. He said they had been meeting two to three times a week during the last year. I asked when the last time was that they had been together, and he said Monday of the week before. That Monday just happened to have been my birthday, which he had forgotten. By the time we finished our talk, it was late, and the children were all tucked into bed for the night.
I felt like I had shell-shock. There was a big part of me that couldn't believe what he had said, and another part that really wanted to pretend it never happened. I lay on the couch that night because I couldn't stand to be near him or in the bed where I knew she had been. I didn't yell. I didn't cry. I just lay there and stared at the ceiling most of the night and tried to make sense of what I had been told, but none of it made sense to me. I still could not put together the image of the man I thought I knew so well, and the man who had been cheating for a year without my suspecting a thing.
I went to the grocery store the next day, and while I was walking up and down the aisles, I began to have my first panic attack. I couldn't remember what I was there to buy, couldn't breathe, and felt like I was having a heart attack. I guess it was my body's way of dealing with something my mind couldn't handle yet. The panic attack scared me so much that I went driving that afternoon to clear my head. I ended up at my mother's house, where for the first time I said out loud what he had told me. She and my step-dad listened patiently and asked what I was going to do.
Of course, I had no idea at that point. They assured me they would support me in whatever decision I made. On the way home, my anger began. The more I thought about it, the angrier I became, and by the time I got home, I was furious.
He was in the garage working on the brakes on his car. I walked into the garage and asked how long it would take to put the car back together, and informed him that when he finished, he was to pack his things and get out. I guess he had figured it wasn't going to be a big deal since a couple of days had passed since he confessed, so he seemed shocked.
Being the good wife I had been, I stupidly packed his clothes for him, and called his mom to ask if he could stay with her. (I still can't believe I did all that.) He left. That was a difficult night with the children. They were young and could not understand what had happened. I had my anger to hold on to, but they missed their daddy and they were hurt and confused. For the next two days, they cried for him and he called continuously and begged to come back. By the third day of being bombarded from both sides, I relented and he came home.
I gave him conditions. One, we would get couple's counseling. Two, he would call her while I was on the extension and end it. And three, he would be totally truthful about anything I asked him. And lastly, we would get a new bed. He did all those things. In the next months, we did seek counseling and he did try hard to put things right again.
I asked him for all the gory details of what he had done with her, how she compared to me, etc. That is the one thing I regret most to this day was those answers. They still haunt me and I really believe I would have been so much better off to have just been told it happened but not the details.
We both tried to make our marriage work, but things were not the same. I believed him when he said he had almost lost his family, he was so sorry, and that it would never happen again. I tried to remember how we had invested twenty years of our life together and that shouldn't just be tossed aside. But inside, my feelings toward him had changed, and no amount of reasoning, or talking, or acts of kindness could change that.
I could not look at him and see the man I had thought my husband to be anymore. I realized during all that had happened, I had stopped loving him. I knew that no matter what we tried to do, I would never feel the same. We stayed in our marriage for two years after his late-night confession. I prayed and begged God to give me back the feelings for him I once had.
But things never were the same. I finally filed for a divorce. I've seen couples who have overcome infidelity and they say things like "rebuild trust" and "commit to each other completely." I always want to ask how they got back the feelings they had before. Maybe that's harder for some people than others. I don't know. I do know that some marriages can survive infidelity and appear to be stronger and more intimate than before. I wish I had known their secret. My marriage didn't survive, but I did.
My children did. He and I are both married to other people now, and I'm very happy. As far as I know, he is, too. If you are facing infidelity in your relationship, I do have this advice. You will not survive it without outside professional help, either from a counselor or your minister. It will take a long time to overcome and a lot of hard work and there are no guarantees.
Trust takes a long longer to rebuild for some couples than others. Infidelity completely changes the relationship and you really do feel like you have to begin again from nothing. Forgiveness and being able to make the marriage stay together are two different things. You can forgive but still not love the other partner anymore. A marriage needs both of those, plus trust. Infidelity hits you like an earthquake and you have to take time to right your world again. But whether or not the marriage survives, you can.