Can Your Marriage Survive Infidelity?

Marriage therapy. Couple with a psychiatrist.
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The topic of infidelity and cheating spouses is everywhere.  We hear about it frequently in the media and have seen the marriages of friends or relatives that have been devastated by affairs. It's no surprise that many couples internally ask the question, "How would I cope ?" with such a situation if it were to happen to you. It's particularly common to also wonder if your own marriage could survive such a serious betrayal.

Popular psychologist and self-help book author, Dr. Harriet Lerner writes about this in a PsychologyToday.com article, "Will Your Marriage Survive the Affair?" (2013).  She writes,

 "Keep in mind that an affair is not a terrible aberration that only occurs in unhappy marriages. It’s a myth that the “real reason” behind an affair is a faulty spouse or bad marriage. A sexually and emotionally distant marriage will definitely make an affair more likely, but it’s also true that affairs happen in excellent marriages as well. Affairs have many sources, and opportunity and work context are among the pre-disposing factors."

Marriage can survive infidelity, but it is important to remember certain facts:

  • It's not easy
  • It hurts
  • There will probably be anger, tears, and depression
  • It will take time to heal
  • It will take a decision to trust again
  • It will take the cheater taking responsibility and not blaming his/her spouse for the affair
  • It will take the "victim" also taking responsibility for underlying problems in the marriage
  • It will take courage
  • It will require serious commitment from both of you to save your marriage
  • It is likely that you will need professional help to process what happened

Many professionals have seen marriages not only survive infidelity but become better.

It is true that a marriage can survive an extra-marital affair. This will truly only happen if both partners are willing to acquire and use the skills necessary to making their marriage successful. 

Developing a new way of interacting requires you both to:

  • have deep and meaningful conversations
  • express underlying vulnerable emotions
  • temper defensiveness, blame, denial
  • explore your underlying patterns  or "vicious cycles" of communication
  • be willing to forgive hurts
  • be completely honest
  • look at emotional baggage that may have gotten you to this place

Some feelings that are prominent when a couple experiences cheating in their marriage include:

  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Blame
  • Anger
  • Hurt
  • Disappointment
  • Rage
  • Embarrassment
  • Forgiveness
  • Jealousy
  • Lust
  • Resentment
  • Denial
  • Mis-trust

Some Marriages Should Not Be Saved

Your marriage can survive this onslaught of feelings. However, some marriages are not meant to be saved. If the infidelity is one of many symptoms of domestic violence and/or emotional abuse in your relationship you will never feel safe enough to work through your problems. These are very entrenched issues that are often not changeable.

It is challenging for the betrayed partner to know if he or she can ​give the spouse a "second chance." If the infidelity was a one-time event, this is also quite different than someone with a pattern of ongoing cheating.

If your spouse is a serial cheater, it may be time to throw in the towel. There are other positive signs to look for such as the spouse showing remorse, showing clear actions that the affair has ended.  The spouse can also be extremely transparent by supplying account passwords, allowing an app or GPS tracking, taking a lie-detector or be willing to sign a post-nuptial agreement. These suggestions might not work for everyone, but they are worth a consideration in the short-term while trying to work through infidelity.

Where to Get Professional Help

See out a licensed therapist or psychologist who specializes in working with couples. Be sure to ask about their expertise in helping with infidelity in particular. A place to start if you are still unsure if you want to save the marriage, or the affair is still going on, is a process called "Discernment Counseling."  Some people find it better (or easier) to speak with their clergy.

This may be a good initial step, but a professional counselor will be needed to help you work through the long-term healing process.

Article updated by Marni Feuerman