Trust is the belief that your relationship is safe. When cheating happens, that belief is shattered. Whatever the reason for the infidelity, it still hurts the same. You may wonder how anyone could stay with a cheating spouse. Well, according to a recent study, many couples do stay together. And it’s not just for financial reasons or parental responsibilities.
Infidelity doesn’t have to be the end of the relationship, says Dr. Tammy Nelson, a couples therapist and author of The New Monogamy: Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity.
“Sometimes an affair is a result of an opportunity that comes at a moment of resentment, of instability in the marriage, or at a time when the cheating partner is feeling like they need an ego boost. However, afterward, the cheater realizes they feel worse because they have violated their own implicit vow to be faithful and the guilt usually forces them to confess,” she says.
The experts agree that the only reason to stay with a cheating spouse is if they’re deeply and genuinely sorry for the betrayal and willing to work for your forgiveness.
This means they show that they understand the pain you went through after learning about the affair, says Dr. Sheri Meyers, a marriage and family therapist and author of Chatting or Cheating: How to Detect Infidelity, Rebuild Love and Affair-Proof Your Relationship.
“They can’t just put what they did away in the vault, talk about it once, and move on. They must take responsibility for their actions and prove their commitment to the relationship every day,” she says.
Blaming outside factors, including you, does not count as taking responsibility.
“If they blame their partner or lack insight into their actions, chances are, they’ll do it again,” says Meyers.
Why else is it okay to stay with a cheating spouse? Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, a licensed marriage and couples therapist, says couples who stay together after infidelity have compelling reasons to do so.
“They are invested in the relationship and don’t want to throw away a history of success. The cheating event is either a one off occurrence or based on an implied understanding between partners.” In other words, you were both taking a break and agreed to date others at that time.
When a cheating spouse admits to being unfaithful, realizes the pain they’ve caused you, and is willing to prove their commitment to the relationship every day, it is possible for a couple to heal and move past infidelity. The relationship will, no doubt, feel different. It can find a new equilibrium but it will never go back to the way it was before the breach of trust.
The relationship will, no doubt, feel different. It can find a new equilibrium but it will never go back to the way it was before the breach of trust. “This is because our brain is wired to retain strong emotional experiences,” says Hokemeyer. “The partners have to find a new normal. One that doesn’t ignore that the betrayal occurred while simultaneously finding a place for it in the narrative of the relationship.”
“Most people, ultimately, know when their relationship has a solid foundation and a loving connection. They know if the relationship can survive an affair. Sometimes a relationship is stronger than ever afterward,” says Nelson.
If you choose to stay with a spouse who cheated, the relationship can be rebuilt. But it will take time, work, and a lot of forgiveness.