It’s hard to believe… after all you’ve been through together… You did so well together for so long. You’ve been married for years, maybe decades. You may have raised kids who are now grown and out of the house. You’ve most likely suffered through financial difficulties, family crises, and personal catastrophes.
And now you’re wondering if it’s all over. Has the marriage you have worked for and cherished for so long finally run its course? Is this really the end?
Coping with an affair (or other traumatic event in your marriage) is one of the most difficult emotional experiences a human being can have. It’s complicated by the fact that there are only two people who can really decide whether or not the marriage is over: you and your spouse. No one else can make this decision for you. In this article I want to explore why that’s true and give you some insight on ways to consider staying in or leaving your marriage.
Why You are the Only One Who Can Decide if It’s Over
Our society has a pretty well-defined notion of what happens after an affair: The relationship ends. In the movies we see women who are cheated on slap the cheating spouse, give some witty, cutting remark and then leave the relationship, self-righteous and vengeful.
It seems Hollywood scenes like these are the general expectation of the people in our world.
Certainly the desire to divorce after an affair is understandable and easily justified.
But that doesn’t mean you should do it.
Actually, I think it is much better to do the work necessary to get your marriage into the best shape possible (assuming both spouses are willing to do this) before you make a decision to divorce. That way you have a much better understanding of what you are giving up should you choose to end the marriage.
When I say you should “get your relationship into the best possible shape,” I don’t mean you should try to go back to the same dysfunctional state it was in before the affair, but rather, you should work to create a better-than-ever relationship.
Whatever you decide, your decision is a potentially life-changing one, and you must search your own heart and make your own judgment about whether or not you wish to stay in your marriage.
I recommend you talk only with someone who can listen objectively without judging you and someone who would not reject your spouse if you repair your relationship.
The people who care about you will take your side in this situation or will advise from their own life situation. When they do, the advice may be thoughtful and well-intentioned, but it cannot take into account all of the additional considerations you know of.
Some will say that you should leave the marriage. Usually those who say this do so in your defense, in the hopes that by getting out of the relationship you will protect yourself from further pain.
Others may say that you should stay and try to work out your problems. These people likely say this knowing how much you care about your spouse and you marriage and want for you to be as happy as possible. They think the road to that happiness lies in rebuilding your relationship.
Or, perhaps they don’t want to deal with divorced partners in your social circle. When you obtain advice from a personal friend, you just don’t know what the full motivation might be.
All of these parties have their own judgments about the “right” choice when it comes to affairs. It isn’t a problem that they have their own opinions. The problem comes when the choice you make conflicts with what they think is right.
Imagine you tell a family member about the affair. This person becomes indignant at the idea that your spouse would cheat on you (an understandable response) and immediately says, “You should leave the creep.”
From this moment on, it is likely that this family member will judge your spouse rather harshly.
What happens, then, if you choose to work through the problems in your marriage? From that point forward, every family gathering will be complicated by the judgments this person has laid on your spouse. Years after you have forgiven the person you are married to, your family member may still harbor anger and resentment.
On the other hand, if a friend or family member suggests that you stay in the marriage and you opt to leave it he or she may think your choice ill-conceived and judge you (even silently) for years.
There are those rare people who can truly retain an objective ear and support you in whatever you choose. However, they are an unusual breed. So you should take care in determining who you tell about the affair.
In the end, there is only one person who has control over what you choose and that’s you.
You have to make this choice. You will have to wake up every morning and look at yourself in the mirror for the rest of your life. You are the one who has to live with the consequences of what you choose. And, ultimately, you are the only one who knows whether or not the “price” you pay for your marriage is worth it.
So to ask the question that constitutes the title of this article once more: Is your marriage really over?
That’s up to you.
Given that, how can you make a meaningful choice to stay in the marriage or leave it?
The answer to this question is complicated, but let’s explore a few ideas for you to begin considering.
How to Decide Whether to Stay or Go
There are a huge number of factors that go into deciding whether or not to leave your marriage or stay in it. I can’t cover them all here. However, I can explore a few ideas that may help you in your consideration.
These are some questions to think about as you consider the fate of your marriage after an affair:
o How serious is your spouse about doing the work necessary to repair the damage he or she caused? This is a critically important question, because the amount of effort and dedication your cheating spouse puts toward repairing the marriage will go a long way in helping you decide what to do. Factors to consider are:
o Has your spouse fully and completely ended the affair?
o Has he or she given you a heartfelt apology?
o Is your spouse actively engaged in looking for ways to repair the marriage like reading my book, How to Survive an Affair, or going to a therapist or counselor?
o Is your spouse ready to leave the marriage himself or herself?
o Do you feel as though your spouse is working on being fully transparent?
o Have you discussed the affair and the problems in your marriage? If so, is your spouse willing to talk with you about the details and anything else you wish to know?
o If you could make your marriage better than it was (and this is possible with work) would you want to stay in your relationship?
o Is the emotional price you would have to pay to do the work necessary to repair your relationship worth it to you?
o If you could each take a magic pill and the two of you would fall deeply in love all over again, would you take it?
o What kind of changes would you like to see in your spouse, and is your spouse motivated to make those changes?
Answers to these questions should help you think through some (certainly not all) of the important issues you need to consider when deciding whether or not to stay in your marriage.
Whatever the outcome, one thing is certain; you are the only person who can make this choice. Your marriage doesn’t have to be over. There is no law that says relationships always end after an affair.
In fact, I have seen many cases where marriages became stronger than ever after infidelity.
This possibility exists for you right now.
If you choose to stay in your marriage, I recommend you take advantage of it.
In the meantime, let me know how it goes with you. I’d love to hear about your marriage.
Have you worried that your marriage is over? How does that make you feel?
Have you told anyone about the affair? What was the outcome so far? Up to this point, has it worked out well or poorly?
What kind of changes would you like to see in your spouse and in your marriage to stay in the relationship?
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As always, I wish you all the best on your road to a wonderful marriage.
P.S. I’m not going to lie and tell you that saving your marriage is easy. It’s not. BUT it is possible if you follow the right steps. Do everything you can to save your marriage, it is the most important relationship you have. If you have not gone through How to Survive an Affair, then I strongly advise you to work through each of the 3 phases. http://www.howtosurvivetheaffair.com/h/1722