05/26/2011 05:13 pm ET Updated Jul 26, 2011

When He Cheats

Arnold Schwarzenegger is not the first person to cheat on his spouse, nor will he be the last. His affair just happens to be news because of his celebrity. Statistics from private investigators confirm that between 50 to 70 percent of married men (between 38 and 53 million men) have cheated or will cheat on their wives. Millions of wives have gone through or are going through the exact same trauma as Maria Shriver, but that, of course, is cold comfort to any of them. 

Nothing destroys a married relationship more than when a spouse cheats. Many issues are affected in the relationship, the least of which is trust. The hurt spouse's self-esteem is shattered, the love that binds two people together is permanently maimed, and the idea of continuing to live together in the same house becomes a nightmare.

No one can pinpoint any specific reason for cheating except to say that it is not something that "just happens." Nothing "just happens," though; a cheater plans to cheat.

Having a spouse cheat is especially heartbreaking for women. The idea that the man who vowed to love and honor her has gone with another woman can leave a wife lost and overwhelmed with hurt. If there are children in the picture, the pain is doubled because of their emotional upheaval. When a man cheats on his wife, the results can be devastating and cause a ripple effect of pain and resentment that can last years.

Different lifestyles create different ways of coping with infidelity.

Wives who have put their careers on hold fare less well than those who work outside the home. In the house, where they had assumed that all was well and safe, they are surrounded by the domestic evidence of life with their husbands all day. Not every woman has the resources to leave the home, and that creates a feeling of crisis.

Some women isolate themselves. They may not want to talk to friends or family members because they feel, wrongly, that they are to blame for their husbands' cheating. Unlike their contemporaries who work at outside jobs, they may see themselves as unattractive, not sexy, and uninteresting. None of this is true, of course, but shattered self-esteem can make it seem that it is so.

What should you do when confronted with the fact that your spouse cheated?

1. The best action that can be taken after finding out that a spouse has cheated is no action. Do nothing for 48 hours. You are in shock, and shock makes you do irrational things. Let the knowledge settle in, and think of what your next course of action will be a week from that first day. Give yourself time to understand what has happened.

2. Seek counseling for yourself after the first week. As time goes on, your spouse may ask that you both attend couples' counseling. If you agree, fine, but you need crisis help alone first. Couples therapy can come later, but only if you are willing. Remember, it is your choice, not his.

3. Establish what this breach of trust has done to your marriage. If your spouse is sincerely contrite and wants the marriage to continue, decide if that is what you want also. Some women can never return to the marriage, whereas others can. Give yourself time to make that decision. Don't rush back into a relationship simply to avoid being alone. Make a decision based on your own criteria.

4. Do not go for payback. Don't have an affair just to "get even." If forgiveness is possible for you, do so, but understand that forgiveness doesn't make what he did excusable.

5. Let him know the pain he caused you. Learning to trust again will be very difficult, but don't play the martyr. Tell him exactly what he has done to the life you had together. He needs to take responsibility for his actions. Don't permit him to place any blame for his cheating on anything you did or didn't do.

6. Allow yourself plenty of time to heal. Remember that you are the most important person in your life. You need to acknowledge that you will have a life again, either with or without him. You have options and choices.

Don't allow his actions to control your future life.

To read more from Kristen Houghton, peruse her articles at and visit her Keys to Happiness blog. You may email her at Read the book that's sweeping the country, "And Then I'll Be Happy! Stop Sabotaging Your Happiness and Put Your Own Life First."

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