You can't turn on the news these days without hearing about infidelity; whether it's John Edwards, Tiger Woods, Jesse James or Larry King -- it seems like affairs are everywhere. One of the most common threads in this discussion is also one of the most frustrating: the chorus of voices saying, "She should leave him!"
Infidelity is one of those things people have an automatic, dramatic reaction to--which is natural. It hurts when someone cheats on you, and our natural empathy goes out to someone who has been hurt. But infidelity is much more complicated than we often think. Looking at it from the outside, you can never know what's really going on between two people. So proclaiming that a marriage is over or that she's crazy if she stays with him isn't helpful or right. One thing is certain, however: Cheating is a symptom of a larger problem within a relationship.
Cheating means the partner who steps out isn't getting something they need from the relationship. If it's impossible to fix that problem, you may need to end the relationship. But that isn't realistic for some couples, especially when children are involved. Plus, if you do get to the root of the affair, your partnership can emerge stronger than ever. For that to happen, both members of the couple have to be willing to do the healing work--and that might mean that the person who was cheated on has to acknowledge their part in the affair. The part the injured partner played may be small, but a relationship is made of two people. If something goes wrong, it's happened to both people.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not blaming the victim. If both parties promised fidelity and one broke the promise, that person has done something wrong. But it's not helpful to assign all the blame to one partner, and then say the blameless partner should get rid of the cheater. The only way to figure out how to move forward is to work together--and that often mans staying together. Yes, it will be difficult to learn to trust again, and it may take several years, but it can be done.
I wrote about something similar on YourTango in a post called "4 Types Of Infidelity & How Affairs Help Marriage." As you can imagine, people had strong reactions to the title. But the responses were thoughtful and reveal that divorce is not necessarily the solution to an affair.
Here are three comments that illustrate what I'm talking about.
I'm in my third week of finding out the my husband and best friend were having [an affair]. Yes I feel so betrayed by two people that I truly loved, but since I have found out my husband and I have been more intimate and loving in years ... Yes, we have a long hard road ahead us, but if this had to happen so we could really see each other again, and learn to live in the present and not the Busy! Then maybe it will be all be worth it, but maybe this hurt that I hear will never go away, will be too great for me to handle.
I found out 10 weeks ago that my husband of five years has had no less that four affairs. This has been devastating to me. However, as stupid as this sounds, this is a man I still love. I asked him if he loved any of these women; his answer was "Oh GOD no!" After I got over my tears and yelling, I realized there had to be a reason this was happening. I chose to go to counseling and pushed him to join me. Together, we are discovering quite a lot about the things that were missing from our marriage and things that we can do that we can do to work on this relationship.
Building trust is hard and I do find myself worrying constantly, but we are learning new respect for each other, and he is working hard to rebuild that trust. I do believe that my finding out about his infidelities has had a positive effect overall. This has forced me to really look at our relationship in a brutally honest light and I am able to assess that there were problems I was in denial about. I am grateful we are working on things and I am certain that with time we will get through this and find our union much stronger.
[My wife's] affair was such an emotional kick in the head that I feel unbelievably stupid for not being more open with her all these years. The last three weeks have been amazing ... and a little bit strange. I no longer care about the computer or the TV, and all I want to do is spend time with my wife. I now look forward to growing old with her. I want to change to the day shift so that I can spend more time with her. I can't imagine spending time apart from her.
Some affairs rip a marriage apart, and it's impossible to put it back together. But if you can avoid blaming the cheater and stay together to work through your problems, your marriage can survive and even improve.