How to Survive Infidelity
The question I am most frequently asked by visitors to this web site is "how can I survive my spouse's affair?" After having counseled thousands of couples with hundreds of marital conflicts, I am completely convinced that a spouse's unfaithfulness is the most painful experience that can be inflicted in marriage. Those I've counseled who have had the tragic misfortune of having experienced rape, physical abuse, sexual abuse of their children, and infidelity have consistently reported to me that their spouse's unfaithfulness was their very worst experience. To be convinced of the devastating impact of infidelity, you only need to go through it once.
And yet, more than 50% of all spouses are victims of infidelity, which means that one spouse in most marriages will suffer the greatest marital pain possible at some time during their lifetimes. It's no wonder that I receive so many letters from these victims of unfaithfulness.
When a marriage affair is discovered.
The initial discovery of an extramarital affair can trigger a range of emotional extremes for both partners — shock, rage, shame, depression, guilt, remorse. You may find that you cycle through all of these emotions many times in a single day — one minute vowing to end the marriage and the next wanting desperately to save it. At this point, it's important to take one step at a time:
- Get support. For your own well-being, seek support from family, friends, a pastor or counselor — anyone you trust and feel comfortable with. Talking about your feelings with those you love can help you cope with the intensity of the situation. Objective support can help you clarify what you're feeling and put the affair into perspective. However, avoid confiding in people who you know will take sides — this tends to increase the emotional intensity of the situation.
- Give each other some space. Both partners need a break from the emotional stress generated by the discovery of an affair. Although difficult, experts advise disengaging when emotions are running high.
- Take time. Avoid delving into the intimate details of the affair with your partner at first. Postpone such discussions until you can talk without being overly accusatory or destructive. Take time to absorb the situation.
The end — or not
Not every marriage touched by infidelity can or should be saved. Sometimes too much damage has been done or both partners aren't committed. Painful as it is, it's important to acknowledge when this is the case. But if both of you are committed to rebuilding your relationship and you have the strength and determination for the task, the rewards can be great — a partnership that keeps growing in depth, honesty and intimacy.