This blog is all about recovery, so I guess that shows it’s fairly clear that I didn’t leave after infidelity. I always thought I would. In my head I always thought I would. Immediately throw their things out of the window, set fire to his favourite suit and change the locks. Genuinely had you asked me the day before I found out what I would do if I found out my husband was cheating I would say that he would be gone. 100% without doubt. As a result I was in total and utter shock when my instinct was to stay. It’s been something I’ve wrestled with a lot over the last eight months but something that I have learnt a lot from. First and foremost, don’t pre judge your emotions.
Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Leave After Infidelity
There are many questions you need to ask in the aftermath of an affair. I wanted every single detail about the affair and it took several months to get the full truth as my husband didn’t understand the importance of disclosure. Trickle truth aside I had to reflect pretty hard on a lot of things that you never really thought you’d ever have to think about. The instinct to leave after infidelity is strong. Run away from the pain. Away from the discomfort. The agony of the aftermath. Often though there is a strong impulse to cling to your partner. Here are some questions to ask yourself.
What do they want?
You might want to save the marriage but what are they saying? Do they want it?
In our case he went through the motions but at one stage he actually ended our marriage. He was the one to leave after infidelity. It was one of the most painful days of my life and I was not only in shock but destroyed by loss. I argued with him, I ended up fighting for the marriage that he had damaged. Sometimes I struggle with that. Struggle with being the one to tell him to stay. To fight for his marriage rather than leave after infidelity. I’m glad I did.
My husband maintains that had I let him walk away he probably would have died at his own hands.
What are they saying to you? Are they still experiencing limerance? Really analyse how they talk to you before you decide that they don’t want the marriage and leave after infidelity.
Signs they may still be in limerance are that they cannot see any negatives of their affair partner. They will struggle to see the downsides of their affair and will claim to be in love despite this logically not being true (affairs are rarely about love, they are usually short and love is not conducted in secret, & it’s not based on lies). They need desperately for their feelings to be reciprocated and may not be able to see signs that the affair partner is not as invested.
Breaking limerance can be very difficult, I plan to write more about it soon.
There is lots of advice about dealing with this part, check out our resources page on discovery. Sometimes you need to give your partner some space for them to really know what they want from the relationship.
Try and Understand WHY the Infidelity Happened
This is hard and it’ll develop over time. Why did the affair happen? Was it a one night moment of madness? Drunken fling? Gradual emotional relationship?
Remember YOU, the betrayed partner, are never to blame. No matter what the state of your marriage. No matter what you said or did. THEY made the decision to cheat. You were in the relationship too and you did not cheat.
The reason you need to understand the affair is to really consider the chances of this reoccuring. Lots of people will say that “once a cheater always a cheater” but that has been proven not to be true, check out this video from Estelle Perel, which explains it well.
I made the decision about my husbands affair being a one off based on the fact that it was the perfect storm of a number of variables (his mental health, our relationship, external pressures etc) AND his commitment to changing his weaknesses.
This decision was based upon the safety of our relationship. Safety is something I’ve written about here and here and it’s been crucial to the rebuilding of our relationship. It developed over time and wasn’t instant. Safety is something which is grown via the unfaithfuls actions. Time is key here and effort from the unfaithful.
The unfaithful needs to dig deep here. They need to understand themselves, their actions and really understand the impact that they have had on the betrayed. I always recommend you look through our resources starting here for the unfaithful.
Remember, evidence shows that serial offenders are very unlikely to change, at least not in this relationship. Think long and hard about whether you’re willing to take that risk again.
It’s very important here that remorse is real. In the aftermath of the affair the remorse may be real, but that isn’t to say the affair is over. Limerance is strong and often the unfaithful can still be actively seeking the affair partner still. Also, people who are defensive and have caused excessive pain, are just so good at lying and acting. Remember they’ve been doing it through the affair.
Real remorse looks distinct, and it takes time to get. Counter intuitive I know but real remorse develops over time. I love this article from chump lady which lays out what real remorse looks like, I showed this to my husband and informed him he wasn’t meeting all these things and it was a helpful catalyst for him to fully engage in recovery.
To have remorse, chump lady says you’ve got to be showing:
Humility, initiative, honesty, patience, ownership and recompense
It’s exceptionally rare that that will happen immediately. It takes time, guidance and many other things to get there. True understanding is not instant. It never is and never will be. You can see the starting points though, you can see how open they are to transparency and working for that recovery. Are they committed to helping you heal? What are they willing to do to achieve that? Are they open and transparent? Are they engaging in recovery work? How do they speak to you?
You’ll start to learn to trust your gut again after the initial anxiety, fight or flight, wears off. You will need to know that you can be safe again and that your partner is willing to create that safety. They need to be committed to doing what is incredibly difficult work in order to build that safety. It involves reflection and deep dives in to their wellbeing, their thoughts and feelings, probably therapy. If they aren’t willing to why not? Is that good enough for you? What are your boundaries and what do you need?
Are You Scared of Being Alone?
We’ve all probably panicked at the thought of coping on our own, some of us facing being single parents, some facing financial hardship, homelessness, or all kinds of difficult times ahead without the unfaithful spouse. What is it you’re really afraid of though? Cause I’ll tell you now, whatever it is, YOU.WILL.COPE.
You will. I promise.
Being with someone who has broken your heart only because you’re too afraid to be, or don’t think you can be, alone is not going to give you the contentment and happiness, or the hope, you need to live a happy life. To leave after infidelity is tough, but sometimes it’s the right decision. The same is true of deciding not to leave after infidelity.
You’ve spent the length of the affair living a life that wasn’t real, do you really want that to be the rest of your life? Of course not. Sometimes we have to do scary things which turn out way better in the long run. Talk over with someone you trust your exit plan. Work out how you will cope. Remember you don’t have to act on, or make, any immediate decisions.
Just remember this. Whatever your decision, you can do it.
A last little note…
There are some other things that most advice columns will recommend you consider. One of them is usually the impact that your decision will have on your children. I’m not going down that road completely deliberately. Of course whatever your decision your children will be effected, their life, whether it feels it or not (hello teen years) revolves around their image of you. You are their stability.
The reason I don’t want them to influence your decision to leave after infidelity or stay is because they will cope with whatever decision you make if you manage it properly. If you care for them, show them they are loved and treat them with the love you no doubt feel they will get through it. Young children are highly resilient creatures, older ones sometimes need extra support, but whatever happens their life is going to be effected not by your decision but how you handle your decision.
You will have to co parent whatever your decision because you don’t get to ditch the other parent of your children except in very difficult circumstances. Reality is you have to put aside your shit with one another for the good of the little lives you are creating. You can do this. It takes an awful lot of screaming in to pillows sometimes but you really can do it.
Kids thrive when they are safe, secure, and well cared for. That can be applied in either scenario.
Don’t forget to pin this post for future reference!