Your partner has cheated on you and you decide to stay. How do you cope?
What do you do when you find that your spouse has been having an illicit affair?
Of course one’s first impulse would be to say “I would certainly leave the relationship!” However, this is invariably not a simple or easy decision, especially when it involves potentially leaving a loved spouse and a long and committed relationship. This decision is even more difficult when a couple have children together and leaving a relationship would also mean breaking up a family and putting the children’s psychological health in jeopardy.
Of course this choice involves a great deal of soul-searching and ambivalence. There are emotional risks and potential gains and losses attached to both options. For a partner who chooses to stay and to try to work on the marriage, the process is invariably a protracted and often lonely emotional roller-coaster ride. Often it may feel that it is all too much to handle. Concerned friends and family members often provide well-meaning advice but they are seldom able to understand fully what the individual is going though.
It is usual for a person in this situation to question their decision continually because it is so hard to hang in there. They simultaneously love and hate their “cheating” spouse and are obsessed by thoughts that their partner may still be involved in the other relationship. It often feels as if trust in the partner has been irrevocably lost and that there is no hope for reconciliation.
Partners who have been cheated on often ask themselves whether their decision to stay and work on the marriage let’s their spouse off the hook for his/her transgressions and thus makes it too easy for them to move on without any serious repercussions.
So how does someone who chooses to stay in their marriage post-infidelity cope with the emotional fall-out?
First, it is important that the person find someone they can confide in and who can allow them to explore their feelings and their ongoing internal struggles fully with no judgement or advice giving. This is often a tall order as the topic of infidelity brings out strong feelings in most people.
Talk honestly to your spouse and tell him how you feel and what you are going through every day. If he/she shows understanding, patience and emotional support this is a good sign that there is acknowledgement of the harm that has been caused and a commitment to the long haul in healing the relationship. Explain the ambivalence you are feeling and explain what you need to enable you to cope and to stick with the process.
Focus on self-care and self-development. The shake-up of your marriage also presents an opportunity to think critically about your relationship prior to the infidelity and whether or not you permitted yourself to live totally authentically and develop your true potential. This may be a good time to make some significant changes.
Decide on what type of marriage you would like in the future and discuss this topic with your spouse. Ideally once you and your spouse have successfully worked through the aftermath of the infidelity you will be in a stronger and better place in your life as a result.
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