How You Can Save a Marriage After Infidelity and Why It Matters

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Is it possible to save a marriage after infidelity?

The short answer is yes; almost any relationship roadblock can be overcome with the right attitude.

Life happens. People aren’t perfect. No matter how harmonious your relationship is and no matter how well-meaning a partner is, infidelity can happen.

I don’t want to diminish the significance of the damage caused by cheating. But it is possible to save a marriage after infidelity. In fact surviving it often sees the relationship come out stronger and better for both partners.

Cheating is one of the Top 3 Reasons for Divorce. So while this is an extremely serious situation, you CAN fix this. You can move past it.

It is possible to save a marriage after infidelity. Both people just need to WANT to fix it.

What if my spouse doesn’t want to save the marriage?

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In the early stages after the infidelity comes out the partner who was cheated on may not be sure they want to fix it.

After all, their whole world just got turned on end. They may have friends or family members telling them to clean out the bank account, grab the kids and head out.

Let me be clear. Whether you are the cheater or the cheated, the heat of the moment is never the time to make rash, emotional, life-altering decisions.

And friends or family who are pushing you to be vindictive are not what you need in that moment. They may be well-meaning, but that’s not true support.

In that state of mind, no matter what the crisis, we simply aren’t level headed. We don’t make decisions that are necessarily best for the long term. In short we’re being reactionary.

As with any decision that is changing the rest of your life, you want to come at it with a clear head, carefully weighing the pros and cons.

If the cheated needs time away to sort through their feelings, let them.  When a cheater tries to strong-arm a partner into staying through guilt or pressure, that’s almost never going to work.

So sometimes to save a marriage after infidelity we have to let go.

Types of cheating

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While any kind of cheating is terrible, there IS a difference between someone who cheated with 1 person and someone who is a serial cheater with multiple relationships.

Being cheated on is never fun (been there, done that). But when your partner has cheated on you repeatedly with multiple people, in some ways that feels worse than a 1-time affair. The person seemingly incapable of being monogamous isn’t just causing injury one time; they are repeating the offense over and over again.

But then the cheater who had an intentional ongoing affair with just 1 person obviously has an emotional attachment likely missing from the serial cheater.

Thus we have to come to the inescapable conclusion that both kinds of cheating devastate our partners, but for wholly different reasons.

Cheating in my own life

In my own marriage I have been the cheater.  I’m not proud of that and it’s not easy to say. But I’d be a hypocrite to write a post about it and not bring it up.

In a previous relationship I also felt the sting of being cheated on, so I can relate to both sides of this issue.

Thankfully when I cheated on my wife wasn’t recent. I’m happy to report that my wife and I did indeed save our marriage after infidelity. And in almost every way, our marriage today is stronger, healthier and happier than it ever was in the prior 12 years we’ve been in a relationship.

We’re also about to welcome our 3rd child in the next few days.

So just know that everything I walk you through on this post is very real to me, very personal, and something I can relate to 100%.

What is cheating?

I pondered this question recently as I noticed a post in a Facebook marriage group I am part of where a woman proposed that her husband was cheating because he looked at porn.

No matter what one thinks of porn or it’s place in a marriage, there’s really no denying that this doesn’t meet the definition of cheating.  Of course I suppose if it involves some sort of live chatting with a real person that’s different.

But in most scenarios, people look at pictures or videos online and don’t actually engage in an exchange with another person.

To cheat, a person is physically connecting with another outside their primary relationship without their partner’s knowledge and consent. Or, they are connecting on a deep emotional level with another that goes beyond the platonic.

Either way, looking at porn on a computer screen or TV, where no physical or emotional connection is possible, just doesn’t meet that test. Again, whether porn is a healthy part of relationship or not, is for a different blog.

Cheating, plain and simple, is connecting with another without your partner’s knowledge and consent.  Sometimes that connection is purely physical. Other times it’s emotional. And occasionally it encompasses both.



What is emotional infidelity?

Sometimes cheating takes on something other than just a physical act. It could be just an emotional connection between 2 people outside the primary relationship. Or it could be the combination of the emotional and the physical.

My wife is of the opinion that an emotional connection is worse than just physically cheating on your spouse.

You see when someone confides in someone else, they are forming an emotional bond. There’s a level of intimacy that grows that goes way beyond just a physical gratification. This person becomes the one they let their guard down around. The person to cling to in the storm; the one with whom they share their innermost feelings.

It also goes without saying that this person can often become the one who the would-be cheater complains to the most about their spouse.

For this reason, I agree with my wife; this is a worse form of cheating than something purely physical.  The cheater is replacing all of you; not just the part that satisfies a sexual urge.

And while I’m not so old fashioned as to say men and women can’t be friends with the opposite sex (or same sex for gay and lesbians), I do think it’s good to have clear boundaries with our friends.

I also think it’s critical that we aren’t complaining about our spouse or relationship to another where those lines could possibly get blurred.

How do you regain trust after cheating?

Full transparency and humility here is the key to save a marriage after infidelity.  The cheater has to realize that no matter what their spouse was doing (or not doing) nothing justifies the cheating.

I don’t care if they were withholding sex, had gained 50 lbs or constantly badgered and berated you. Cheating is never justifiable.

The relationships that don’t survive an affair are almost always ones where the cheater somehow feels like the affair was justified.  They won’t come out and say it point blank. But you’ll hear statements like “yes, it was wrong, but . . . ”

Let me be brutally honest. Any apology that includes a “but” isn’t an apology.

So in order to save a marriage after infidelity, the cheater has to earn their spouse’s trust back.  That’s not easy and it’s not quick. It may take years.

The cheater can make this process easier by:

  1. Going overboard on communicating your whereabouts when not at home or work
  2. Share your email and social media passwords with your spouse
  3. Show your phone screen to your spouse anytime you get a call or text, especially at night

That may feel like you’re living under house arrest. But you are! That’s the house you built.  While it almost always takes 2 to derail a marriage, If you cheated, this is the price you pay to get your marriage back.

Accept it, do it humbly or throw in the towel now.

Zero Tolerance Policy with the 3rd person

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Of course it also goes without saying that the cheater has to completely, 110% cut off all contact with the person they had the affair with.

If that person is a co-worker, it means changing jobs. It may also mean getting a new phone number & email address. It likely means blocking them on social media.

We are weak creatures. Men and women don’t always have the strength to fight temptations. We have to remove every possible means by which we might reach out in a moment of weakness. Nor can we allow them a means to reach out to us in their moment of weakness.

Let me be clear here: you cannot have any contact with the person you had the affair with if you have any hope of saving your relationship.

If you aren’t willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that, this won’t work.

One thing that can definitely help is marriage counseling. I’m of the opinion that therapy is good anytime, crisis or not. But to save a marriage after infidelity it can be incredibly helpful.

If you’re wondering Can Marriage Counseling Help?, I have a post that addresses just that.

Marriage after infidelity statistics

In looking at the hard cold facts, according to Trustify,

  • Over 33% of marriages encounter cheating
  •  22% of men cheat on their significant other
  • 14% of women cheat on their significant other
  • 36% of cheaters admit to having an affair with a coworker
  • People who have cheated are 350% more likely to cheat again
  • Affairs are most likely to occur two years into a marriage
  • 35% of cheaters admit to cheating on a business trip
  • 10% of affairs begin online
  • 40% of the time online affairs turn into real life affairs

How You Can Save a Marriage After Infidelity

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Understand that an affair does incredible damage. It destroys trust, but it also can decimate your partner’s self-esteem and feelings of self-worth.

Believe it or not, it also has an incredible impact on the cheater’s self-esteem. After all, while the cheater is the one who “wronged” the marriage, only the most heartless cheater isn’t filled with guilt and remorse over their actions. Thus, the affair damages the cheater too.

All of that has to be rectified to save a marriage. In addition, however, the roots of what caused the affair have to be addressed too. After all, when we don’t learn from our mistakes, we’re destined to repeat them.

The real roots of an affair

When people cheat, while they can justify all day long about the problems in the marriage that led to the cheating, at the end of the day, the cheater is usually battling issues unrelated to the marriage.

In other words a normal, well-adjusted person doesn’t suddenly just start cheating because their spouse’s libido dropped or they started dressing more frumpy.

The devastating impact of cheating is often rooted in our own childhood issues

In my own case, my Mom and Dad split up when I was 6 months old and I rarely saw him consistently until I was an adult; a story I detail in my most popular post called Growing Up With a Gay Father. He then passed away in 2014.

I also grew up with an Alcoholic Step-Father who I moved away from when I was 10. He then died when I was in high school.  Despite his alcoholism and what he did to my Mom (some of which I witnessed), I still loved him very much and called him Dad until his passing.

I say all that not for sympathy or to make excuses.

But I had to come to terms with the underlying feelings of not being worthy enough. All the important people in my life left me at one point or another. While logically I can understand the why, emotionally I felt unworthy.

Thus in almost all of the relationships I’ve had as an adult, I left first or initiated a preemptive strike. I left or sabotaged the relationship before it left me.

I had to really understand my past and work on that or I was destined to keep repeating my same mistakes and patterns.

If you struggle to Let Go of the Past as I did, I strongly urge you to take a moment and read my post on that subject. We all have past issues and learning how to not let them control our present and future is crucial for our ability to survive and thrive!

Be prepared to really listen when the cheated on expresses themselves

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To save a marriage after infidelity is hard work. It won’t be quick. It may take months or years to just get the marriage back to a place where the rebuilding can start. There will be times where the partner who was cheated on has to express their feelings.

Sometimes those expressions of feelings will be angry; even explosive.  Unless they reach a level where they are physically or verbally abusive, it’s vitally important for the cheated to feel comfortable expressing themselves.

It’s also incredibly important for the cheater to hear their partner without being defensive.

Empathetic Listening Skills are vitally important for any relationship. But to save a marriage after infidelity, it’s a crucial skill to learn and practice.  If learning how to really listen to your partner is a challenge, I highly recommend taking a moment and checking out my post on that subject.

So let the spouse who was cheated on vent. Let them express just how painful the other’s actions were. As with any wound, it’s vitally important that we allow ourselves to heal, and that release of negative emotions is crucial to the healing.



Why Saving Your Marriage Matters

To save a marriage after infidelity is important for a variety of reasons.  If you have school-age kids, it’s incredibly important for their mental, physical and emotional health to be in a loving 2 parent household.

But even beyond that obvious point, there is great benefit to being resilient. If you and your spouse can learn to work through a challenging situation without giving up, you get stronger.

It’s an incredible lesson for life to work through what could be defeat and come out on top. You will be stronger. Your relationship will be better and stronger, and your family will be stronger.

There’s nothing like adversity to make us stronger. When you give up (been there, done that), we miss out on that personal growth.

But, perhaps more importantly, we’re much more likely to enter our next relationship carrying that emotional baggage. We’re also far more likely to repeat whatever mistakes we made in that last relationship because we never really learned the lessons from it.

So whether you are the cheater or the cheated, I encourage you to give 100% on trying to work through this challenging situation. There is HUGE benefit for all concerned that comes when you save a marriage after infidelity.

It won’t be easy. There WILL be times when you feel like giving up. There will be times when it won’t feel like it’s worth it.

But as the Fanny Flagg quote goes, “don’t give up before the miracle.” In other words, don’t quit your relationship right before you figure out how to make it work.

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Photo credits (that aren’t mine or which require attribution):
Clinton by Kate Wellington is licensed by Creative Commons 2.0
007.365: crushed down… by Janice Magracia is licensed by Creative Commons 2.0

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