I won’t lie. I cheated on my wife back in early 2013. My wife could have left me and moved on with her life, but she didn’t. Should you stay married after infidelity?
Here’s what we both learned in the process of working through the aftermath of my affair:
Between 60-75% of couples stay married following an affair being discovered. The key to success is for the cheater to be 100% honest, open, transparent, and be willing to work on themselves and rebuilding trust without blame, excuses, or defensiveness.
But that’s only the beginning. Luckily for me and our family, we were able to work through everything, had our 3rd daughter in late 2017, and now have a marriage that is far better than it ever was.
But if you have cheated, or were cheated on, your decision on whether or not to stay married after an affair may be different. In addition to my own experience in fixing my broken marriage, I’ve also consulted 6 marriage experts.
So let’s explore why staying or leaving might be the right choice for you.
If you want to save your marriage, then check out this quick video on how to Mend Your Marriage (click to watch on their site). It’s from renowned marriage guru Brad Browning and he’s literally helped save thousands of marriages (many that were probably in worse shape).
Can marriage be saved after infidelity?
The short answer is YES. Almost any roadblock in a marriage or relationship can be overcome.
That being said, there are some key things that have to happen in order for a marriage to be repairable and for the spouse who was cheated on to be willing to forgive and work to repair the marriage.
After all, cheating is one of the worst things one spouse can do to another. Some of the ways infidelity damages a marriage include:
- It Destroys trust
- Creates insecurities (sometimes in both people, but certainly for the cheated on)
- Causes the spouse who was created on to build an emotional wall
If you were cheated on, there are some important factors to consider when deciding whether or not to stay married.
Those things include:
- Take 100% ownership of their behavior (no excuses, no blaming you)
- 100% cut off all communication with the 3rd person
- Change jobs if it’s a co-worker
- Block them on social media
- Change phone numbers and email addresses
- Consider therapy to get to the root of why they cheated
- Be ready, willing, and able to be 110% transparent about everything moving forward
- They should not lock phones
- Their spouse should have their social media and email passwords
- For the time being, the spouse who cheated should not go out without their spouse
- The spouse who cheated should over-communicate their whereabouts when not at work or if delayed at work
- These things aren’t for forever, but they are essential for rebuilding trust
- Allow their spouse to vent and express their feelings any time they need to
In short, if the person who cheated isn’t willing to do those things, they probably aren’t worthy of forgiveness. The main reason I say that (as someone who has cheated and been cheated on) is that when someone doesn’t own and learn from their own mistakes, they are VERY apt to repeat them.
Anyone can change, but that doesn’t mean they will. Changing our behavior patterns takes time, effort, and focus. If they aren’t willing to do the work, chances are they will cheat again.
What is considered cheating in a marriage?
Cheating can mean a lot of things to a lot of people.
So it’s important for a couple to define what is and isn’t OK for both people. That doesn’t mean one spouse gets to dictate. What it does mean is that both people talk about their feelings and reach agreements.
In the early days of my marriage, my wife was extremely flirty. She also used to brag to others about how cool a wife she was because as long as I came home to her, I could basically do what I wanted.
In truth, that’s not really what she meant, nor did I really take it literally.
No, it was probably her own insecurities fueling a desire to be liked by others and to feel worthy of being loved by me. To be clear, when I did cheat in 2013, it was not because I felt some sort of pass on it. BUT, it is important to not send mixed messages to your spouse.
For most people cheating is when 1 spouse has some sort of physical, romantic relationship with another person without their spouse’s consent.
While for many, that would actually mean sex, it could also be:
- Being emotionally intimate
- Virtual infidelity/online activity
But at the end of the day, what matters is what you and your spouse think is OK or not OK. Discuss it, agree to it, and don’t violate that agreement.
Is kissing considered infidelity?
I think most of us, assuming we’re talking about a kiss on the lips given and received with romantic intent, the answer would be yes. Kissing is infidelity.
As the saying goes, if it would be inappropriate to do with your grandparents, it’s probably not OK with someone who is not your husband or wife.
But, surprise, surprise, the answer here does differ by gender.
According to a recent survey by Spark Networks, 90% of women feel that “passionately kissing someone else” was cheating, compared to only 75% of men.
Is flirting cheating?
Here I think most people would say no.
But first, let’s define flirting. The definition of flirting is to “behave as though attracted to or trying to attract someone, but for amusement rather than with serious intentions.”
I think the key here is “for amusement”.
If you or your spouse are simply smiling, chatting people up and being friendly, that is NOT cheating. If it gets physical at all or if you give the other person your contact info, then you’ve crossed a line most people would agree shouldn’t be crossed.
Since I had my affair in 2013, I have strived to try as much as possible to have my thoughts, actions, and words all match up. In other words, when my wife isn’t around, I’m not going to do or say things I wouldn’t do or say if she were around.
When you commit to living your life that way, it gets a whole lot simpler!
If you feel like your marriage is falling apart, then check out this short video on how to Mend Your Marriage (click to watch on their site) that can help get yours back on track.
Should you forgive a cheater?
Ultimately this is a personal choice and really comes down to how you found out about your spouse’s affair and what steps your spouse took following the discovery to try and make amends.
People are fallible. We make mistakes. Expecting anyone to be perfect and never make a mistake is setting yourself up for a life of disappointment.
That being said, the spouse who cheated does need to do a number of things to warrant being forgiven.
Being honest, open, transparent, and 100% accountable for their behavior and the damage it caused is essential to foster forgiveness.
A recent survey from YouGov asked couples if they could forgive their spouse if they cheated. Not surprisingly the results were uneven.
- 37% of the 2624 adults polled would definitely or probably forgive their spouse for cheating
- 47% said probably not or definitely not
- Democrats and Independents were slightly more likely to forgive
- Men were more likely to forgive than women
- People in the south and west were more likely to forgive than those in the north or midwest
- The higher the income bracket, the more likely they are to forgive
But ultimately you should follow your heart and your gut.
Ignore what others think you should do or not do. They aren’t in your marriage and ultimately won’t be affected by the decisions you make. While it is good to clear your head, and step away for a brief time and not make a rash decision in the heat of the moment, don’t just ignore the issue.
Staying in limbo doesn’t help anyone. It’s also a good idea to not trash talk your spouse to everyone who will listen.
After all, when you do that, you’re naturally turning them against your spouse. If you do later decide to forgive them and rebuild the relationship, it naturally puts everyone in an awkward position.
Talk to a therapist or one friend or family member who you know will love and support you through this tough time. Be honest, of course, but talk about your feelings rather than just bashing your spouse.
A great Marriage Counselor Can Help (click to read my article) and a recent article of mine details everything you need to know about marriage counseling including what they do, what it costs, and exactly what the success rates are.
What the experts say about staying married after infidelity
In writing this article, I consulted the work and opinions of 6 experts in the field of marriage.
Here’s what they had to say on infidelity and whether or not a couple should try and save their marriage after an affair:
DR. JOHN GOTTMAN – Noted marriage expert
- “In order to truly recover after a betrayal, you must be able to hear, accept, and believe that your partner truly regrets the infidelity.”
- “Hopefully, your partner will be patient with the fact that you might need to hear that regret expressed many times in many different ways.”
What Dr. Gottman is saying here is that when the spouse who cheated admits the affair, ends it, and tries to move on, it’s not uncommon for them to want things to get “better” quickly. This can be out of shame for their behavior. But if the marriage wasn’t great before the affair, it can also just be out of impatience.
Unfortunately for the spouse who was cheated on, this can appear that the cheater isn’t taking full ownership of their behavior. When we try and justify a wrong, make excuses, or (worse) blame someone else (“I wouldn’t have cheated if you hadn’t . . . ) it effectively is the same as not even admitting any wrong in the first place.
The good news is that if a couple can work through the aftermath of an affair, they often find their marriage comes out better and stronger than ever before.
That has certainly been true for my wife and me in the wake of my affair in 2013.
Gottman, of course, is famous for his description of the Four Horsemen (click to read my detailed article) which are the 4 worst behaviors spouses can do to destroy their relationship.
I can certainly tell you that my wife and I used to engage in ALL of those behaviors and that changing them was key to our staying married.
Gottman goes on to say:
“The betrayed partner attempts to understand how it happened and how they can prevent it from happening again.”
Most spouses who were cheated on naturally want a lot of information about the affair. However, Gottman also advises that “It is best not to ask questions about the specifics of the sexual nature of the affair.”
Ultimately when you paint a very detailed and graphic picture of the affair, while it can help the wounded spouse understand, it can also fuel their anger and rage and make the recovery process take longer.
All of that was certainly true in my and my wife’s case.
DR. JOHN GRAY – Author of Men Are from Mars
Should an affair cause the end of a marriage? “Not in most situations, especially if the guilty partner has apologized, admitted it was a mistake, and promised to never do it again.”
Dr. Gray goes on to say that “It’s terrible to see your partner choose someone else instead of you. That doesn’t mean your relationship doesn’t hold value and merit.”
In my own life, I can absolutely testify that this is true.
When I had my affair in 2013, my wife had quit drinking 6 months earlier after years of being an alcoholic and not making good choices.
So while the not drinking was good (I eventually quit too for 3 years) it widened the divide between us. And as she went through the withdrawal and having to face her emotions and issues head-on, it wasn’t always pretty.
But that wasn’t why I cheated, nor did I ever not want to be married to her. But I did choose to withdraw, which according to Dr. Gray was a mistake on my part:
Dr. Gray also notes that “It makes a world of difference in a relationship if one person starts (being intentional and active in the marriage) because if one person starts, he or she can see the positive results (and will want to do more of it).
DR. MEG MEEKER – Noted parenting and marriage expert
“Women don’t think the way men do. When something happens in a man’s life, he identifies the problem, finds a solution and then implements it.”
Dr. Meeker goes on to say that women “think about the problem, the solution, the repercussions, who’s to blame, who isn’t to blame and then a thousand feelings land on top of every thought.”
She also encourages women who have been cheated on to “get some help for yourself so that you can stay emotionally healthy and strong” and while she advises to not “threaten to leave, but you need to demand some respect for yourself and the marriage.”
Ultimately, when it comes to the question of should you stay married after infidelity, Dr. Meeker advises:
“When a spouse is willing to see the offenses he/she has committed against the other and is genuinely willing to correct them, many marriages can be saved.”
But lastly, she cautions “Divorce is caused by two (not one) broken people.”
And while that of course, does not justify a spouse cheating, it does mean that even if the spouse who was cheated on gets divorced, if they don’t deal with their own issues, they are likely to wind up in yet another broken relationship following the divorce.
TONY ROBBINS – Noted self-help guru and life coach
“When people’s values and life directions are extremely different they must compromise. Continuous compromise means a compromised life for both parties. That is when difficult decisions need to be made.”
The above quote was actually from a personal reply Tony Robbins wrote in response to an email he received questioning the fact that Tony filed for divorce in 1998.
While he’s not talking specifically about infidelity here, what he is saying is that when 2 people’s goals, values, and dreams are in alignment, almost any setback or roadblock can be overcome.
He goes on to say regarding infidelity that people who cheat aren’t looking for a new partner, but instead are looking for a new version of themselves; not for sex, but for “desire and aliveness”.
Tony notes the basic steps needed to save the marriage (from the cheater) after an affair is:
- Take ownership of the pain created by the affair (show remorse and feel empathy)
- Show and prove your desire to save the relationship – let your spouse know how much you value them
- Slowly help your spouse understand the why behind your actions (hint: it’s not about the 3rd person or details of the affair)
Lastly, Robbins is famous for saying “Success in life is the result of good judgment. Good judgment is usually the result of experience. Experience is usually the result of bad judgment.”
That is to say, that IF the cheater is willing to own their actions, learn from their mistakes, and move forward in a new way of thinking and behaving, the marriage can be saved after infidelity.
But ONLY if the spouse who had the affair takes 100% ownership and is willing to do whatever it takes to fix it.
DR. GARY CHAPMAN – Author of The 5 Love Languages
“The only way that (to) regain trust (after an affair) is for (the cheater) to be faithful over a period of time.” Dr. Chapman goes on to say, that some of the ways to do that include saying :
“My cell phone and computer are yours any time you want to look at them. If I tell you that I’m going to see (a friend) to help him work on his car, I’m happy for you to call over there to make sure I’m there.”
What he’s getting at, very simply, is being honest and transparent. When you have nothing to hide, then you have no reason to be fearful of anything being seen or heard.
The cheater has to understand that their affair destroyed the trust in the marriage.
Even if the other spouse had already done things to damage the relationship, that doesn’t excuse cheating and the affair certainly only made things worse.
Dr. Chapman goes on to recommend that the spouses avoid focusing on the 3rd person and instead “concentrate on restoring your own relationship. Remember, the marital difficulty has been caused by the marriage partners, not by someone outside the marriage.”
What he’s saying here is that ultimately, this isn’t about the other woman or other man. This is about a breakdown of the marriage. This is about a personal breakdown in the person who cheated.
The 3rd person is ultimately inconsequential, isn’t technically to blame (although they did willingly choose to have a sexual relationship with someone who was married) and focusing on the 3rd person or the affair is not how a couple will successfully overcome the infidelity.
Lastly, on saving your marriage after infidelity, Dr. Chapman advises “Until your (spouse) is remarried, there is hope for your marriage.” also noting that “Trust is broken because (the spouse who cheated) is unreliable and when (they) become reliable and trustworthy, then trust can be reborn.”
So again, as we’ve said elsewhere, it’s crucial for the person who cheated to:
- Own it
- Take the necessary steps to understand why they did what they did
- Recognize that the burden of rebuilding trust is on them
And only when they get the marriage back to a neutral place is it OK to then work on any marriage issues that were present before the affair.
“When you pick a partner, you pick a story, and then you find yourself in a play you never auditioned for. And that is when the narratives clash.”
What Perel is saying here is that often times when we enter a marriage, we base our decision on attraction, some base-level goals, and lifestyle choices. But as the marriage develops, sometimes it unfolds in ways we don’t expect or understand. That, of course, can lead to breakdowns or even infidelity if it’s not addressed.
Specifically, on whether or not a couple should divorce over infidelity, she says “To just push people to divorce and to think that divorce is always the better solution when it dissolves all the family bonds (is wrong).”
She also notes, that for a couple who is willing to do the hard work following an affair “Sometimes the relationship that comes out is stronger and more honest and deeper than the one that existed before because people finally step up”.
That was certainly true for my wife and me, who, although we still have challenges and communication breakdowns, ultimately have a much better marriage now than we did before my own affair in 2013.
But she cautions “We expect too much from our partners . . . We still want everything the traditional family was meant to provide, but now we also want our partner to love us, to desire us, to be interested in us”.
What she’s saying here is that as our values and the so-called roles of men and women have changed over the years, she feels that reliance on family and friends has gotten smaller and put too big a burden on the 2 spouses, often leading to a breakdown.
How do you overcome infidelity in a marriage?
Interestingly, Dr. Gottman also notes “The problems in the relationship did not cause the affair but are important to change”.
In my own experience, I think that is key.
My wife and I’s relationship wasn’t great before my affair in 2013. But that ultimately wasn’t what caused me to cheat. I cheated out of my own insecurities that ultimately stemmed from childhood issues I had never resolved.
In reality, I had a tendency to rerail my relationships out of fear of eventually being left. If I destroyed my relationships then at least I was (so I thought) in control.
Until I dealt with my own insecurities, I was destined to repeat my mistakes and patterns. Ultimately, that’s true of anything. We HAVE to both recognize our issues AND take action to move things in a new direction.
Many people recognize they have a problem with something (drugs, alcohol, temper, or a tendency to cheat). But where people, and I was one of them, go wrong, is in not doing anything to really make a difference there.
Anyone can change. But as my old friend Mark who was high up in HR at Whole Foods Market back when I worked there used to say “there’s no better predictor of future behavior than past behavior”.
He knew, quite rightly, that people are SLOW to change. But it can happen.
To overcome infidelity in a marriage, the person who cheated simply has to be ready, willing, and able to consistently show up every day willing to:
- Do the work on themselves (which ideally would include therapy)
- Be completely open and transparent (to rebuild trust)
- Allow their spouse to grieve, vent, and go through the recovery stages at their own pace
- Focus on being the person they always wanted to be (and that their spouse deserves)
But beyond fixing ourselves, we also have to learn how to Rekindle our Marriage (click to read my 15 steps). Because once we rebuild trust and get to the root of the underlying reasons why the cheater cheated, THEN we have to work on making a better marriage.
How common is infidelity in marriage?
Unfortunately, it’s more common than we think or want it to be.
In the early years of marriage, the percentage of spouses who cheat is 10% for men, and slightly higher for women (11%), according to the General Social Survey.
But those numbers creep up as the spouses get older to a whopping 26% of spouses aged 70-79.
It’s also worth noting that only in the 18-29 age bracket do women cheat more than men. As both spouses get older, the gap between men and women who cheat increases fairly significantly with men cheating between 8%-13% more.
It’s also interesting to note that according to the General Social Survey I mentioned above, Blacks tend to cheat more, and Hispanics cheat the least, with Whites in between. They also find that the odds of being a cheater increase if your parents divorced.
Think infidelity is the #1 Reason for Divorce (click to see them all on my site)? Think again! In reality, between 20-40% of divorces cite infidelity as the primary reason for divorce.
What are the odds of a marriage surviving infidelity?
It’s not surprising, but people don’t always do what they say they are going to do.
Only 31% of people polled in a recent Gallup poll said they would strive and save their marriage after their spouse had an affair.
But in reality, between 60-75% of those couples survey actually stayed together after an affair was discovered.
So your odds of your marriage surviving an affair are actually really good.
In a recent article, I compiled an amazing list of all the Infidelity Recovery Statistics (click to read on my site), so check those out and see what your odds are.
Did I cover all you wanted to know about whether you should stay married after infidelity?
In this post, we examined something many couples eventually face during their marriage; infidelity.
We looked at what cheating is or may not be to some couples, whether you should forgive a cheater, and if you decide to, what are some of the ways you can work through it. We also consulted some experts to get their opinion too.
Ultimately we answered the question of should you stay married after infidelity.
Have you been a cheater or been cheated on?
If your marriage is struggling to get past this challenging time, then check out this quick video on how to Mend Your Marriage (click to watch on their site) that will help get yours back on track.
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