Having an affair—or being on the forsaken side of one—changes you. It changes your marriage, your family, your life. It makes you question everything—your marriage vows, your happiness, your ability to trust, even your own trustworthiness. And it certainly makes you question your future.
Even if you regret your choice to have an affair, you know things will never be the same. (And likewise for your husband if he was the one who had the affair.) You know you can’t pretend it didn’t happen.
There is only a handful of choices once a spouse has had an affair:
- The straying spouse confesses the affair.
- The other spouse finds out.
- The affair is kept a secret, but the straying spouse (and his/her affair partner) always knows and remembers.
And, regarding the destiny of the marriage, there are only two choices:
- Stay married.
How those choices play out is another story. But, without question, the very act of having an affair brings all these possibilities to the fore. And, while you may have been the one to choose the affair, you won’t be the only one to choose its consequences.
While there are several ways to know if divorce is the only option, infidelity in and of itself isn’t one of them. Although cheating is behind 20-40% of divorces, that doesn’t mean that cheating necessarily has to lead to divorce.
Statistics on infidelity and divorce are plentiful and complex. And if the range in numbers seems less than tight, there’s good reason. Infidelity is largely self-reported. It also has a spectrum of definitions, ranging from emotional to one-night-stand to all-in.
Straying from one’s marriage vows has long been a vice quickly attributed to men. “Why did you get divorced? Did he have an affair?” Assumptions abound—often to the point where cheated-on-wives would rather stay in troubled marriages and turn a blind eye.
When Children Are Involved
There is also the issue of children. Regardless of how an affair is revealed, children factor into the consequences. Perhaps that is largely why, when men have affairs, their wives are more likely to stick it out than when the opposite is true.
There is another reason that factors into the picture, however, and that’s why each gender is inclined to stray.
While men are, in general, more capable of separating their emotions from sex, women aren’t. A man may betray his wife by having an affair that is “just sex.” And he will, of course, break her heart and harm his marriage.
But scorned wives, at least statistically, are more likely to want to work on and save their marriages.
Scorned husbands, on the other hand, aren’t so tolerant—at least statistically.
Perhaps that’s because a woman having an affair is usually motivated by a yearning for emotional connection. She feels dissatisfied in her marriage and doesn’t receive an equitable effort to make things work.
So, when she strays, she takes more than her body to the tryst. She takes her heart.
And men don’t like it.
While having an affair doesn’t equate to pulling the “go to jail, go directly to jail” card in Monopoly, it is a red flag. And it’s how you and your husband respond to that red flag that will determine the destiny of your marriage. “Go to court, go directly to court”? Or “go to counseling, go directly to counseling”?
When a marriage has been shaken by infidelity, choices have to be made. None are easy. All are painful. And all have lifetime consequences.
When having an affair does lead to divorce, it’s usually because of one or more of the following reasons:
The cheated-on-spouse simply isn’t able to trust again.
The process of rebuilding the cornerstone of marriage is a long, humbling, arduous one. And it requires commitment and compassion from both parties.
Transparency from the cheating spouse, a willingness to forgive from the betrayed spouse. The seemingly disparate objectives have to miraculously work in synchronicity. And there needs to be enough love in the foundation, however ironic that may sound.
There are underlying issues that made the marriage vulnerable to an affair.
As mentioned above, women who have affairs are usually hungering for an emotional connection. Sex may become part of the infidelity, but usually there is an underlying, unresolved discontent with their marriages.
Men, on the other hand, are usually more dissatisfied with their wives’ dissatisfaction. This makes it easy for them to disregard the need to work on themselves or their marriages.
But one thing is undeniable: An affair will expose the issues and leave both partners standing at a fork in the road of their union. Do we work on this, or do we go our separate ways? Should I or shouldn’t I divorce?
One spouse refuses to get help.
Delving into oneself is always a springboard toward personal growth. But there is only so much one can do alone when it comes to repairing a marriage. And never is that more true than when an affair has sounded the Reveille on a troubled marriage.
Whether you are the one who has had the affair or been cheated on, getting professional help is a great step. But your spouse’s willingness to participate—individually and as a couple—will determine the ability of your marriage to survive.
One or both of you is just done.
It happens. Sometimes there is just too much water under the bridge, regardless of who did what. There’s too much anger over the infidelity. There’s too much anger over what led to the infidelity. The infidelity was a way to sabotage and exit the marriage.
There are a lot of reasons that can lead to that sense of unequivocal finality.
Finally, there is your inner voice and its warning signs of divorce.
You may not hear the whispers or feel the nudges leading up to your “aha moment.” But, when you look back, you see it all so clearly.
Sex became a chore. Communication became bitter and stressful. Envisioning your future went by the wayside—or began to include someone other than your spouse. You lost respect for one another. You flat-out stopped enjoying the company of your spouse. And on and on and on.
You may even wonder how you didn’t see it until now. But that voice is always there, telling you that something isn’t right and urging you to address it.
Having an affair can be a slamming of the door or a cry for help.
There are plenty of couples who will tell you that, despite their recommendation against infidelity, it was precisely an infidelity that saved their marriage. They made the choice to get to work on behalf of the vows they had once made. And they brought their marriage up from the ashes.
Likewise, there are plenty of couples who stay together, but with a wound that never fully heals.
And finally, there are those who decide the infidelity was the final straw. Perhaps they can’t bear the thought of living in its shadow. Perhaps they resolve to leave and learn.
But none are ever the same.
SAS women are those amazing ladies you meet who are entirely committed to navigating divorce—on their own terms. If you are considering or dealing with divorce, you are invited to experience SAS for Women firsthand and schedule your FREE 15-minute consultation. Whether you work further with us or not, we’ll help you understand your next, black-and-white steps for walking into your brave unknown—with compassion and integrity.
*This piece was written for SAS for Women, an all-women website. At SAS we respect same-sex marriages; however, for the sake of simplicity in this article, we refer to your spouse as a male.