“My husband cheated. Now what do I do? My whole world has just imploded, and I don’t have a clue where to go from here.”
It’s part of our flawed human nature to believe we can predict how we’d act in situations we’ve never been in. We can be so quick to assert the noblest of convictions, with no consideration for emotions and circumstances.
The end result, sadly, is that we often end up judging people we don’t even know on the presumption that we would do better.
Sadder yet is when we judge ourselves against criteria and standards we established without a glimpse of how they might challenge us.
Case in point? The betrayal of infidelity.
The early days of wine and roses, when the sun rose on infatuation and set on passion, eventually fade. Children, work, boredom, stress, routine, monotony… life.
Some of the fading happens so that real life can happen.
And some of it happens because couples take their relationship for granted.
While cheating is far from inevitable, it does happen.
If you are on the receiving end of betrayal, you may have found out in one of several ways. A confession. An accidental discovery. Or perhaps the accumulation of countless subtle signs of cheating.
But here you are. “My husband cheated. Now what?”
Do you go all Hollywood? Throw him out, empty all the accounts, go revenge shopping, and start a new life in the span of two hours?
Do you pretend you can forgive and forget – “for the children” – and try to carry on?
Do you find a divorce lawyer and end your marriage as soon as possible?
Or do you do what you never thought you would do if this day ever came? Do you try to work through the betrayal and save your marriage?
These options may seem too calm-and-collected for what you really feel like doing. But let’s take that kind of retribution off the table.
Check out our woman to woman talk in “The Stages of Surviving an Affair.”
It’s bad enough that one of you has done something regretful. Fits of passion can write countless dramatic scripts, and you don’t need to play a leading role.
Even in the worst of circumstances, you have choices. They won’t promise to be easy or pain-free. But every choice will offer you the opportunity to grow… or to return to more lessons.
Here are some actions to take immediately while you explore your options in the wake of your husband’s infidelity:
Locate your center and always keep it in view.
You will inevitably feel “all over the place” with your emotions. Bouncing between rage and sadness can make you lose sight of your center – your beliefs, your values, your strengths. Allow yourself the feelings, but don’t let them run away with you. Keep your center in focus so you know how to get back.
Do not, under any circumstances, make consequential, life-changing decisions while in an emotional state.
Scream, cry, rip the feathers out of a pillow, go out for a Forrest Gump marathon run. But don’t file for divorce, leave with the kids, take financial revenge, or stalk the affair partner while emotions are raging.
Do not, under any circumstances, allow yourself to believe that you have to go through this alone.
The fact that you’re not the first to go through this doesn’t make it any less painful.
But it can give you comfort and a soft place to land when you need support from those who understand. (Read our “Surviving Infidelity: Should You Stay or Should You Go?”)
Find a therapist who specializes in marriage, family, and infidelity.
Find a professional who can accompany and guide you through the flood of emotions you’re feeling. The sooner you feel in control of them, the sooner you can explore your options.
Find a support group – online, or in person – and participate.
Just knowing that others have been where you are – and are at various stages of the journey – will be a huge help.
Get some physical distance if possible.
Do you have a close friend or relative you can stay with for a while? If not, or if you have children at home….
Establish clear boundaries with your spouse regarding your living arrangements.
Do you need to separate while still living in the same house? Be clear about sleeping arrangements, time with the kids, and separating your time at home.
Keep the details away from your kids… and most definitely off social media.
Kids inevitably pick up on everything. But they don’t need to know more than “Mommy and Daddy are working on some personal matters, so we will be sleeping in different rooms for a while. We both love you very much, and we will always be here for you.” Be aware of the effects of divorce on children, and know that there are also effects from infidelity and domestic conflict.
So, you’re doing your best to stay grounded, gain clarity, and hold onto your self-everything.
At some point, however, it’s decision time. My husband cheated. Now what? is a question with a handful of clear options: separate, divorce, carry on, or work on your marriage.
Regardless of how the details look, what you choose to do will fall under one of those categories. Here’s how those choices might look:
You may not be able to stand the sight of your husband, let alone the thought of ever sleeping with him again. And yet, you may not be sure about divorce or reconciliation at this point. There are multiple ways to achieve physical distance in order to think with a clear head and/or work on things. Some couples separate while living in the same home (financial reasons, children, convenience). Some couples choose to live in separate places.
If you are contemplating divorce – even if you are unsure – it would be wise to know your state’s laws regarding separation.
They could influence your and your children’s financial security, the timing of a divorce if you go that route, and even your settlement.
If you’re not sure whether to separate or divorce, start here.
This may be your first fit-of-rage ultimatum. But divorce should always be your last resort. Obviously you can’t save your marriage by yourself. Keep in mind, however, that ending your marriage because your husband cheated isn’t going to “fix” anything.
Not only are there life-altering effects of divorce for women. But you will still have to process the inevitable grief and the ways in which both of you (i.e. you included) contributed to the fallout of your marriage.
(*In no way are you ever to accept responsibility for your husband’s choice to cheat.)
Is it wiser to do that exploration while still married? Or has there been too much damage, even before the affair, to make that possible?
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Is this really a possibility? Think about what would be asked of you to sweep this indiscretion, this betrayal, under the rug. Even if you believed you had no choice because of finances, health, children, etc., how long would you be able to pretend?
How long would it be before resentment and annihilation of trust and self-esteem permeated every corner of your marriage, family, and life?
Get even and cheat on your own.
Is this really an option for you?
Certainly men have no monopoly on infidelity. Check out “The Cheating Wife Phenomenon,” but ask yourself, in the long run, how will cheating serve you? Won’t it be delaying the fact that certain things in your marriage Must. Be. Faced.?
Work on your marriage.
The thought of working on anything with this traitor may absolutely repulse you. And yet, you may have a bizarrely conflicting inability to throw in the towel on your marriage. But take comfort in the reality that infidelity doesn’t necessarily lead to divorce.
Couples who are willing to do the work – the grueling, gut-wrenching, painful work – usually survive.
Why is this relevant?
Because divorcing in the hopes of getting a clean slate and a new relationship rarely fares well.
The issues that made your marriage vulnerable to infidelity were the confluence of commissions and omissions… from both of you.
You will never be responsible for your husband’s choice to cheat. But you did have responsibility within your marriage, for your marriage.
More and more, couples are thinking before leaping into the finality of divorce. (If only the cheater would have thought before leaping, too.)
And they’re putting their egos into the back seat and getting sage counsel to help them do what they couldn’t do on their own.
Sometimes infidelity is a hard-won wake-up call.
It’s never the way to go about rectifying hurts and filling voids in a marriage.
But, once that choice has been made, new choices await.
And every choice, agonizing as it is, is a divergence to a life that will never be the same.
Your husband cheated. You will never be able to change that. And he will never be able to undo it.
But the “My husband cheated, now what?” is your fork in the road.
Whichever direction you choose, make sure you are grounded in your own power…and in the realization that you don’t have to do it alone.
Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner with them through the emotional and oftentimes complicated experience of separation and divorce. Learn what’s possible for you and your precious life. Schedule your FREE 15-minute consultation with SAS and choose not to go it alone.