What to do with a cheating spouse

What to Do with Your Cheating Spouse

What do you do with your cheating spouse?

Well… nothing illegal, ladies. Roll your eyes, sure, but let’s start with that bottom-line simplicity, even if we think it’s an “oh-I’d-never” scenario because rage is a lovely antidote to the pain. The sadness, the betrayal. Like a good alcohol buzz, rage can become addictive and erode good judgment. And while (hopefully) most of us would not choose to, say, put those kickboxing lessons to good use, nor apply that “gesso and stucco” section of our Art 101 course to his new car or her front door, there are moments that follow the discovery of a cheating spouse when it’s helpful to have a little reminder to not make your rage-fueled fantasy a reality.

What else helps?

Laughter.

The ludicrous nature of the rage fantasy does help us laugh at ourselves and the situation, and laughter is an even better antidote to pain than rage. Where rage depletes us, laughter is sustainable; it increases immunity, beauty, endorphins, lung capacity, and hope.

Laughter leads us right into embodying the adage that “happiness is the best revenge.”

So have a great time with the fantasy; hell, write a book. At least read one that will make you laugh at the situation. Fiction can be a nice escape because it allows us to experience emotions while being removed from them. We can live vicariously through the characters, where people can do things they wouldn’t do in real life. One of my favorite authors (Jennifer Crusie—I love that woman) does a great scene in her book Bet Me where a pissed off stay-at-home mom punctuates every screeching syllable of …“thirty-seven goddamn years!” with a pointy-toed kick of her Manolo Blahniks as she accuses her husband of being a cheating spouse. Then there’s the scene from one of the Harry Potter books where one character encounters his spell-bound cat and goes hunting for the culprit, demanding at the top of his lungs, “I want to see some punishment!”

Can we relate? Make the cat in the story a metaphor for your pride: would we like to “see some punishment” for cheating, which smashes a promise to remain faithful and destroys our sense of self and our faith in our character judgment? (How could we have picked someone who would do this? I gave him everything! How did I believe this guy)? Yes, most of us can relate to that. And most of us won’t get it in a no-fault state, which most are.

Managing Your Emotional Reactions to Cheating

There are a lot of opinions weighing in on this subject, as cheating is one of the top three reasons for divorce. I personally know of only one exception to the rage reaction, and she had been wishing for a divorce for years before discovering her husband had cheated on her. For her, at that point, it was a giddy relief: she finally had an iron-clad reason to demand a divorce—a reason he couldn’t gaslight her out of. Most of us, however, experience rage as the primary emotional response to a cheating spouse.

Regardless, try to laugh and find your other joys in life as soon as you can, and refrain from the illegal. Avoid assault (including verbal and on social media). Avoid destruction of property. Indulge the fantasy for a bit, but leave that mental vacation on the island and re-enter reality as soon as possible.

“Ultimately, women need to know it’s good to fantasize about getting even; but the court and the law care not a whit that you’ve been cheated on,” says SAS for Women co-founder and divorce coach Liza Caldwell. “So seek your justice another way, or learn to accept he’ll get his in a bigger court.”

In recognizing that there is a higher, karma-centered court, we take a step back from allowing our spouse to blame us for the cheating, rather than owning their own choice. Whether the cheating spouse has done so once or many times with multiple partners may also make a difference in whether we choose to divorce or stay and make it work. On the other hand, we co-create our marriages, so another facet of healing from infidelity involves taking responsibility for our part.

Own Your Side of the Road

Did you make everything in the marriage about you? Did you tell him to stop singing while he washed the dishes because the noise stressed you out? Create a dictatorship out of the cute kitchen accessory that says “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”? Do your own form of cheating by attaching to an addictive behavior like drinking too much, spending hours and too much money shopping online, working too much, getting too wrapped up in your children’s lives instead of making a life with your spouse? Owning our side of the road in a marriage can be galling when dealing with a cheating spouse, but it’s even more necessary at that point. If done well, often with professional help and your spouse’s ownership of their own side, divorce may not have to be the outcome.

That being said, it’s also essential not to take the blame for the infidelity. The cheating spouse has to own their choice to cheat, not redirect all responsibility onto you. Their decision to do that is their fault, not yours, and a spouse who refuses to see themselves or their choice to cheat as wrong or recognize its hurtfulness probably should be left.

There is a choice to stay or go. Depending on the scenario and each party’s willingness to own their part, it is possible to come back from infidelity with a stronger marriage and a greater understanding of each other and ourselves.

Stay or Go

Whatever you decide to do, though, decide fully. Choose happiness fully, and if you stay, choose to forgive completely. Either way, wash your hands of it entirely and let it go. To spend the next 30 years punishing your spouse with barbed comments and the occasional replay, playing the guilt card, living in suspicion—all of this is toxic. (All of us give in sometimes to bringing up something from the past that hurt us, but to invest energy in sustaining that hurt is another matter).


Annie’s Group :: for those thinking about or beginning the divorce process.  

“There’s a comfort in strangers, that is simply not possible with friends and family who are not themselves divorcing.”  ~ T.Y., New York City


Either choice—staying or going—requires work. If you divorce and go, go fully, with joy in who you are, especially now that you’re stronger, savvier, and have more self-knowledge.

Inside every regret and each mistake is the seed of positive change and new growth. We might practice saying to ourselves, “I was {this or that} in our relationship, and I regret it, but I see it and own it, ask forgiveness for it, forgive myself, and embrace the lesson, which is to become the regret’s opposite.” For example, if you regret not being fully present in the relationship, become fully present to yourself, without distraction. If you enter a new romantic relationship, you’ll know much better how to be present for that person as well as yourself, and be better equipped to do both.

Embracing the Hill

Staying or going, forgiving fully, laughter, choosing happiness, taking ownership of your side of the road, identifying where it’s not your fault, and sometimes developing the skill to deflect manipulative blaming and redirection—each choice requires work. One of the leaders at a local community mental health agency is a long-distance runner with rheumatoid arthritis; in that person’s office is a plaque with the motto “Embrace the Hill.” Whatever the choice, it will involve work and working through the pain. It passes, but you have to choose to let it pass. No dwelling, wallowing, brooding, stewing, or perseverating. Embrace the hill and know that most challenges that come after a cheating spouse will feel like rolling downhill; it will seem easy.

 

Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner them through the emotional, financial, and oft times complicated experience of divorce and rebuilding their lives afterward. Schedule your FREE 15-minute consultation with SAS. Tell us confidentially what’s going on, and we’ll give you black & white feedback, resources, and suggestions for your next steps.

*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.

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