It's the nightmare scenario. You love her, and assumed she felt the same. But she's shattered that bond with infidelity, and the temptation is to drop her like a stone.
Your say: What to do with a cheater
But should you? Is unfaithfulness ever worthy of forgiveness? Experts believe that cheating needn't always mean the end of a relationship and sometimes it is worth giving things another go. Here's how to deal with an act of infidelity, and how you'll know if your relationship is worth the effort of a salvage operation.
Are you sure?
Before you start mulling your next move, you need to be sure she's cheating. If you've caught her red-handed, or found the smoking gun (an unambiguous text message or email, for instance), then skip to the next section.
But if it's just a suspicion, and you accuse her of things she hasn't done, your actions could be as divisive to the relationship as her imagined act of infidelity. If you only think
she might be cheating, don't go in all guns blazing.
be cheating, of course, but might is the important word. Don't accuse her of anything. Instead, ask her if everything's OK. Ask her if she's happy with you, and watch for hesitation. But remember, her actions might just be those of someone who is unsatisfied with her relationship, rather than a cheater.
If you are sure, you'll be angry and upset. This is not the best time to make life-changing decisions about the future. According to couples counsellor Elly Prior, "you need to be patient. It will take time. You will be grieving for the loss of your relationship as it was before the affair."
Take a few days off. Get away from her if you can. If you don't live with her, don't arrange to meet for a few days. She may be desperate to talk to you about what's happened, but tell her you're not ready. You'll let her know when you are.
"Coping with not coping is the only realistic expectation for now," says Prior. "Try and manage only essential and familiar activities."
Still, there are scenarios where the time out isn't necessary. If she's strayed before, or she's not prepared to stop the affair immediately, or she tells you she has "choices to make", you might just want to cut your losses and run, regardless of the pain it will cause you. Or it may be the case that her infidelity was simply a symptom of a malaise both of you recognise as terminal. After the pain of wounded pride has eased, you may be happy for the relationship to end.
Expect an apology
But what if you truly love her, believe her when she says her infidelity was a one-off mistake, and think you should give the relationship another chance?
Well, first off, you shouldn't have to wait for her to say sorry. While it's true to say that infidelity rarely happens in good relationships, that's not a justification for her actions. She may think that something was wrong in the relationship and she's probably right, but you deserve a heartfelt apology anyway.
If she doesn't offer one she is probably denying any responsibility for her actions, and you'd be justified in seeing that as the last straw.
Avoid revenge (at least in the long run)
Your first thought on finding out about the affair will probably be revenge. You'll want to sleep with her sister, her best friend, the ex of yours you know she dislikes, or any random woman in the bar you're drowning your sorrows at.
She could hardly complain if you did (well, maybe the sister...), but at some point that craving will have to stop. If it doesn't fade after a few weeks, and all you can think of is revenge, it could be that the relationship was coming to an end anyway.
"The wronged partner may at some point in the future feel 'entitled' to having an affair and to be forgiven for it," says Elly Prior. "I would so warn against that strategy it really wouldn't solve anything."
If, after a few days or even weeks, you feel the relationship is worth another go, it's time to talk. Very practically, Elly Prior says you need to put in place strategies to avoid simply covering the same ground in an endless cycle of blame and guilt. Schedule a time each day to talk about the relationship, and limit it. Unanswered questions can be left for the next day.
What exactly you talk about will depend on your circumstances. Prior says that the chances of the relationship surviving "depend greatly on the quality of the relationship before it happened... and each partners' sense of security or insecurity generally."
She needs to give you reassurances that she wants your relationship to work. You need to assure her difficult though it may be that her cheating will not be the slow-acting poison that simply finishes everything off a year down the line. Oh, and you really need to believe that too. Of course, she needs to be at pains to let you know that her cheating was a one-off. At the same time, you both have to accept that the relationship you had before really is over.
Because something was wrong enough to make her stray, and however painful it is, that something has to be uncovered and worked on. If you want to get to the heart of the problem in your relationship, and she is willing to do half the digging, you may have a relationship that's worth the effort.
Emotional versus sexual
It's often said that men stray purely for sex while women stray to find an emotional connection. That might suggest that when women stray, the relationship is less likely to survive the fallout.
That's simplistic, though it contains an element of truth. Men stray for romance too, and women in relationships have one-night stands, but women are less likely to stray purely for a sexual thrill. But even "emotional infidelity" is repairable, says Prior. It doesn't mean she loves the other guy or even that they clicked. If she's back, he's history, and she's desperate to work on your relationship then any genuine emotion in her affair was probably more imagined than real.
She may have strayed because she felt neglected, unloved or taken for granted. It may be that your busy schedule has seen your sex life dwindle to an occasional and for her unsatisfying quickie. If you can forgive her infidelity, these are all areas that can and must be improved. If her action can be interpreted as a cry for attention and it's yours she really wants then your future together is back in your own hands.
Is it doomed?
In some circumstances, infidelity probably does mean your relationship is over. Cheating can rip apart the veneer of even a seemingly solid relationship, and reveal a pretty rotten core. But it doesn't have to. If she's genuinely sorry for never-to-be-repeated actions, you both accept the need for your relationship to change, and you're both committed to the work, it is worth a second chance.
Things will never be exactly the same as before, but then again they might given time be a whole lot better.
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