Can a Relationship Really Survive Cheating?

Can the infidelity-damaged relationship survive? The answer is yes – and no – and it all depends. A host of conditions, qualifications and cross-considerations are infused with the diverse realities of individual lives.

Everybody knows somebody. In my work with women, I have seen the damage first hand.

One woman I encountered said it was more than the hurt and the jealousy when she discovered her husband’s multi-year affair with a co-worker. “I defined myself as part of a relationship,” she said. “My life and his life were this single thing. All of a sudden everything I believed about that life turned out to be a lie. The foundation I thought was strong just washed away. If the last nine years weren’t true, what is true now? Who am I?”

It’s no surprise that statistics on the ability to fix a relationship torn apart by infidelity are as murky as the ones about infidelity itself.

The best efforts of research are up against the fact that cheaters have no reason to be honest about secrets that could destroy their lives. One study of newly divorced people found that 15 percent said they had an affair, but 40 percent said their spouse had one.

Estimates from therapists range from 30 to 80 percent. All estimates are complicated by powerful variables. Was it a one night stand, or a long time parallel relationship? Did it happen when the relationship was new or after years of investment? Did you just wander off the path for a bit, or did he find a soul mate?” Was the infidelity the cause or simply the symptom of a collapsing relationship?

Many say gender is a factor.

Multiple studies conclude that men are more deeply affected by a sexual affair; women, by an emotional one. The reason may reside deep in our genes. Through the ages, men could never be absolutely certain that an offspring was his – opening the possibility of raising another man’s child. While women could be fairly certain of that, an emotional attachment threatened the loss of the man as provider.

As to which betrayal inflicts more grievous wounds to a relationship, generalities are easy to accept; but virtually impossible to prove.

The stereotype is that guys are less likely to accept a blow to the male ego, and are quicker to split up. But there is a counter argument that more relationships survive when the guy cheats simply because it is less likely there is an emotional connection.

It’s certain, however, that healing for either gender can get massively complicated especially if the raw wounds of the betrayal are marinated in public humiliation. We’ve seen the glassy-eyed misery on the faces of women standing beside men confessing to “bad choices.” We’ve seen human anguish served up nightly in a hearty media feeding. The quiet and privacy needed to begin the healing is denied if the cheating is public knowledge.

If you want to continue the relationship what next after the affair is discovered?

First, of course: stop it. Completely. Sever all contact. This is non-negotiable.

Be brutally honest – the time for secrets is over. What happened? Where? Why? Without that, you’re suturing the wound over an active infection.

Get to the problem. Was it sex? Was it loneliness? Was it boredom? Was it repeating a family history of cheating?

Be real. Even if it seems unlikely – is forgiveness a possibility? Or will life become an unending cycle of punishment and recrimination. “You forgot to send me flowers.” “Yeah; well you cheated on me.”

If you see hope, keep talking. Don’t withdraw in hopes that emotions will simply cool, and you can move on. It seldom works that way. Professional help is usually important in confronting difficult truths, and breaking through fortified positions.

Most important to repairing an infidelity-damaged relationship is to be absolutely certain that both share the commitment to repair it. This is not a quick fix. One can’t drag another toward healing. It has to happen hand-in-hand, side by side. Going through the motions out of guilt or for show is simply cruel.

Time will reveal the damage to the relationship and your ability to repair and move on. Recovery from betrayal is hard.

Featured image via Shutterstock

Filed Under