After the Affair: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Folded hands and wedding ring resting on table

One of the most arduous decisions you may ever have to make is whether to stay married to someone who has cheated on you. For many people, the decision to not stay in the marriage is pretty straightforward, most often due to moralistic views about infidelity and the covenant of marriage. More often than not it’s complicated, and deciding whether to divorce or salvage a marriage can be heartbreaking and confusing. Marriage is a huge investment for many people, and as with anything in life, the greater the investment, the greater the loss. Marriage is tied up with many dreams, expectations, and fantasies, so divorce is a hugely difficult decision that should be taken very seriously.

Here are some issues that can get in the way of making a sound decision about whether to divorce:

Fear is at the core of most bad decisions. When we make choices in life based on fear, we are using the most primitive part of the human brain, a part designed to help us respond to dangerous situations for survival purposes. Human beings are the only species with a more evolved part of the brain that allows us to assess, reflect, and consider a situation before acting on it. This is the part of the brain we want to be using when making decisions about whether to divorce. Slowing things down, not acting hastily, and talking with a professional will help you achieve this goal.

Having Children
Many divorcing couples base their decision to stay in a marriage on their children. While it is extremely important to consider the impact of divorce on your children, it is helpful to not make them the determining factor. Children can easily be used as scapegoats to help parents avoid looking at all the options, even if those choices do not offer the most ideal consequences. There are many divorced households in which the children actually do better, so staying together for the children is not always the only and best solution. Meeting with a child therapist and reading up on the impact of divorce on children will help you make an educated decision.

Low Self-Esteem
Staying in a marriage because you are afraid there is nothing better out there is an issue of low self-esteem. Not feeling worthy of something better leads people to stay in bad marriages at the expense of their own happiness. Working on building your self-esteem and being clear about your value will help you make a proper decision about staying or leaving. Feeling empowered and complete with yourself is a valuable goal regardless of where you are in life, so use this opportunity for personal growth.

Black-and-White Thinking
Thinking in terms of right and wrong is the most obvious form of black-and-white thinking. It is easy to slip into a moralistic or righteous place after an infidelity, but it’s just a way of coping with the painful truth. Black-and-white thinking is very limiting and can lead to making a decision that is not founded on the whole truth. It is important to approach the decision to divorce with flexibility and openness to all options. Staying in the gray, as opposed to rigidly clinging to the black or white, allows for a more efficient and genuine decision.

Anger, not unlike fear, is not the best state of mind to be in when making a decision about your marital situation. Anger is a defense mechanism we use to gain control in a powerless situation, and it can cause us to make rash decisions that are not based on fact. If you respond to the circumstances of your marital conflict with anger as opposed to a calmness and clarity, you become blind to the possibility of potential solutions or answers. While the anger you feel may be justified and expected, it does not serve you in dealing with this important decision.

Uncertainty breeds the tendency to cling to what we know. When it comes to the unpredictable future that is inherent in divorce, the first instinct is to hold on to the past because it’s familiar. The decision to stay or leave a marriage can be clouded by the unpredictable nature of your future without your partner, but the truth is that your future is unpredictable whether you are married or not. However, it is important to remember that the best predictor of the future is the past, so use your past experiences, successes, and failures to provide you with an accurate assessment of what you are capable of doing going forward. This will help you make a choice that is founded on the realities of who you are.

Deciding to stay in or leave a marriage can be torturous. Often, the heart and mind are conflicting when it comes to marriage and divorce, so it is normal to feel confused and uncertain about what to do. It can also be confounding to make a decision about something that doesn’t appear to have any positive consequences. Consulting a professional, becoming aware of your thinking and feelings, and taking the proper amount of time and space is integral to making the best possible decision for your future.

© Copyright 2010 by Andra Brosh, PhD, therapist in Los Angeles, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Millie Rhodes

    Millie Rhodes

    November 19th, 2012 at 3:47 PM

    It would be really hard for me to stay with someone who thought so little of me that they were inclined to cheat.

  • Toby


    November 19th, 2012 at 3:56 PM

    I’ve even in this situation before. Most often it comes down to whether you can trust the person again and whether your love for them is more than that episode of cheating/affair.

    I agree children can be a big factor but in my case there we’re no children involved but for me the decision was not too hard to make. I chose to move on from the relationship.

  • Troy


    November 20th, 2012 at 6:56 AM

    Im choosing to keep the relationship alive; not because I’m addicted, but because I’m committed. We are all human and I think that’s why the phrase “to be human is to err” exists today.

    What I am more concerned about is not why my partner did what they did, but what I did or didn’t do that caused them to go about making, not a bad decision, but an ill-advised decision.

    In the end, my love and care for her are greater than anything, and I will continue to do so until she lets me know she’s through. We are all individuals who make value based decisions and my value based decision will stand until her value based decision of not continuing stands tall and clear. I hope that day never comes, but in the event that it does, I will be ready to let her be happy.

    I do not feel any sort of incompetence and I am sure that life will continue to provide its good and bad moments. After all, it’s the bad moments in life that make the good seem that much better, no?

  • Lisa


    November 23rd, 2012 at 7:50 PM

    …how good she’s got it!

    If she cheated on you she is a fool but if she doesn’t see the goodness & forgiveness you are showing her, well, then she is an idiot!!! I hope she makes the right decision!

  • kelly


    November 20th, 2012 at 2:28 PM

    I love my husband dearly and there is nothing that can keep me away from him.But if does cheat then that’s a different story.Never let your high levels of interest and self-investment blind you so much that you stay with someone who will obviously not improve.

    If you love your partner a lot and he or she cheats but shows signs of regret and promises improvement then you could think of continuing. But continuing merely because of all the love you have for your partner without him or her showing signs of regret and making up then that’s just a lost cause and you are setting yourself up for further heartbreak in the future.

  • Joy


    December 13th, 2017 at 1:06 AM

    My husband has come clean to me about his affair, but he did not wish to let go of the other woman. Instead, he asked me to accept her. As his is an emotional affair, he hope that both side will work together then he will be happy. He knows that I am hurting but he still go ahead and request for me to let them meet up and stay together. I am very confused as to still stay in the marriage or leave. Although I still love him and he also does not wish to divorce me. I am still considering as I have 2 kids. Dr Brosh, I need your help before I can decide further what I want to do.

  • cely


    November 20th, 2012 at 4:31 PM

    are both parties committed to keeping the relationship alive and determined to make it work?
    because that’s what it will take to get through a betrayal like an affair

  • Rachel


    December 20th, 2012 at 8:36 AM

    My husband cheated on me and said it was because I didn’t lose the baby weight I gained during my pregnancy with our daughter and that I didn’t make him feel wanted (which was because he was Always telling me I was fat). How much responsibility is mine?

  • Dr. Brosh

    Dr. Brosh

    December 20th, 2012 at 10:56 AM

    Hi Rachel – More often then not both partners usually hold some responsibility when a marriage breaks down. Your husbands actions however are not justified by your added baby weight or feeling “unwanted” in the relationship. Even though you might have been able to make a bigger effort in both these areas, it was his responsibility to come to you with his dissatisfaction to try and work on it, and it was also his responsibility to refrain from doing something so incredibly insensitive and cruel to his wife. Learn from what you could have done differently, but don’t blame yourself for what was ultimately his conscious choice.

  • Jescica


    February 1st, 2013 at 9:09 PM

    I cheated two years ago. My husband and I were disconnected and just going through the motions of life with children and a sick relative we cared for at the time. We talked openly about our relationship but as they say ” talk is cheap” and we had been together 14yrs at this point. He had cheated years before but not recently. I didn’t go looking for an affair but starved for attention and affection I found it else where.

    We are still dealing with my cheating two years later, I understand that everyone deals with this at their own pace but he was not as patient with my recovery. I tell myself it has to do with maturity as we were in our 20s for his episode. Now I just feel like its his “out card” because no matter what the arguement is about it ends with I cheated.

    He wont see a councilor I have asked repeatidly. I don’t choose to cut him down with everything hes ever did wrong on a daily basis. Why would he choose to do that to me? Any suggestions?

  • Troy


    February 2nd, 2013 at 1:18 PM

    I’m sorry to hear about your situation, and I hope this will help clear some things up.

    First of all, I believe that even with all of the physical similarities men and women share (i.e brain, arms, legs, eyes, mouth, nose, ear, etc) we are completely different. We see, hear, think, and do things differently. Infidelity may come about because of the same reasons however. I have not cheated on my girl and do not plan to do so, but I do recall thinking about it once. That was when I felt a lack of attention, love, and care just as you described above. But I realized I would not be able to live without this girl.

    Going back to what I was trying to say; even though we (men and women) may chose to cheat for the same reasons, the way we perceive our significant other cheating seems to be radically different. When you see this from the evolutionary psychology point of view, things begin to make sense. Even though we think we are modern and different from humans of the past, it is ingrained in our genetic code that women will continue to look for and choose a mate that will ensure the survival of their offspring, while men are done searching for a mate once they find one they are happy with, generally.

    So basically, when a man cheats but can still show the woman that he is her best bet in both her survival and their offsprings survival, she is okay with it. However, when a woman cheats, men perceive it as a huge event because (whether or not he is aware of this) he is threatened by another male taking his mate away and now he must expend extra energy and time to find another mate who he can trust. Men don’t like to play the game, it’s too intense. Only boys like to play “the game”.

    All in all, don’t worry too much as the only sure fire fix for this problem is time. Therapy wont fix this, it may only make it worse. Try to win his heart back if you are okay with the extra energy input and don’t make a big deal of it is what I would recommend. Lastly, let him know you love him constantly. If you do love him, that is..

    Good luck and remember to stay positive even when you know you can’t stay positive~

  • Andra Brosh

    Andra Brosh

    February 3rd, 2013 at 5:02 PM

    Your comments are very accurate Troy, you offer a really good perspective.

    Jescica, it sounds like your partner has not yet fully dealt with his feelings. When a spouse who has been cheated on cannot begin to let go and heal it usually indicates that they are still in a lot of unacknowledged pain. His harsh words and anger toward you are really just a way for him to not have to feel his own hurt feelings. Whatever you feel from his attacks on you probably reflect his own inner pain. Try and maintain a sense of compassion and hopefully he will come around. Maybe he would be willing to go to his own therapy? He doesn’t sound ready for couples work.

  • Mandy


    April 13th, 2014 at 7:43 PM

    Jescica – If, after two years, your husband has not made any progress toward forgiveness and healing, you may have to make some hard choices. A good therapist can help with affair recovery. (Therapy definitely helped my marriage survive infidelity.) If your husband won’t go, you should go by yourself. It may help you come up with better ways to approach the problem. It may inspire him to come with you at some point. It may help you decide whether or not to stay in the marriage.

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