Could Your Marriage Survive an Affair?

Close Up Of Couple Holding HandsI never thought of myself as someone who could survive an affair. Like most folks, I’ve thought, “We’d be done, there’s no way I could ever get over it.” I convinced myself.

Over time, my views have changed.

As far as I know, over our 20 years together my spouse and I have remained faithful to each other. I have no reasons to doubt this. You might think that for these very reasons, time and complete faith, an affair discovery would shatter us. But I’ve seen similar couples become remarkably closer after an affair. I’ve seen them in wicked pain at the onset of their healing. I’ve seen deep remorse and regret on the part of the offending partner. But somehow, they both fought for their marriage, despite their shared agony.

These couples have restored my faith in my own ability to survive such an event. Are they the majority? No. They are the few. What is it about these couples? What did they do to heal? How did they reach a deeper level of intimacy and faith?

Initially, most betrayed partners go into shock, anger, and even rage. The very foundation of everything they thought was solid, whole, and true cracks to the core. The offending partner often feels a confusing mix of fear, embarrassment, shame, and relief. For those involved in long-term affairs, the relief stems from their need to stop leading a double life. Most do not feel good about having the affair but also do not know how to stop it.

For the vast majority of married couples, neither includes “and I plan to cheat on my spouse and have an affair” in their wedding vows. The reality is that a married union comprises two imperfect human beings who are vulnerable to all types of mistakes. No one, no matter how perfect he or she may seem, is immune to affair potential. No one.

  • Couples who thrived post-affair came to terms with this reality. They recognized the frailty of their marriage, their human capacity for betrayal, as well as their extraordinary resilience.

These couples also protected their privacy. Understandably, the betrayed partner could easily trash the other partner to family and friends via a verbal smear campaign. A sense of powerlessness in not knowing about the affair could give rise to power seeking through anger and revenge. Unfortunately, this act can create extreme complications for repair. The involved partner might feel overexposed and further shamed. Family and friends may never again embrace them, even if the betrayed partner has a change of heart.

  • Couples who thrived post-affair treated their privacy with care. They confided only in individuals who would respect their final decisions.

The offending partner also recognized the necessity to stay present and bear witness to unbearable pains he or she has caused. He or she learned that in order to rebuild faith, he/she must repeatedly hold space for the betrayed partner to feel fully. Repetition was key here and extraordinarily difficult.

  • Couples who thrived post-affair understood that the only way to heal their pain was to move through it. The offending partner found the courage to face the pains he or she caused, with compassion and authenticity.

The offending partner accepted that forgiveness was earned through repetition and accountability. However, the success of forgiveness requires the betrayed partner to also open his or her heart, recognize the partner’s attempts at repair, and give him or her a chance to earn forgiveness. If both sides are not working on their respective parts, the process fails.

  • Couples who thrived post-affair understood that forgiveness involved both partners—one who sought to earn it and one who sought to offer it.

As an intimate witness, I’ve seen couples come out on both sides of the spectrum. My heart aches when I see couples struggle hard, only to lose the battle toward repair. There are so many complex reasons, beyond the scope of this blog, as to why most couples choose divorce post-affair.

Affair potentials do not discriminate. My marriage is no different than yours in this regard. I love my spouse deeply, therefore I am vulnerable to hurt. Should I ever experience this heartache in my life, I’d hope that I could enact what I’ve learned from “the few.” I’d hope that through the denial, shock, and anger, I would find the ground that my highest self would want to stand on. I firmly believe that from this solid place, healing is possible.

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  • 23 comments
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  • cassie

    cassie

    November 10th, 2014 at 6:35 AM

    who wants to spend the rest of their lives always worried it will happen again??

  • Trace

    Trace

    November 10th, 2014 at 8:17 AM

    I am not sure.
    I guess we are never really sure of anything until we find ourselves in that situation.
    I would like to think that I could look for the good in a situation and then find some way to grow and to learn from it.
    But I admit that I am not sure that I could ever get over the pain and anger that something like this is sure to cause.

  • Matt

    Matt

    November 10th, 2014 at 8:40 PM

    I read the title and thought if no never! but having read the article and having given it a thought-yes, if I am just as susceptible to an affair and if my wife does it then it is something of a logical thing on my part to work pn it,put in some effort and ultimately try my best to forgive her.relationships would end at the drop of a hat if we didnt continuously work on them anyway!

  • Jeff

    Jeff

    November 11th, 2014 at 3:45 AM

    Not that I would necessarily recommend this, but my marriage is better now than ever and I am the one who went out searching for something else. I didn’t realize all of this at the time but there were things that I was still looking for in my self when I got married and when getting married did not help me find it then I guess I tried to seek it out elsewhere. We have had a lot of counseling and a lot of prayers but I strongly believe that we can hold this together.

  • pete w.

    pete w.

    November 11th, 2014 at 10:42 AM

    I guess that one thing you need to ask is do you really want it to survive action like this? Is this the kind of marriage that you really want to have to fight to save?

  • Carolynn Aristone, MSW, LCSW

    Carolynn Aristone, MSW, LCSW

    November 11th, 2014 at 11:46 AM

    Affairs are never easy to recover from, ever. It takes an extraordinary amount of work and commitment. Jeff, you and your spouse are within “the few”. As a therapist and as a married person, your examples inspire me to have faith that couples can get through this crisis.

  • BJ

    BJ

    November 11th, 2014 at 3:58 PM

    This would be a tough one because while I am all for the better or for worse, this one might hit me a little harder than some of the other for worse scenarios that I have thought about.
    There are so many things that you can do as a couple to prevent this from ever even happening, but then again there are multiple choices that you can make too that could very easily lead you down this path.
    It is easy to stand back at look at this from the outside and profess to know what I would or would not do but I think that until you have been in those shoes you really don’t know what those actions may actually be.

  • marley

    marley

    November 12th, 2014 at 1:57 PM

    There are marriages that can make it through this although I am never quite sure how you ever get those images out of your head of your husband being with someone else.

  • stella

    stella

    November 14th, 2014 at 3:50 AM

    There are a lot of things in life that you question whether you could do with this or live with that, but the hard truth is that none of us really know how we would react or what we will do until the time comes and we are put into that position where we have to face it. I don’t think that by any stretch it would be easy to work through one partner or the other having an affair, because this has to be one of the most painful things that you could ever inflict on this person that you promised to love for better or for worse. But there will come a time where you may have to look at them and know that they did this and then decide if this is enough to make you want to walk away from all of the shared history and intimacy that the two of you have had together over the years.

  • Sammy

    Sammy

    November 14th, 2014 at 1:24 PM

    Huge difference when you’re the one who “went looking.” You’ll truly never know what it’s like, never…

  • leo

    leo

    November 16th, 2014 at 8:54 AM

    Every marriage will have its own set of ups and downs and each one will be different in terms of what it can endure and what will be the kiss of death. Would an affair be that for me or for my wife? I am not sure, and thankful that we have not ever bee in that situation but I can tell you this. If she came home and said that she had done that or if I was the one who did you have to know immediately that there was a problem that could not be ignored unless you want your marriage to sink in an instant.

  • Greg

    Greg

    November 17th, 2014 at 10:46 AM

    I somehow survived two of my wife’s affairs over a 10 year period with the same man. The first one she never acknowledged…after the second one, she acknowledged the first one. Had I known for sure about the first time…well…my sons were young and I gave her the benefit of doubt that she was being honest. Ten years later….this person calls her up and they rekindle what happened ten years earlier. Perfect timing I guess, our home had been flooded six months earlier, I started a business, her job was killing her. Perfect storm. Just built a new home…separated…then I found out 5 months later by accident. Counseling wasn’t working, she wrote me pages and pages of how I was a bad father, husband, etc. I read them in shock…yeah, everyone marriage has its rough times, but our good times out numbered the bad. When I found out the truth..and believe me, I had been lied to so many times I began to think she was a pathological liar. It was only then that I found myself to be the one in control….not emotionally ( I was a wreck) but in control of whether to divorce her or not. I opted not to. She was contrite and acknowledged the damage she had done. She realized the other man was not the answer after all. Unfortunately, this time around we could not keep this private. My teenage sons now knew..Her parents knew because of her taking things to them for safe keeping…after portraying me as being unstable..even the counselor told her he did not see me to me to be a person to resort to violence…I never touched her in a mean manner, ever. It took about three years for me to start to really mend. Counseling, church counseling, etc. None of that really helped. After that incident I told her…if I ever suspected her of cheating again she would find all of her belongings in the front yard and street. I did not want another man raising my sons. It has taken time but she has not given me reason to not trust her. We have actually grown closer…I do have occasional thoughts, very infrequent, of what happened and with whom it was with. The memories will always be there but her actions toward making things right have made the difference. I will warn you…if they are not contrite and are not making efforts to reassure you that it is you and no other…you better walk away. If they cannot grasp the devastation they have caused you better walk away…if they tell you…Deal with It…you better walk away…I always loved my wife…and I know she loved me….unfortunately..she chose to find security where it was false security wrapped up in lies. Few people end up marrying those they cheated with….and many express regret for what they ended.

  • Sara

    Sara

    November 23rd, 2014 at 6:14 AM

    After over 30 years of marriage my husband had an affair with a women our son’s age. The was married with small children. As far as I know, it lasted a few months although it was in the works for several more. My husband destroyed me to anyone who would listen. The things he said to me will haunt me forever. When it ended, he would chastise me anytime I brought the subject up for a talk. Why do you have to bring this up now? It was never a good time. I gave him every opportunity to talk about what he was going through, to try and understand. He blamed me for not letting it go. After 2 years of no contact, he called her again. She hung up on him. He said that was his wake up call. I realized, at that point, everything had left me. It has been years, and I am still numb. I have never gotten the apology I needed. Never any expression of regret and certainly no shame. At this point in my life, near retirement, what I need most in my life is financial security. So I am still here. His actions have changed, controlled, I would say. But on occasion, his anger lets loose to what he still holds inside. He told me once that if she did not have young children, he would not be here. He didn’t want to be alone, and lonely, so he didn’t leave me. Anyone who knows us would assume all is fine. I believe even my husband does. He won’t ask otherwise. We do a lot together. But there is no emotional intimacy. He used to be the best friend I could ever hope for. Now, I get my strength from some dear friends I have made. They keep me going. Otherwise, I would be a completely empty shell.

  • Greg

    Greg

    November 25th, 2014 at 3:13 PM

    Sara,
    He obviously has no remorse. I thought my wife and I were best friends also….turns out she had another “soul mate”. She eventually found he was unstable when he called her 20 times a day. I would suggest you look at your finances. Have you ever worked? What is your estate value. You will at least get half of what both of you own. Not knowing your age…I would say you still have a lot of life to live. Do things for yourself…be it working out, exercising, seeing your friends. Once you have figured out that you can live without him, I would say dump him. I am sure being served with divorce papers will give him the jolt he deserves and needs. he will have 24 hours to get his stuff out of the house and find a place to live. He has already said things he can’t take back. If you had read most post above….if the guilty person has no remorse you are better off without them.

  • Sara

    Sara

    November 25th, 2014 at 7:08 PM

    I am so confused. And I feel so weak.

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

    November 26th, 2014 at 10:45 AM

    Hi Sara,

    If you would like to consult with a mental health professional, please feel free to return to our homepage, https://www.goodtherapy.org/, and enter your zip code into the search field to find therapists in your area. If you’re looking for a counselor that practices a specific type of therapy, or who deals with specific concerns, you can make an advanced search by clicking here: https://www.goodtherapy.org/advanced-search.html

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  • Strad M

    Strad M

    November 26th, 2014 at 12:20 AM

    The question is the wrong one to ask. People survive falls, automobile crashes, and fires, and they are maimed for life, endure lives of agony, and perhaps, if asked would have chosen death than being on a ventilator for life or so maimed they fear to go outdoors.

    A better question is, “If we can get past the pain and challenge of the dissolution of the marriage, would we want to save the marriage if we had reason to believe life after it would be more satisfying?”

    The sanctity of marriage has become a farce. One out of seven married people have settled for someone they confess is not the love of their life and almost half of all married people have admitted they would leave their marriages for someone they considered the love of their life.

    It would seem clear, then, that for millions and millions marriage is an obscene facade, a compromise. How many married people would consider divorce or their marriages would be irreversibly damaged if they were to confess to their spouses, “If I was to meet and fall in love with someone who I believed was the love of my life, I would divorce you?”

  • Greg

    Greg

    November 26th, 2014 at 9:50 AM

    @ Strad. I agree with most of what you are saying. Marriage is often just a convenience. Are we really meant to be monogamous? Will there not be times in our lives that we find another that we are smitten with and think that they are our true soul mate? Or to finally go through the period of high endorphins and to come to the realization that the grass was not greener on the other side. Everyone carries baggage. If they leave one relationship they will carry that baggage on to the next one. I cringe at people’s 2nd or 3rd. marriages and hear the part of the vow that says till death do us part….bottom line..I believe if a spouse said to another that they would not be here if situation with another person was different..well..that would be the beginning of the end. If my spouse told me that I would ask her…why wait…I will be happy to accommodate you right now…go and find Mr. Right….and after that you would never see me in front of an altar of Judge saying “I do”. Nor would I ever take her back again.

  • Carolynn Aristone (AUTHOR)

    Carolynn Aristone (AUTHOR)

    November 26th, 2014 at 7:08 PM

    Dear Readers,

    Your points are all valuable and thought-provoking. When it comes to infidelity, there are no clear, easy answers. The recovery process is not clean, neat, linear or black and white. The pain of an affair may be forgiven but is never forgotten. The hope during the recovery process is that the pain recedes to the background as you both jointly rebuild trust, friendship and intimacy. Thank you for reading and considering this article.

  • Natasha

    Natasha

    March 26th, 2016 at 12:11 PM

    I resent this article so much that I would rip it up if it were actual paper. I am so tired of people who have never been through infidelity elevating “the few” couples who stayed married as the strong, wise “highest selves.” Carolynn you are perpetuating a misconception that keeps some people victimized, deceived, and emotionally ruined by unsafe people. Articles on infidelity need balance: sometimes finding your highest self means staying with a repentant cheater, but sometimes finding your highest self means having the guts to walk away. EVERY situation is different. Reconciliation is always possible but it should NOT be held up as the best prize. you only have control of yourself, not the other person. Do NOT feel like second place if reconciliation doesn’t happen. Many spouses try and forgive and try and forgive and the end result is only misery. At that point don’t let articles like this guilt you into staying. Find YOUR highest self and break away from the crazy cycle. That takes tremendous courage!!!!!

  • Louise

    Louise

    March 26th, 2016 at 3:46 PM

    I second everything Natasha said. Sometimes you divorce- not because you don’t love your partner but – because you love yourself more. Why would anyone want to be committed to a partner who can lie to them, cause them emotional pain, and put their mental and physical health at risk in pursuit of some temporary pleasure? There is nothing wrong with loving yourself too much to endure such callous disregard to your emotional, psychological and physical safety. Staying with a cheating partner is no more noble than staying with an abusive one.

    If you are reading this and it resonates with you maybe it’s time for you to leave. You did not deserve to be treated that way no matter what society says. You can not control your partners actions only your own. Do what you must to keep yourself safe. You are not alone.

  • Carolynn Aristone

    Carolynn Aristone

    April 12th, 2016 at 10:53 AM

    I’m glad that my article generates dialogue that reflects various points of view. Clearly this is a highly sensitive subject that can illicit strong responses. Not all marriages can weather an affair. Sometimes, the best decision for one or both partners is to separate and yes, that can absolutely be the decision that honors the self. My emphasis in this article and the mind-shift that I’ve made in my own marriage is simply in the idea that repair is actually possible (not probable but possible). As Esther Perel has said, years ago divorce was the shame that plagued couples. Now, staying in your marriage after an affair is “the new shame”. My hope is to remove the shame for couples who want to create healthy, post-affair marriages and publish articles that not only offer hope to couples, but includes key principles that support a repair journey. Keep in mind that if someone is being victimized, deceived or is unsafe, then at least one partner is not doing the true work of affair recovery and not following the principles in my article (which are not all-inclusive). In those cases, departure is the best answer.

  • Paul

    Paul

    April 30th, 2016 at 8:29 PM

    Our marriage did survive an affair when my wife left me with a daughter entering H.S. and a second in grade 7. After about two months in Colorado and Texas she returned due to the fact her partner had PTSD and frightened her.
    I actually lifted her and spun around in the airport after arranging a flight home one day after she told me she had to return. I looked forward to our marriage continuing, mending, and growing stronger.
    All went well until she left me permanently, after 34 years together, for the 2nd man I knew of that she cheated with, was engaged to him four months after our divorce 5 years ago and married him 4 months after the engagement. Sometimes things work out and sometimes they don’t I keep a fortune slip from a Chinese restaurant that states, “There is nothing rational or logical about romantic relationships.” I think I do believe this now and work to better my understanding of myself as a single man and father of 2 wonderful young ladies and grandfather of 2 sweet girls. Thank you…Paul

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