If your world has been thrown off its axis by an affair, you may wonder which marriages survive infidelity.
You may wonder how it’s even possible to survive such a gutting of the intrinsic trust in a marriage. And your doubt wouldn’t be unfounded. After all, nothing more completely undermines the most foundational premise of marriage than infidelity.
When your life has been turned inside out by betrayal, it’s only natural to feel confused, ungrounded, and unsure of your future. And that’s true for both the betrayed and the partner who strayed.
If you aren’t ready to sign divorce papers, knowing which marriages survive infidelity can help you assess the prognosis for your own marriage.
Simply knowing that marriages do survive infidelity and even come out stronger than ever can be a ray of hope.
Dr. Joe Kort, Ph.D. believes that the frequency of infidelity is actually much higher than the numbers often cited. He also says that infidelity is the number-one reason people come to him for therapy. In his experience, these clients genuinely want to work through the trauma of infidelity and come out the other end together.
And he would be the first to say that, when these couples do reach the other side, their marriage is stronger than before the affair.
That may sound all well and good in the land of fairy tales. But if you’re in the throes of emotional trauma from an affair, you may not have the stomach for such in-a-nutshell positivity. You understandably want answers. You want to know which marriages survive infidelity. And you want to know if and how yours will be one of them.
Infidelity expert Dr. Shirley Glass emphasizes three qualities that are the strongest determiners of which marriages survive infidelity.
1. Empathy from the unfaithful partner.
Is the unfaithful partner able to be empathetic when the partner that s/he betrayed comes unglued emotionally? Can the unfaithful partner step into the woundedness of the betrayed and bear compassionate witness to the pain s/he caused? And how does the unfaithful partner express that empathy?
It sounds like a no-brainer to expect a cheating spouse who wants to repair the marriage to tolerate the emotions of the one betrayed. But even the offending partner can have a breaking point. It takes a firmly staked commitment to healing the marriage to remain empathetic, especially if your spouse wants you to suffer.
Even the most mutually resolved marriages will experience their share of unpredictable emotions, crying, obsessing, hypervigilance and flashbacks. The unfaithful partner has to exhibit tireless empathy while also not playing into a perpetrator-victim dynamic.
2. Acceptance of responsibility by the unfaithful partner.
How much responsibility does the unfaithful partner accept for the choice s/he made?
There are multiple and mutual areas of responsibility that will have to be accepted and dealt with if the marriage is going to survive. What is unequivocally imperative, however, is that the unfaithful partner accepts full responsibility for the choice to have an affair.
Problems that existed in the marriage prior to the affair matter and must be remedied. But they don’t absolve a spouse of cheating as a way of dealing with or avoiding them.
There is no room for blaming the betrayed spouse for the affair. S/he may have accountability for behaviors and actions that weren’t in the marriage’s best interest. But s/he did not cause the affair to happen.
3. Positive degree of understanding of vulnerabilities that made the affair possible.
This component of healing is a great predictor of which marriages survive infidelity. It means that both partners are willing to examine where they left their marriage vulnerable and exposed.
Consider a house that isn’t properly sealed. A roof tile is loose. There are cracks around the windows. Small holes punctuate the foundation. Now think about what can get in when the weather gets bad or a critter gets curious.
Affairs happen in the context of opportunity. And the office is the most common breeding ground. Think about it. You show up in the morning showered, nicely dressed, ready to take on the world and reel in the profits. You’re focused, cooperative, and on your best behavior.