According to several studies, between 20 percent and 70 percent of people have cheated on their spouse. There are many sources explaining the reasons for these indiscretions, as well as tips to help a relationship survive an affair. Knowledge about the many dimensions of infidelity can help empower you to have the kind of marriage you desire after one spouse has cheated. Some things to consider are the reasons people cheat, who they cheat with and the nature of the affair. Is it emotional, physical, or a combination of the two?
People cheat for a multitude of reasons such as sexual dissatisfaction, but the primary reason cited by both men and women is actually emotional dissatisfaction. Men and women often identify emotionally based reasons, such as "not feeling desired or appreciated," "a lack of communication," or "differing values." Nonetheless, if you are one of the husbands or wives who have been cheated on, here are some important concerns to reflect on before reconciling.
1. Does your spouse have a parent and/or close friends who have cheated?
If the answer is yes, do not underestimate how this influences your spouse. A message can get internalized that cheating is acceptable or just a part of "everyday life." You also want to watch for your partner spending time, especially nights out, with known cheaters. It would not be a good idea to try to entirely control your spouse, but he or she should be responsive to your concerns. If this behavior continues, a cheater will be at risk for ongoing improprieties.
2. Is your spouse good at compartmentalizing?
"Compartmentalization" is a defense mechanism that people use to separate internally conflicting thoughts from one another. People generally have a tendency to compartmentalize parts of their lives so they can better control them and cope with life's stressors. For example, we may act a certain way at our jobs, another way with friends and yet a different way with family. If your spouse tends to compartmentalize, this could be a serious red flag. Many successful people use compartmentalization to get ahead, but unfortunately, sociopaths are also known to be exceptionally good at compartmentalizing! This is not to say that your spouse is a sociopath. However, you need to understand what mechanisms allow someone to have sex with their co-worker on a desk at the office, then sit with you at the dinner table and act as if everything is perfectly normal.
3. Do they exhibit enough guilt and genuine remorse for the affair?
From what I have seen in my practice, treating many couples over many years, I believe most cheaters really do feel guilty and remorseful about their affairs. However, this will not necessarily stop the cheating behavior. Some people do not feel the least bit regretful. Some may see the affair as the justifiable ramifications of a bad marriage. If your partner falls in the "not feeling remorseful" category, taking him or her back is ill-advised. The cheater must see their fault or this person will never be able to connect with you emotionally and honestly. Even with a "bad marriage," the accountability was still on your partner to problem solve appropriately (e.g., seek therapy, talk to clergy, etc.). You should also hear the person verbalize sincere, genuine and copious apologies.
4. Are you completely certain that the affair is over?
If your spouse remains involved with the other person on any level, then it is not completely over and you will never be able to move forward. There cannot be any contact. No Facebook friendship, no texts, no phone calls, no working together, no anything. Your spouse should be able to prove this to you beyond any doubt by being utterly transparent.
5. When you should never take back a cheater.
In some cases, it is not advisable to take back a cheater. If you are not married and do not have children together, it may be best to go your separate ways after an affair. In addition, be warned that some people will continue to cheat whether or not they are satisfied with their marriage. If it is the case, such a person is likely unable to stay faithful. If possible, it is also imperative to find out if the cheating is a onetime affair or a pattern of multiple affairs. If you married a serial cheater, you should throw in the towel.
It is possible to rebound from an affair and have a happy marriage. If you are able to clearly sift though the concerns listed and decide to work it out, it is highly suggested that you pursue therapy together in order to work though the unfaithfulness. The goals of therapy should be to work on forgiveness, re-build trust and create a strong emotional connection. Also, each person should be able to discuss their thoughts and feelings clearly and openly in regards to the transgression. If you do decide to take back a spouse after an affair, you must make a conscious decision to move forward and not remain stuck in that space between being bitter and forgiving. Only then can your marriage recover from infidelity.
Have you experienced infidelity? Marni Feuerman is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist ready to help you deal with tough relationship issues.
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