Why Some People Stay In Relationships After Betrayal...And Why Others Leave

Should you stay or leave after trauma from a betrayal leaves you heartbroken?

Why Betrayal Trauma Can Make Surviving Infidelity By A Cheating Spouse More Difficult getty

Surviving infidelity becomes even harder and more heartbreaking when your cheating spouse's actions left you with betrayal trauma.

Almost daily, I'm asked the question from betrayed partners:

  • "If I stay am I an idiot?"
  • "What will others think if I stay?
  • "I've heard from my family that I’m a martyr if I stay, is that true?"
  • "Is staying the new shame?"

My answer is typically the same for all of them: One needs to assess each situation independent of someone else’s because not all relationships and the betrayals that accompany them are created equal.


RELATED: How To Know If You're Suffering From 'Betrayal Trauma' After Being Cheated On

Every day, there is some form of betrayal of intimacy.

An emotional affair by the water cooler. A secret life on a cheating app. A happy ending or full-on sex worker. Repetitive interludes in secret hideaways. And so much more.


And every day, there are partners whose experience with the discovery of an affair is marked by chaos and broken bonds. And every day, there are those asking, "Should I stay or should I go?"

Betrayal bonds are fragile, so fracturable that when boundaries are crossed by their partner they often can’t repair. There are moments — multiple moments, in fact — of severe trauma.

Not just the moment of discovery of the infidelity, which often entails images (sometimes vivid) that are impossible to shake, but the trauma of disclosure (often staggered disclosure) that occurs over and over and almost daily for some.

There is also trauma to the body, often experienced in sexually transmitted disease or simply testing for such, family and community trauma. The relational trauma and attachment injuries threaten the safety and security of that prior attachment bond.


With multiple breaches on a multitude of levels, healing and affair recovery requires navigation through a multiplex of wounds, often leaving scars even with the repair.

Navigating the waters of deception with a cheating spouse — often a dumping ground of muck — is a challenge. In fact, working with these couples and individuals on both sides (the betrayer and the betrayed) is humbling.

I honor them all to look into their own reflection and face their pain and shame. Most of all, I post tributes to those who go the distance and make changes in their lives.

The crisis is a mere warning sign, an emphatic announcement that something has gone awry and a screaming message that something equivalent to a revolution is in order.


Within this journey is the aspect of commitment. That is: "Am I going to continue the way I am or am I going to be different? Are we going to remain as we were or are we going to create a new relationship?"

The first step to affair recovery from betrayal trauma after infidelity is realizing that all of this takes work — a lot of work.

It demands an immeasurable effort to navigate the initial crisis, and it takes endurance to maneuver and steer through the entanglement of emotions that accompany the experience.

It’s a big job. But, mostly, it takes courage to face your partner and plot out a course that involves repair, reconciliation, and commitment. It requires the ability to rebuild those bonds of trust and security.


If you and your cheating spouse are willing to do the work, then do it. This requires a mutual establishment of the boundaries and a recovery plan for each individual, the couple, and the family.

If the cheater doesn't say, "I’ll do whatever I need to do to work through all of this and repair", then perhaps that’s not a good enough reason for you to stay.

If they don't commit and follow through with their ever-changing program, then that may not be good enough either. If they are not willing to do what it takes to examine themselves, then staying can be the shame.

But if they are willing to step forward, no matter how mucky those waters, then jump into the trench and work it out.


Divorce isn’t always an immediate solution. Sometimes a therapeutic separation is in order.

RELATED: How To Know If Your Relationship Can Survive After Cheating

When my client Jan attended my group for betrayed partners, her husband was on his third affair. And for each one, she took him back, as is. And for each one, there was little work and, hence, insignificant change.


For him to recognize that the risk was high, it was Jan who needed to change the dance. It was Jan who needed to make a shift because without her detachment from his chaos, there was no incentive for him to do anything differently. She chose a 6-month therapeutic separation which, for him, was more chaos but began the path to healing.

For my other client Gwen, there was even greater chaos. Her husband's name was on the infamous Ashley Madison roster for all to see (who could, in fact, navigate the access) and a list that read like a calling card. Public shame and humiliation were enough to get Gwen, who was passive in her former life, to get strong, step forward and create boundaries within the context of a path to repair. Although non-linear, the change was significant for both of them and allowed for the creation of new healthy bonds.

Another client, Mike, was less fortunate since with Jim, there was not the only termination of the acting out but recognition by Jim that the relationship, without the transgressions, was unappealing. Once Jim turned back to Mike, he recognized failings that, unfortunately, Mike was unwilling to repair such as Mike’s capacity for respect, growth, healthy boundaries and honor to Jim.

It’s not just the perpetrator that has to do the work but the partner as well. Help is available.


RELATED: 5 Tips For Surviving Infidelity When Moving On Is Just Way Too Hard

Dr. Barbara Winter, Ph.D., holds a doctorate degree in clinical psychology. To learn more about her group for betrayed partners, visit her website.