This is a very natural and understandable question. If you have just found out that your spouse has been cheating on you, this may very well be one of thoughts that immediately floods your mind: “Does this mean my marriage is over?” Before we can answer that question, there are many factors which come into play. It is certainly not as simple a question as it appears to be, and there is pretty much a fifty-fifty chance that your answer could be either yes or no. So don’t jump to conclusions too quickly, and don’t despair, because there is always hope.
Now let’s take a look at some of the other questions and aspects to consider when there is sexual infidelity in your marriage.
What kind of affair was it?
By now you may be thinking, “cheating is cheating, it doesn’t matter what kind!” That is very true, but if you think about it, there is a difference between one reckless indiscretion during a business trip away from home, and an affair which has been going on for months or years behind your back. Either way the damage is done. You are left with a deep sense of betrayal and trust has been broken. You may well wonder whether you will ever be able to trust your spouse again.
Do you know the cheating partner?
This is another question which will have some effect on the way you feel about the sexual infidelity in your marriage. If you find out that your spouse has been carrying on with someone you know or even your best friend or sibling, it will probably impact you as a double betrayal on both levels. On the other hand, if the affair is with some person you have never met, it may be slightly less hurtful.
How did you find out?
Did your spouse come to you and confess his or her infidelity with remorse, asking your forgiveness? Or did you catch him or her in the act? Or did you suspect something for a long time and finally you got some irrefutable proof? Maybe you got an anonymous call, or you heard from a neighbour or friend. Perhaps you received a call from the police after your spouse had been arrested with a prostitute. You may have even received the dreaded news from your doctor that you have an STD and you know that you have been faithful to your spouse. However you found out about the sexual infidelity in your marriage, it will affect the way you are able to process the news.
How is your spouse responding?
As soon as your spouse knows that you know about the cheating, their reaction will be very telling and instrumental as to the way forward for you both. Is he or she denying, minimizing and making excuses for the affair, saying it wasn’t anything serious, and you are overreacting? Or is he or she openly admitting that it happened, that it was wrong, and promising you that it is over and it will not happen again? Of course there are many variations along this spectrum, but certainly the way your spouse responds will give you some indication as to whether you can continue in the relationship.
Has this happened to you before?
If you have experienced betrayal in a close relationship before, your painful reaction to this new trauma may be compounded. Perhaps you were abused or neglected in your childhood, or by former lovers. These past traumas would probably have compromised your sense of safety in close relationships and now that it’s happening again you may find it very hurtful and difficult to digest.
Are you and your spouse able to move forward together?
After you have processed the initial shock of learning about the fact that there has been sexual infidelity in your marriage, now you and your spouse need to think and talk about this question; “Are we able to move forward together?” Before you can answer that question though, here are a few pointers to help you think through this difficult decision:
- The affair must be ended: If you want to stay together, the affair must stop, outright, cold turkey, immediately. If the erring spouse is hesitating and still wants to keep the back door open, then your marriage relationship is not going to be restored.
- A re-commitment must be made: The partner who was unfaithful needs to be willing to make a commitment and promise than an affair will not happen again.
- A lot of patience will be needed: If you decide to stay together you must both realize that it will be a long and difficult road to restoration. You will need to be patient with one another. The spouse who cheated needs to be willing to give the betrayed spouse all the details and time they need in order to get over the facts. It’s no use saying “that’s in the past, let’s put it behind us already” when your spouse is still hurting and needs more time to process and talk before healing can take place.
- Accountability is essential: The one who strayed needs to be willing to be accountable for their movements at all times, even if it feels unreasonable. That will show that they are repentant and want to change.
- Underlying issues should be addressed: The one who cheated needs to recognize the issues or tendencies that may have caused the infidelity, so that those things can be addressed and avoided in future. Even the one who was betrayed can ask what they may have done to contribute to the situation. It can be very helpful and is in fact recommended to consult a marriage counsellor or therapist who can help you both to overcome the effects of the infidelity.
All in all, sexual infidelity does not automatically mean that your marriage is over. There are many couples who can testify that they have been able to restore their relationship to an even better and deeper level than it was before the affair.