“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by.”
The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost is one of the most famous poems of all time. It’s often read, referenced, and taught in school and quoted across many publications (now including this one).
It speaks of the author coming to a fork in the road, and having to choose which direction to take.
Marriage is a long and winding road, filled with bumps, potholes, hills and valleys. For most of the trip it can be smooth, but life and love are equally imperfect, so the terrain will eventually offer some obstacles.
One such obstacle–often the biggest obstacle–is infidelity. When a partner cheats, it is crushing in all aspects. It nullifies the vows that were exchanged on the day of the wedding and taints the beauty of the love that was once without blemish.
When infidelity occurs, it is unlike the bump in the road of a fight, or the pothole of money troubles; it presents a fork in the road. It shows us two paths to be taken moving forward, both different than the journey that we’ve endured so far. They both require commitment, but in different directions; hence, the fork.
Stay together and stick it out
One road that is an option is that of loyalty to each other and the relationship. Despite one or both partners unfaithful ways, some may choose to honor the lifelong vows from their wedding day. There is certainly nothing wrong with this approach, but it does come with obstacles of its own. If a couple isn’t careful, no matter how much loyalty is practiced, resentment and distrust will rear their ugly heads.
I would highly recommend seeking a marriage counselor that can be objective and provide guidance separated from the emotions of the marriage. Trying to work on your relationship without help after a bout of infidelity is like an attempt at quitting smoking cold turkey; it’s going to be a long, hard journey filled with temptations and mistakes. Like the smoker who uses the assistance of a nicotine patch or gum, supplement your attempt to fix your marriage with the help of an outside party. A counselor is trained in helping you see the cause of the affair, but also what can be done moving forward. They can give you and your partner things to work on and action steps to heal the wound that infidelity has left. That wound is likely deep and complicated, don’t try to fix it yourself.
This road or path to be taken is one that involves immense commitment to each other and to forgiveness. Once everything is laid on the table, both parties have to work toward forgiveness. If the marriage is going to last after such a traumatic event, it stands no chance to bitterness and resentment. If you find yourself unable to come to terms with what your partner has done, don’t stay in the marriage just because you feel it’s honorable. You will certainly grow old with each other. But the life that you choose to lead with one another will be miserable, filled with cold shoulders and silent treatments. Is that really the way you want to live your life? For contrast, let’s look at the other road you could take once you come to the fork.
Stepping away from the marriage
Some wounds can be healed and some wounds can’t. Ask any doctor or emergency room surgeon and they’ll tell you that there are people that they can save, and some, that despite their efforts, they can’t.
The only difference between a physical wound and an emotional wound is the visibility. If you cut your arm open, you have evidence to show a doctor, and they can then proceed in doing their job accordingly. An emotional wound can’t be seen; it is incognito. You know it’s there, but can’t show it to someone and say “this is what’s wrong, can you fix me?”
If the emotional wound is too deep, stepping away from your marriage may be the only way to heal yourself. Staying with someone who has hurt you in such a traumatic way will only serve as a reminder of that pain.
Could you imagine being physically stabbed by someone, then having to wake up to their face every day? The emotional injury caused by someone’s cheating could hurt just as much, so seeing their face over and over can’t help.
Seeing that person day after day is a reminder of two things; both of them deeply saddening. One is the reminder of what they’ve done to you and your relationship. The other is the reminder of what life was like for the two of you before the infidelity. In their face you still see the glimmer of the person you fell in love with. That, coupled with the evidence of their recent unfaithfulness, is enough to drive you insane.
Sometimes stepping away from that person and your marriage is the best thing you can do for yourself. It will undoubtedly be one of the scariest things you’ve done, but it may be important to your long term emotional health.
Just like if you chose to stick it out with your husband or wife after an affair, seeking a counselor or psychologist is something that you should consider doing. Life is a messy, confusing, massive spread of uncharted territory. A mental health professional is a guide that has learned tools to help you with the journey. Going it alone can be intimidating, but also dangerous. A counselor or psychologist will be able to keep your thought patterns healthy, and your actions positive.
The greatest gift that they can give is perspective to your situation. You’re human, and it is nearly impossible for you to observe your circumstances with detached emotion. Not only can a mental health professional do that for you, but they can teach you how to do it for yourself. You won’t be able to move on and create a healthy relationship with someone else until you can create a healthy relationship with yourself through objective observation.
Whichever road you choose to take, give it your full commitment. Neither path will extend to happiness if you aren’t intentional about continuing in that direction. If you choose to stay, you won’t get very far if you keep thinking about what your life could be like if you had left. If you choose to end the marriage, you won’t be able to create any healthy relationships down this road unless you cut ties with the thought of the other side of the fork.
Infidelity presents this fork in the road and it is for you to choose which path to take. No one knows your relationship like you do, so choose the path best for you and your partner.
Want to have a happier, healthier marriage?
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.