Many marriages are under threat because of infidelity. There is an urgent need for couples to find effective ways to grapple with the underlying causes of marital unfaithfulness, as well as complexities such as whether the guilty party should confess infidelity, the aftermath of an affair and its effects on the couple’s sex life.
In our shrinking morals and society values, infidelity is quite common and causing many heartaches and breakups in relationships. While a one-night stand, so common among married couples, may bring in the thrill to the one indulging in it, it could and does cause untold suffering from guilt to disease and a myriad of other marital problems.
If a person really loves their partner but still ends up in a one-night situation, the guilt that comes with it can be killing. Psychologists argue that adultery is a forgivable sin and perhaps telling your spouse is the best way to save your marriage. Many men and women are ready to forgive a cheating partner, as long as they confess and stop it and never repeat it. When you engage in extramarital affairs, what it simply means is that instead of building a trusting and faithful sexual relationship with your spouse, you have sex with secret lovers or complete strangers, thus diluting the marital experience.
What you try to avoid by not telling your spouse is the inconvenience of their reaction and not breaking the marriage. You are also trying to avoid hurting your spouse or disappointing them and so you keep it a secret. But when you keep a secret from your spouse, you not only hurt them but hurt yourself as well. Because you are living a lie, you will also be living a lie when you make love with your spouse and this is likely to have negative repercussions.
If you had a one-night stand and you regret it and are committed not to repeating it, and you know your partner is not one who will take it kindly to being lied to, as he or she is committed to being totally honest with you, it is best that you don’t live under the illusion of not wanting to hurt their feelings because by not telling, you have already hurt them. Also remember, you may not be able to keep the secret for long as your secret lovers could talk or your obvious guilt may give you away.
An aspect of telling the truth is that it opens up a new level of intimacy. Passion for the marriage can be rediscovered once the shock and trauma of you cheating on your spouse and your spouse being cheated on are resolved. When a couple has matured enough to be able to discuss something uncomfortable such as infidelity, it can actually become the aphrodisiac that revives the passion in their marriage and makes it possible for both to discuss why one was tempted into an affair. Could there have been something lacking in the relationship?
When both people realize they have been conspiring by not acknowledging problems in their marriage or unconsciously choosing not to address them when they are aware, finally being honest can help bridge the gap and bring new meaning to the relationship. It’s a way of both parties taking responsibility rather than letting one partner, the one who had an affair, be the bad guy. When you can see the affair was a symptom and that being able to discuss it is a gateway to being real with one another, you are inventing the kind of relationship that is deeply satisfying to both of you. People can become addicted to lying and remember, once you tell one lie, you must tell many more to cover the first lie. As the good book tells us: “truth sets you free.”
When you have an affair and you keep it secret, the chance that you will repeat this pattern and cheat again is much higher than when you talk about it. The chance for saving the marriage and for fixing cracks that are leading you to this behavior is better when you own up than when your spouse discovers you have been cheating. Sometimes an affair signals a cry for help in your sex life and you will get help if you talk about it. But you should never tell your spouse about an affair if you want to tell to get it off your chest in an effort to feel better. You should only tell if you genuinely want the mistake to be the thing that will mend your sexual relationship.
But you must choose carefully when to tell and the words to use. If your spouse is a grudge holder or is going through a traumatic time such as death of a parent or issues at work, it is perhaps not the right time to tell. You also need to address yourself and find out why you had sex outside your marriage. Don’t tell yourself, “Oh, a one-night stand is no big deal” because this is giving yourself a license to do it again. A one-night stand is always a big deal. It’s a disease for which you will need a cure. You may be craving for connection or are simply thrill seeking, which you can do inside marriage. A one-night stand is tantamount to self-medication, yet the real cure lies with your spouse. You need to address your behavior and to address it fully and for you to do this your spouse needs to be involved.
If you treat your behavior as a disease and own up, you will discover that confession is good for your soul and ultimately good for the relationship. But this benefit may not be immediate; it will depend on your actions after the confession. Withholding of information is typically due to not wanting to face the pain and wrath of the betrayed partner. The act of confession matters more than the act to which one is confessing. Secrets such as infidelity do eat away at an intimate connection, and the giving up of confidences can provide an opening. While a one-night stand may seem more a misstep than an ongoing affair, you should remember that it is as potentially damaging to the marriage.
It is important to address the steps between confession and its role in the creation of better intimacy. The immediate aftermath will be brutally raw and totally heartbreaking. There is much to be aired, discussed and explained and this is not easy. The person who has committed infidelity must be prepared to be as patient as possible with her partner’s lack of trust, anger, and deep-seated pain. Although the betrayed partner may ultimately want to repair the marriage, it is best to wait until after the initial shock subsides. This will allow him or her to be self-reflective rather than self-righteous and not have punishment for the cheating partner as the aim. The goal is accountability and repairing of the relationship and both parties should seek outside support from friends and/or therapy to help them deal with their feelings and ultimately open the door to forgiveness.
Seeking forgiveness and forgiving after an affair…
To be human is to be flawed. Two flawed humans coming together to create a life do not automatically make them perfect beings. They will make mistakes. A one-night stand is a big one but it doesn’t mean the perpetrator of this marital “felony” is evil – just foundering. Remember this is a forgivable sin. It is what the cheater does post mistake that counts. Everyone deserves a second chance. A third? Well, that might be more problematic.
Dealing with a one-night stand is the easier part. It is more difficult to handle if your partner is cheating you in a standing affair. There are many reasons that couples drift into affairs and some of it may have to do with the intimacy of the relationship. Quite often, married couples are driven into affairs by their partner’s indifference, lack of appreciation and lack of sexual responsiveness. When couples enjoy a great sexual life, they are unlikely to look elsewhere for satisfaction.
But whatever the reason, it is for couple to work out their relationship and not to engage in extramarital affairs. Again, it is best for the person having an affair to confess it rather than wait for their partner to discover. While the betrayal is felt in the same way, the lie hurts more. When the affair is in the open, the couple has to deal with it if they want to save their marriage. The guilty person must give their partner time to heal and live to the promise of ending the affair, as that is the only way their marriage can survive. They must also accept that part of the healing process is bringing up the affair, which might happen any time you do something that does not please your partner.
It is also absurd to expect a person who has just discovered their partner was having an affair to continue to being as loving. It may take a while for them to be ready for sex. They may want assurances and may even demand a medical test to prove the cheater is healthy before risking intimacy. There will be anger and hurt but these should not be allowed to fester for long as this can kill the marriage instead of saving it. The marriage will obviously die a natural death if the unfaithful partner continues with extramarital affairs. You can forgive once, may be twice, but three… may be not.
Once a couple have discussed the affair, given time for healing and have accepted to forgive and move on, then the record should be clean and the wronged person needs to appreciate their partner’s pledge to change and stop punishing them. If a person is in an affair where there is no emotional attachment, it is easier for them to let it go. If the person really loves and cares for his or her spouse he will be willing to change his behavior after seeing how much hurt and pain it has caused her.
The guilty person can help repair the trust by meeting the needs of the wronged person but she must not expect the guilty person to give her a free ride because she is a ‘victim’. She may have contributed to this state of affairs and must let the past, which can’t be changed, be as they move on. The most important thing is if given the right medication and time, the wound gets healed.
During the recovery period after the affair, the couple should place romance at the forefront. They should make time to explore feelings, to talk about things happening in their lives at the moment and not get caught up in the past.
A person who is cheated should not go on the mode, “I drove him to cheat on me,” because there were other choices. Instead of having an affair, he could have chosen to discuss things with his wife or husband or even seek help such as counseling. People who have an affair often have a hard time taking full responsibility and apologizing. But once the adventure is unequivocally laid out, the perpetrator usually confesses. He has to promise to stop all contact with his affair partners. Its understandable he doesn’t want to talk about all the little details, but he must truthfully answer all questions from his partner.
The most important thing is, does the person who cheated really want to allow his partner re-establish trust? He is to be completely transparent with his the partner. If the cheated partner wants to call and check if he is really with the boys in the club or girls in the gym, that’s their right. Often, the person who had the affair gets angry; feels he or she has confessed their trustworthy now and that should be enough. It’s definitely not enough.
That’s not to say marriage can’t survive an affair. It can be an opportunity to make it even better. The couple can return to the way things were before or go to a level of greater intimacy. That probably won’t happen without help. This process will involve both partners becoming self-focused enough to see their contributions to the problem.
A cheating partner deserves a harsh punishment to the grievous crime directed at their partner’s heart. However, if there is no hope of eventual parole, there will not be any incentive to work on repairing the trust lost. The pain of betrayal is a long-lingering one. But no one should allow anger to be boundless. They must be able to forgive and move on. The wronged person must own their life rather than being controlled by anger or pain. This kind of pain is a real energy zapper. If the marriage has any hope of resurrection, the guilty partner must immediately cut all ties to his extramarital partners.
Forgiveness is never easy. Its never easy to absolve a cheating spouse, even one who apologizes. They bear fear that if the betrayed partner eventually says to the spouse, “okay, fresh slate,” it will be taken as a license to cheat again. Or the feeling might be that no amount of suffering is too great for their reformed character. He or she will never understand the pain that comes from discovering that the gift of trust bestowed on a marriage partner was misplaced.
Once a person can truly pardon another for messing up and they can forgive themselves, that’s the most important task that needs to happen, and the hardest one to accomplish. Leaving the anger behind paves the way for creating a marriage that is inviolable.
Published in December 2013