As a couple’s therapist, I have specialized in Infidelity work for over 15 years. Most couples I meet have a positive outcome, because most couples who want their marriage to survive go to a therapist who specializes in infidelity. It’s been my experience that we all get what we’re truly looking for. If one or both of you wants your marriage to end, you won’t be making an appointment with someone like me. But if you are both truly committed to each other, the odds are quite high you’ll be successful.
Anyone who feels true remorse will trip over themselves with the ownership of his enormous mistake. They will repeatedly apologize. They will be grateful for a second chance, and they will gladly hand over any password you ask them to share with you. Chronic cheaters carry no remorse, let alone patience.
Some people are only interested in a little bit of sex with a dash of excitement on the side. Some people consider their affair a fling, and have little or no attachment to the other party. When it’s “Just Sex,” it may be that it was more about a sexual release. Also, feeling like they did when they were younger, and a feeling of being attractive and desirable to another partner, are magnets for infidelity. A largely sexual relationship, assuming that it is only one and is not, nor has it ever been, chronic, has a high recovery rate.
If the cheating party believes they have fallen in love, your marriage might be over. Sometimes people do fall in love with a person, but oftentimes they fall in love with the feelings they have when they are with a new partner, and can’t tell the difference. So don’t throw in the towel too soon.
Many times when I am witnessing a marriage recover from unfaithfulness, it’s as though I am watching layer after layer of a person be uncovered to their spouse for the very first time. Many people feel that they have nothing left to lose and therefore tell their spouse who they really are and what they really feel. It’s the best part of what I do: watching people share themselves with each other, in a safe way, in a way they never have before.
Couples who don’t have children together are less likely to work as hard on their relationship as those who do. There’s less skin in the game. There’s no one else to hurt. No fear or threat of any long-lasting scars for the children.
For those who do have children together, the odds of staying together with a successful outcome grow with every child you have. Therefore, I think that a couple with four children is twice as likely to stay together as a couple with two kids. It might be partially a financial decision, but my belief is that larger families are more likely to want to keep the family in one piece than a man or woman with a smaller family.
Those couples who have been married and divorced previously are more apt to divorce again. The perceived stigma of being divorced twice is less concerning to most than the original fear of blame or shame they felt when they divorced once. I think that, in a sense, divorce normalizes divorce.
Couples who have been married to each other for over 20 years are less likely to divorce than those with fewer years of being married to one another. History matters.
And so does the length of that history. Interestingly, I have a disproportionately high amount of couples who want to save or improve their marriages who were high school sweethearts. Those unique couples seem to take particularly gentle care of the bond they’ve shared since they were teenagers.
It is true that the empty nest is a vulnerable time for a marriage. But I see far more couples with small children who just can’t take being married to each other one more day.
Most of the couples I see are those persons who do not struggle with serial cheating. Though I am often wary of the word “once,” a discovered extramarital relationship often IS the one and only time. When a partner feels that they know their spouse pretty well, and that they just don’t fit into anyone’s definition of a “player,” they usually believe and understand that this mistake is likely the first, and the only.
A resistance or reluctance to go to a counselor or therapist who specializes in infidelity is not a good sign. There may be denial on your part if you are the one who thinks you can get past this alone. But if your unfaithful spouse refuses to go to counseling to recover from an injury they have caused you, it often means that the affair is not really over, and that they fear the therapist will discover the dishonesty.
Other people unilaterally decide for their spouse that it is no big deal and that they should just get “over it.”
That’s not what remorse looks like. Bad sign.
Some people are just more forgiving than others. If you are one who is emotionally generous and more likely to forgive and move forward, your marriage will stand an excellent chance at real recovery. Interestingly, I have found that those with strong faith are better able to forgive than others. I’m not sure why that is, but it seems to be a consistent truth in my office. Forgiving people, by nature, are also more likely to own their part in how the partnership deteriorated, to the point of having a secret life, undiscovered, sometimes for years.
The strength of the love you once felt for each other may get you through this difficult time. Marriage is like a living and breathing organism. It inhales. It exhales. If you are a person who can remember the loving times, even though you’ve gone through a prolonged period of taking each other for granted, then you stand an excellent chance of staying together for life. I call it “placing your teeth in the safe glass.” 🙂
Sometimes when love wanes, it is the commitment to the institution of marriage, itself, that sees a couple through difficult years. And difficult situations. How you perceive marriage, and who you see when you look at your spouse, will help you understand your road ahead better. If they feel the same way about their lifetime commitment to you, they will spend the rest of their days becoming a better and more honest person for you.
I have always considered the recovery of infidelity a team sport. If your spouse is keeping secrets, you’re still not a team. If you’re shaming your spouse for what they have done, you’re still not a team. The extramarital relationship needs to come to an end, oftentimes when both of you write or contact the other person to request no further contact. It may be the most important thing you ever do together as true partners.
I wish you both huge luck, with hearts brimming with remorse and forgiveness. This could be the beginning of the relationship you always both wanted, but were never quite able to actually create.