People often say that if their spouse ever cheats on them, they would never look at them again – let alone stay in a relationship with them. After all, affairs could be considered the most ruthless attack on trust known to humans for three reasons:
- They threaten to tear apart two people whose lives are bound together with a promise of love.
- They often add to other trust-breakers such as lying and trickery.
- They often take place with a mutual friend.
But when it comes down to it, is an affair reason enough for divorce? It’s an extremely difficult question that depends on what kind of situation you are in. Sometimes the answer should be “yes”, while other times it can be “no.” It all boils down to two questions:
- Is the relationship worth saving?
- Are you both willing to save it?
If the relationship is not worth saving in you or your spouse’s mind, then it probably isn’t worth the efforts by either of you to try and move beyond an affair. But even if you both agree that the relationship is worth saving, you still need to both be willing to put in the efforts to make healing happen.
This means a lot of communication is in order, because you will need to completely rebuild the foundation of trust before you can continue on with your life together.
So how do you know whether your relationship is worth saving or not? I can’t tell you what decision to make, but it will be based on a number of factors:
- What led to the affair?
- Is the affair a forgivable offense in your mind, or will the thought of it drive you insane every time you look at your spouse.
- Have there been multiple affairs?
- Was the relationship good outside of the affair?
- Do you still love each other?
- Do you enjoy spending time with each other?
- Can you accept people’s mistakes easily and move on – or do you hold a grudge?
- Do you have kids together?
That list isn’t by any means extensive, but it will get you thinking about the type of relationship you had and the type of pain you will need to overcome. If you both feel like it is worth it to stay together and rebuild your relationship from the ground up, then overcoming the obstacle of an affair is certainly possible. An affair can be reason enough for divorce, but it doesn’t have to result in a divorce if you don’t want it to.
Bonnie Eaker Weil, Ph. D., explains: “I know how wrenching adultery can be, because I watched it nearly tear apart my own family. I also know from my own experience, both personal and professional, that adultery can be a forgivable sin. Fidelity is not a guarantee that love persists, nor is infidelity a sign that love has faded or died. In fact, adultery can even be a way -- albeit dysfunctional -- to try and stabilize a floundering relationship.”
When you realize that there has been an affair and both partners know how big of a mistake it was, you have the opportunity to look at your life together and reprioritize. If you both want the main priority to be your marriage, then you can make that happen.
Whenever people make mistakes, they are given the chance to reflect. The pain hurts so much and often one is shocked by the other's actions. The cheating spouse will feel extremely apologetic, but an apology won’t mean a thing unless the mistakes are accepted. Of course, accepting an apology doesn’t mean that you want to take the person back into your life, but it does open the door to that possibility.
If you both knew that your relationship was floundering beforehand, an affair can act like a brick wall. Once you hit it, you know that you need to change what you’re doing to move past the obstacle. Whatever led to the affair can be examined and you can choose to stay together or not.
According to Carol Pulice of PsychCentral, the longstanding problems are more dangerous than the affair itself: “Those marriages in which affairs have occurred are more likely to end in a divorce, but the affair usually is not the primary reason for it. For those involved in a relationship within which an affair occurs, it is likely that there are other problems in the relationship that need to be addressed. The affair is often a sign of longstanding problems in the relationship that have remained unresolved.”
If you are able to resolve those longstanding issues, then you have the opportunity to save your marriage. It will always be easy to blame the person who had the affair for the breakup of your marriage. The fact is that it is the fault of both people that the affair happened. Many times a cheating spouse gets a slap of reality and wishes they could have fixed the problem instead of create another.
Carol Pulice explains that only a “few couples decide to divorce because of an affair. But of the fewer than 20 percent who do divorce, 80 percent report regretting the decision. In one study of men, 80 percent stated that they would remarry their first wife if they could. The few who have affairs and divorce their spouses so that they may marry one another often divorce again.”
In marriage, everybody is looking for acceptance and love. If they don’t find it from within, they sometimes look elsewhere. It’s not right, and an affair can cause a lot of pain, but it also doesn’t have to be reason to divorce.
Instead of an affair being a reason for divorce, it can also be a reason to fight harder for love and make a change. If your relationship is something that you believe can be fixed and rebuilt for the future, then it’s worth fighting for, but both partners need to be willing to re-commit their lives and do whatever it takes to solve the problems instead of ignore them.
Often, a heart attack causes a person to make major changes in lifestyle and attitude so that the person never has a heart attack again. In the same way, an affair can make it so that you and your spouse make the changes necessary to strengthen your marriage so you don’t have to go through the marital pain again.