Surviving an Affair

This article caught my eye last week. The writer’s close friend has found out her husband is having an affair. Instead of kicking him to the curb like most people around her are advising, she has decided to fight for their marriage.

She doesn’t have much support in this decision from her family and friends. It’s understandable—I often find that, in matters of the heart, your nearest and dearest are more loyal to you than you are to yourself. But then she is the one that loves her husband, and sometimes love is not able to be rationalized.

She has decided to try and forgive, which blows me away. Not least because I don’t think I could do it.

What a huge job this woman is undertaking.

Not only does she have to try and rebuild trust with the man that already did her wrong (harder almost than starting a new relationship, and trusting someone new with your heart) but she also has to rebuild her own self-esteem.

On one hand, they have children together, and many experts say that if the partners really can work it out and move on to a future relationship that isn’t full of hateful conflict, it can be better for the family in the long run than cutting your losses and leaving.

Some experts even maintain that a marriage can be stronger and better for having recovered from an affair.

To stay or to go is obviously a very personal decision. I think most people have an instinctive and knee-jerk reaction to infidelity.

I’ve always, always said adultery is a deal-breaker for me. Reader comments on the article reflect others with the same opinion. “Denise needs to get some self esteem,” says the first one off the bat. In the past, I would have tended to agree.

But the more I read into Denise’s story, and the more I started researching, the less sure I am about the cut-and-run approach, and the more impressed I am at her courage to stay.

Her story reminded me of that of Laura Munson, who refused to let her husband divorce her even though he wanted to leave the family.

Online, I found another woman who had been through adultery describe it: “He decided to leave me for a season of our marriage.”

I liked the connotation—marriage is a long, convoluted journey. For one season, her husband wasn’t up for the commitment. He has since recommitted and they seem like they’ve moved past it. The marriage endures.

Dr. Gary Neuman has found that the number one reason men cheat is because of an emotional disconnect at home. It’s not about the sex, or that the mistress is younger, or more attractive, it’s about them being dissatisfied with the emotional state of their relationship.

While Dr. Neuman hasn’t done studies on why women cheat, many websites cite the same reason. Emotional disconnect, feeling unloved, and feeling rejected.

In light of that, I think most people who have experienced infidelity could probably look at that and say. “Yes, my relationship could have done with some work to keep it stronger.” Or, “Yes, we did let the intimacy slide.”

They say it takes two to tango. That isn’t to condone the adulterous behavior, but if you can identify a reason for that infidelity, and one that you, personally, have some control over, you might begin to see how you could work it out together.

For anyone who finds themselves having to deal with this unfortunate situation, then one thing I would absolutely recommend is seeking professional help to deal with it. Adultery is simply too big and too complicated to tackle alone.

Without knowing what you’re supposed to do next, it can become bigger than you. Every fight can turn into: “Well, who cares what I did because you had an affair!” and that’s not forgiveness—that’s resentment.

Both partners have to want to rebuild, and both have to commit to working at it.

The most important thing to remember, if you find your partner is cheating, is that you don’t have to make a decision abut staying or going right away. Not today, and maybe not even tomorrow.

Take the time to vent, hurt, cry, and scream. Release all the grief that comes out. And then you will have a clearer head and can make a more rational choice about the future of your relationship.

Then you need to open the lines of communication, with help, and start to rebuild from the ground up.

Do you think you have it in you to forgive an affair?

About Emma

Emma Merkas is the co-creator of couples' inspiration website $30 Date Night and author of the 'How Was It For You?' relationships and dating column in Australian newspaper, mX. You can also find her at her own blog or on Twitter @30dollardate.


  1. I have a very close friend who has endured the shock and grief of an affair. It was unfortunate that so many people close to her did not support her decision to stay and forgive. From the moment she confided in me, I knew I would support her decision whatever it was. In the end, staying did not mean a lack of self-esteem, I believe it showed her strength, love, courage, and commitment to her marriage. After counseling it was determined that there was a basis, it was a loss of communication in their marriage, which ultimately led to the affair. No pointing fingers were involved, just open communication (finally). It is now two years since the “incident”, and they ARE actually stronger and better off than prior. They communicate better than ever. I would encourage anyone who has a friend going through something like this to be supportive of them in whatever they decide. My friend needed my support not my criticism. And I am thankful that I was able to do that for her.

  2. I am in a situation like Jessica’s. My best friend who is the kindest person I know found out her husband had been cheating on her before they were married last June and the affair continued after the wedding. My beautiful friend was devastated and while my instinct was to tell her to cut and run, I fought my instinct and instead listened to her and did my best to comfort her instead of putting my opinions on her. She chose to stay and to salvage her marriage. I have tremendous respect for my friend and I do not think I would have the courage or strength to make the choice to stay as she did. She is now stronger than ever and they are continuing to work on their relationship. Once I accepted her decision, it add peace and more love to our relationship as she knows I will stick by her side no matter what.

  3. Ladies, thank you both for sharing your stories.

    You’re both in very difficult positions, and I applaud you both for supporting your friend – that is exactly what they needed, not opinions and pressure to leave. I’m sure you have made two women eternally grateful to you… even if things don’t work out in the end, they will know you are true friends.

    This entire article and your comments have changed my own personal views on women who stay. I also find myself admiring their courage and their strength in staying.

    I wonder if staying is becoming a new ‘trend’ ? (for want of a better word)

    • I’m not sure if trend is the word I would use to describe it, but I do think that getting divorced is expensive and with money being tight for everyone right now, not everyone has the resources to get a divorce. Staying together then becomes an option born out of necessity.

      In the case of my friend, she believes very strongly in the vows that she made on her wedding day and will do everything in her power to uphold them in the good times and in the bad.

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