Comment: I am modifying this post because some people are reading this post and coming away with the notion that I am suggesting to women that they should stay with their lying, cheating spouses. This post does not attempt to suggest to anyone what action they should take as far as staying with or leaving their spouse. That’s a decision which I’m sure any woman (or man) in the process of trying to figure out is not turning to a website to find the answer. This is not a post for people in crisis dealing with an actively cheating and lying husband (or wife). It is for people who have already passed that stage, have obviously chosen to stay but are suspicious they either haven’t been told all the details of the affair or that something they have been told is untrue.
As for attacking people for their choice to stay married after finding out about their spouse’s infidelity, it’s certainly not for me or anyone to question someone’s sense of pride and dignity for staying married after finding out their spouse was unfaithful. Unless we know someone intimately and know their spouse intimately, we should assume that we do not know enough to have an opinion about the degree of self respect they possess, whether they have any pride or dignity, a backbone or whatever else.
In the original post, I wrote about what I’ve been through with my husband, but I said nothing about what I’ve put my husband through. There are always two sides to a story and until you’ve heard both sides you should probably avoid the temptation to cast judgment on the accuser or the accused. Imagine if the courts only allowed the prosecution to plead a case and a defendant was convicted solely on the testimonies of witnesses for the prosecution without ever being allowed to present his/her side? It’s alarming how ready some people are to attack the character of people they don’t know based on something they read. Contrary to what has been suggested, I don’t think cheating is acceptable or should be tolerated. I understand completely why people end marriages and relationships because of cheating; but I also understand that all relationships are different and for some couples cheating is another crisis to solve in their marriage rather than a crisis that ends their marriage. Who is to say that the people who leave their cheating spouse are better than the people who stay with theirs…that the people who leave have a backbone and the people who stay don’t? Who is to say that a couple dealing with a cheating crisis have a less valuable, less meaningful and less worthy relationship than a couple who seemingly have no marital problems?
Sometimes people stay married to the person who cheated on them. It’s ridiculous to argue the point of whether they should or should not stay. It’s their choice. We’re not living their lives. We don’t know them. We don’t know their situation. We don’t know why they stay.
I always maintain that if people keep staying in marriages they insist are horrible, unless it’s a case involving domestic violence where they might stay for fear that leaving might cost them their life, outside observers can usually trust that they stay because the benefits of staying, whatever those may be, outweigh the benefits of leaving. And it’s really none of our business to know what those benefits might be. Who are we to try to tell people we don’t know, or people we do know for that matter, that the choices they have made for themselves in their life are the wrong choices? Do what’s best for you and let everybody else do what’s best for them as determined by them.
With that said, if it upsets you when you read about people staying in marriages after finding out their spouse had an affair, I strongly encourage you to stop reading this post now.
For those women (and men) still married, by choice, to someone who has admitted cheating, feel free to continue on reading the modified version of the original post keeping in mind that nothing herein is meant to pass for professional advice. I am simply sharing my own personal experience in the hope that someone who is torturing herself or himself every day worrying about whether their spouse is still lying about the details of a past affair, might stop putting themselves through unnecessary anguish.
Original post (modified May 4 2011): I remind anyone reading this that I am not a marriage and relationships expert. I only try to share from my own personal experience and opinions. I have been married 14 years and yes, I have had a difficult marriage but not because my husband is a bad, horrible man who subjected me to horrors. My husband did bad things that had nothing to do with me. His actions affected my life, but his actions were not assaults against me.
If your spouse is acting selfishly and doing things outside your marriage that negatively impact on your life you have every right to leave and not look back if that’s what you feel compelled to do.
My relationship with my husband has always been very complicated. We are both imperfect people and we have both made many mistakes due to those imperfections. I came into the marriage with my demons. My husband came in with his, and while it might not suit some people’s sense of what is right and proper that we didn’t invest the needed time to get professional help as individuals so that we might overcome our personal struggles before getting into a relationship that can only be healthy when there’s mental and emotional balance on both sides, we did get married with all our baggage brought in, and we naturally fell into the inevitable habit of feeding on each other in whatever way helped us in fighting our particular demons. Yes, therapy would probably have been more ideal but we are who we are and our circumstances are what they were. I needed my husband for the emotional support. My husband needed me to provide him with a sense of purpose. We believed very deeply that we loved each other, but we hadn’t really had enough time together before getting married to really know each other. We married after 6 years, but for all of the 6 years our relationship was long distance.
By the time I found out my husband had sex with at least two other women in the earlier years of our marriage, we had been through a great deal together. So yes, when I sat down with him a few years ago and we decided to try to build a better marriage, and as part of that process we agreed to be honest with each other on the question of fidelity, and my husband admitted that he’d had sex outside our marriage twice with two different women, I didn’t immediately pack my bags and leave as some of the people who commented on the original unmodified post suggest I should have done and would have done if I’d had any dignity and self respect(some of the comments I chose not to post). No doubt it will be assumed now that I’ve indicated emotional instability that I stayed because I have mental problems. In fact I stayed because our lives were much too intricately woven together by the time we had that revealing conversation.
The incidences of having sex outside of the marriage twice, assuming they were indeed the only incidences, happened during the more difficult years of our marriage when my self hate, born not of frustration with my marriage but of the abuse I suffered as a child and teen and a young woman, began to grow into hatred of my husband for not being “good enough” meaning the kind of man a woman didn’t have to feel ashamed to be married to because he’s so important, rich, educated and good looking. I treated him horribly during those years, constantly calling him a loser and telling him that I could have done better and that I was ashamed to be married to him. I hardly ever bothered to speak to him unless necessary to discuss household matters. I had sex with him but would say things to the effect that if I’d had any self esteem he would be the last man on earth I would let touch me; and no matter what I did, no matter what hurtful things I said, he kept on being there, taking it, apologizing for not being what I wanted him to be, trying to change to become what I wanted, trying to please me in whatever way he could. He has always tried and still always tries to do whatever he can to make my life easier and more comfortable. This is a man who has been trying to hold me up for almost 20 years (the 14 we’ve been married and the almost 6 that we spent in our long distance relationship). The few times I have had to reciprocate, to be there to hold him up, to forgive him the way he forgave me for doing things to him worse than what I’ve mentioned, I chose to reciprocate. It was the agreement that we made to each other when we got into this marriage knowing we were marrying someone who was significantly less than perfect; and if honoring your promises makes you weak then I guess we’re weak.
My marriage today remains imperfect. My husband and I have good stretches and bad stretches. The bad stretches usually result from my issues with trust. I will probably never be able to trust my husband again; but that has more to do with my fear of taking that risk of being disappointed again than it has to do with anything my husband has done since we decided to start over. I don’t trust him by choice, and it’s sometimes upsetting because I’d prefer a relationship where I can trust my husband; but there’s plenty else to focus on in our daily lives.
As for the extra-marital sex issue, it has become more important for me to maintain my focus on the things I am trying to do with my life and to avoid unnecessary feelings of hurt that interfere with my ability to function and get through my day. I used to bring it up because I wanted to know the truth and refused to believe my husband had told me the truth. Each time I would bring it up he would insist he’s already told me what happened. His story never changed, but I could never leave it at that. The truth is, I was hurt and angry and I brought up the subject all the time not because I was so convinced that he was still keeping things from me but because I wanted to remind him what he’d done, and I wanted a valid reason not to invest the mental effort and the emotion that’s needed to get past the whole thing. I didn’t want to get past it, because when you get past it then you have no excuse for not doing your part.
Eventually I realized I was doing myself more harm than good. Holding on my anger wasn’t just causing strain in my marriage it was contaminating the quality of my own life. Dwelling on the issue of whether or not he had indeed told me the complete truth was making me paranoid and hateful. It was affecting my ability to get any joy out of life and it dawned on me that I didn’t have to allow it to be that way. I realized that life was pleasant when I didn’t bring up the subject. I had a choice to control whether I was going to be growling my way through my days or smiling my way through them. Why should I have chosen to growl my way through? What’s the benefit to me or to anyone around me for me to do that? So I chose to stop bringing up the subject and I chose to put it behind me because that is the only way I have control over the situation as far as protecting my own peace of mind, and that was more important to me, to have peace of mind.
Like I said before, all relationships are different and for some people cheating is not something they can get beyond. I understand that and I respect it. I think cheating is a violation of trust that hurts a marriage in a very real way; but I also know that cheating doesn’t always come down to a case of one person being a scum loser bastard and another being that scum loser bastard’s victim. Unless you’re married to a real and true sociopath, lots of things go on in a marriage long before the cheating happens, and the “victim” isn’t usually innocent of any blame. There are many ways to destroy a marriage and usually the destruction has already begun by the time cheating results. If you’ve stayed in the marriage you would do better to focus on what needs to be done to build a better relationship than to persist with your inquiry into the details of your spouse’s affair. If you’ve agreed to let that go, then let it go.