Infidelity, To Divorce or Not?

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Having discussed many of the forces that can motivate a person to commit infidelity, what does one do when its discovered?

Discovering that one's spouse has cheated is a devastating experience for most people. Common reactions to the discovery include anger, rage, rejection, anxiety and fear, loss, betrayal and despair. Sometimes disbelief accompanies all of this because it is difficult to accept given the depth and emotional involvement that intimacy brings with it.


This also arouses feelings of self doubt such as, "Am I unattractive, not sexual enough, too old, too fat, ugly, disgusting and other such negative emotions.

Sooner or later the individual who has discovered that their spouse has cheated asks themselves whether or not they want to or should continue the relationship. This is not a simple question because there are often many factors involved that complicate the decision.

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For example, many people are reluctant to divorce after an affair because of the presence of young children and the impact that has on their continued growth and development. This decision includes what to tell children in the event of separation and divorce. Often times, there is a question about explanations to children based on the increased tensions and quarrelling due to the infidelity.

Divorce often brings with it financial crisis as a couple on the edge of divorce must resolve how to adjust to two households instead of one, when children are involved, not to mention issues of custody. As a result of infidelity and the anger it arouses, it is not uncommon for the faithful partner to want to exact revenge on their partner by using the children as weapons or pawns by punishing the wayward spouse.

Even when children are not involved, there are economic outcomes to divorce. Two salaries usually make life easier for people as opposed to living a single life with one income. Then, too, there are the issues of dividing property, assets and real estate holdings if they own one or more houses.

Each human being is unique in the way they may respond to an affair based on the nature of the infidelity. In other words, some people may find it easier to forgive a one night stand based on the anonymous nature of the tryst. For these partners, an extra marital romance would be more devastating than a momentary lapse in good judgement. Again, this depends upon individual temperaments and personality structures.

A lot also depends on the underlying forces that may have led to an affair. For some people, it is easier to forgive an impulsive spur of the moment error as opposed to a long and romantic affair. However, there are additional variables for a person to consider:

1. Was this the first an only affair or is this another type of "Tiger Woods" type of situation in which the wayward spouse turns out to be addicted to multiple partners and sexual liaisons? This would mean that the causes of the affair lie in the problems of the individual rather than in the marriage. In this case, the problems is sexual compulsiveness.

2. Other than sexual addiction, there are people with a variety of personality disorders who operate outside of the bounds of their marriage because they have no respect or regard for marriage, their spouse or anyone else. Among these are people with Narcissistic Personality Disorders and certain types of Sociopathic Personalities who are indifferent to consequences in all activities.

3. On the other hand, an angry spouse who has an affair out of revenge is using the affair to express unhappiness about their spouse as well as the marriage. Of course, this is not a healthy or desirable way to handle marriage problems but it does happen.

The decision to try to stay together or end the marriage is intensely personal and there is no right or wrong answer for everyone.

What is always clear is that in the face of an extramarital affair, trust is always violated and it is extremely difficult to rebuild or re establish that sense of trust.

In my opinion, the best course of action for anyone who is uncertain about what they want to do is to enter psychotherapy. If the wayward partner wants to work to salvage and improve the marriage, then marriage psychotherapy makes a lot of sense. For others, individual psychotherapy can be helpful in clarifying decision making.

Speaking for myself, I would be extremely skeptical about anyone who refuses to attend marriage therapy after having their affairs revealed. Under these circumstances, it might be best to separate and divorce. The reason is to avoid becoming what could be labelled an "enabler or co dependent person," who overlooks serious actions committed by the spouse in the blind hope that they might change their ways. That is a good way to "continue to invest in a bankrupt corporation."

To repeat, psychotherapy is a good way to gain the emotional support and strength needed get through that painful process.

Your comments and questions are strongly encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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