By: Abigale Hassel
Your spouse cheated. Your world is now upside down. You’re feeling so many things, and perhaps above all, you feel betrayed. So now, what do you do?
I felt compelled to write this blog post as a follow up to, “8 Rules to Help Your Spouse Heal From Infidelity.” With this post, I want to speak directly to all of you who were betrayed by your spouse’s infidelity. Recovering from infidelity is challenging enough and even more so when you’re surrounded by negativity. As I read the comments to my previous article, I was struck by the negativity. Some examples included, “People who cheat do not love their spouse.” Or “once a cheater, always a cheater” or “if they loved their spouse in the first place, they would not have cheated.” I am here to tell you the above statements are not necessarily true! The focus of this post is not to explain all of the possible reasons someone commits adultery. That is for another discussion. My sole purpose is to encourage those of you who were betrayed and who have decided to stay and fight for your marriage.
Negative comments such as those stated above can undoubtedly make you feel numerous things. One thing we all need to understand is this. People are not all good or all bad. These qualities can exist simultaneously. Therefore, by extension, people can both love their spouse and cheat, mainly because cheating is not about love or a lack thereof, but it is about ego. Basically, good people can make bad choices and bad mistakes, having nothing to do with their spouse. If you believe that a person does not love his or her spouse because he or she cheated, then you are thinking in very black and white terms. Black and white thinking is a type of cognitive distortion, or thinking error. Life is not all black and white; sometimes, there is a lot of gray. Do not be so quick to judge.
Many of the betrayed spouses whom I counsel report feelings of shame and embarrassment and these feelings result from this type of black and white thinking. They are basically battling their own pride. They think they are weak because, prior to the discovery of their spouse’s infidelity, they would have sworn that cheating would be a deal breaker; however, once they found out that their spouse cheated, they realized that life is far more complicated and many factors come into play, influencing their decision to stay. They believe that others are thinking how weak or pathetic they are for staying. If you are feeling these things, here is my response to all of the above. You decided to stay and fight for your marriage, which takes an enormous amount of strength. You took your vows seriously. You have decided to take the long arduous journey towards forgiveness. You are not weak! You have nothing about which to feel ashamed or embarrassed. Even if other people are thinking these things, remember that no one really knows what he or she would actually do unless he or she is faced with this situation. No one has the right to judge you, your marriage or your choice to stay. They do not live in your home or walk in your shoes. Every marriage is unique, as is every situation. Only you know what is right and what is best for you and your family. Stop judging yourself, forgive yourself and give yourself credit for staying true to your vows.
Hold your head up high. Your spouse bears the shame of what he or she did, not you. You did not cause your spouse to cheat. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, your spouse and your spouse alone is responsible for cheating. Take no ownership of that shame. You did not deserve what happened to you, no matter what problems may have existed in the relationship. Let me put it this way; I would wager that your cheating spouse was not perfect either. I would guess that you also had many unmet needs, disappointments and frustrations about your spouse, but you did not seek solace outside of your marriage. Why then would you be embarrassed that your spouse did? Stop lamenting and blaming yourself. Not only is that unproductive, but it is also unnecessary.
I bet you are also thinking that you look like a fool because the signs of your spouse’s infidelity were there, but you chose to dismiss them. You are probably telling yourself how stupid you were for not knowing, or for having that gut feeling, but ignoring it. These are understandable reactions; however, you trusted your spouse. You never thought that the person you love would betray you. You are not a fool nor are you stupid. Stop blaming yourself for not knowing what you did not know before you knew it!
As the dust settles and as you and your spouse are hopefully working towards recovery, remember these things. You do not need to make any major decisions while your emotions are so unstable. As a matter of fact, you should never make major decisions when you cannot think clearly. You also need to remember you are not alone. There is much support for you out there. Websites such as www.dailystrength.org and www.beyondaffairs.com offer information and support to help you feel less isolated. You are not alone in this boat. Unfortunately, infidelity has become very pervasive in our society. Of the couples I alone am counseling, about 75% of them are dealing with infidelity recovery. I say again, do not be ashamed that you chose to stay. Staying true to your vows, working towards forgiveness and fighting for your marriage and family are honorable endeavors. In the event that your marriage still does not make it, please remember this. You did everything possible to save your marriage. At least you can walk away knowing you tried and that you have no regrets. If your marriage is saved, chances are, it will be better than it has ever been. Good luck and God bless!
Recovering from infidelity is a process. If you want to restore the trust, it will take work on the part of you and your spouse, but it can be done. Being proactive is key. The Marriage Rocks self-help guide, The Trust Is Gone. Help!, has been instrumental in helping couples around the world move forward after infidelity and rebuild the trust. Click here for more information.
Abigale S. Hassel is a licensed Clinical Social Worker, and individual and couples counselor. MSW, LCSW, OSW-C.
**The advice provided represents the opinions of the author. It is not to be considered therapy or professional advice of any kind. If you require such advice, you should consult an appropriate professional. Refer to the Marriage Rocks Website Terms and Conditions (link in page footer) for other applicable terms and conditions.**