How does a betrayed spouse know if it’s wise to forgive a cheating spouse? First let’s break down the different scenario’s that often play out after an affair has been discovered. The answer can change a bit based on how certain variables come together in the aftermath of the affair.
Scenario number one: the unfaithful spouse had a one-night stand, or some sort of sexual encounter that did not include any emotional attachment and is not trying to blame the betrayed spouse for any specific marital deficits that “made him cheat”.
The unfaithful takes responsibility for his/her actions and is willing to do whatever it takes to find out how to heal a marriage after infidelity. The cheating spouse claims to be in love with the betrayed partner, this was a stupid, terrible and disgusting one-time mistake.
In this scenario, most infidelity recovery counselors and coaches, meaning those of us who work primarily in the field of affair recovery, would lean to say this unfaithful spouse is probably safe to forgive.
Pending the betrayed spouse seeks professional guidance on what a solid recovery plan looks like for overcoming infidelity, if the unfaithful spouse sticks to his word, the prognosis of this marriage healing after infidelity would be good.
Scenario number two: similar to the first story, this one is similar with the twist that it was not a one-time offense. Cases like this may have more addictive traits, meaning the story continues to happen over again across a long span of time. This situation may meet criteria for a diagnosis of compulsive sexual behavior.
Even if this unfaithful spouse is classified as a struggling with a sex addiction, it doesn’t mean the marriage isn’t safe to pursue, healing still can be attained, and security enough restored. Dedication and commitment to a treatment plan that would include individual psychotherapy, couples counseling and group therapy is what usually will be recommended for these types of circumstances.
Scenario three, attachment, is included in these affairs. In these types of affairs ambivalence is often present, when the unfaithful spouse lacks clarity around whether he wants to stay in the marriage or leave for the affair partner. One-night stands and patterns of compulsive sexual acting out don’t usually fit here, even if some sort of attachment is claimed with a sex addiction, because a pattern of behavior can be demonstrated over time with multiple different acting out partners, usually it’s like a spell being lifted once the unfaithful spouse enters treatment and detoxes from the additive behaviors and persons.
When emotional attachment is present, often the unfaithful spouse feels the marriage was disconnected and/or some sort of damaging patterns of relating were ongoing for some time between the two spouses. When a suffering marriage is competing with an emotionally fueled affair, it gets tricky because the hurt spouse, regardless of if there were true marital deficits, is now struggling with betrayal trauma.
In scenario one and two, the unfaithful spouse usually can dive into empathy development and withstand the often intense and unpredictable behaviors that accompany betrayal trauma in the aftermath of an affair. Trust and security is often restored in these couples because of the hoops the unfaithful spouse is willing to jump to prove he/she loves his/her partner.
Ambivalence entering this process can cause the betrayed spouse additional suffering because not only does he/she have to deal with the pain caused by the infidelity, but also the pain caused by an unfaithful spouse who cannot decide if he/she wants to stay or go. It creates a Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde environment where one minute the unfaithful partner is all in and the next minute sort of in and maybe later all out. Working with these clients can be difficult because of their passive/aggressive stance around the affair partner.
In order to move forward and repair a marriage after an affair, an unfaithful spouse cannot spend session time defending the honor of the acting out partner or being offended and shut down because the counselor points out the negatives of the infidelity, the affair and the affair partner.
It is not uncommon that a reverse scenario can happen where instead of the unfaithful spouse bending over backwards to repair the damage done and learn ways to get over the affair partner and re-connect fully with his/her spouse, it is the betrayed spouse who is jumping through hoops all the while incurring additional humiliation, confusion and pain.
There are several more variations on types of affairs and their different challenges than discussed in this article, but for those who can relate to any of the above, don’t wait to contact a trained professional whom can go over the in’s and out’s of the affair recovery process, timelines and tools for coping with infidelity. Regardless of your specific situation, enlisting in specialized affair healing and shoring up support is always critical to recovering from the trauma of infidelity.