Welcome to Part 3 of our series exploring decision-making after infidelity. The question that anyone who has ever experienced this traumatic relationship injury has asked him or herself is, “Should I stay or should I go”? Within the two obvious ‘Yes or No’ answers is a full spectrum in degrees of pain, fear, longing, willingness to compromise and reconcile, the desire to put it all behind you vs. the desire to heal the relationship and keep the family together.  In this, part 3 of our series, we’ll explore the choices that the injuring partner has to make about staying or leaving the relationship.

If you’re the one that had the affair there are quite a few things to consider for your partner, your family and the future of your relationship.  There’s also the third person in this triangle involved, and you have some choices to make regarding them as well. What is your relationship with the person you cheated with? Was it a one-time thing, an emotional connection or do you truly have feelings for this person. This is something you need to sort out in your own heart and mind and make your decision about before you can decide about the future of leaving or staying with a spouse or long-term partner and family. If you decide to stay you must be prepared to end the other relationship and dedicate your whole heart to your partner. You’ll have a tough road ahead to repair and heal your relationship, but if you do decide to stay, it will all be worth it. However this won’t happen without grieving for the loss of the relationship you had. This is a requirement. Asking your spouse to give you time for this will not likely be realistic. Cutting off all ties is absolutely necessary.

You’ve got to own what you did and be truly sorry for it. You’ve got to recognize what went wrong and why you decided to have the affair. It’s not going to be easy for you, there will be a lot of suspicion, anger and worry on the part of your partner and you’ll need to work very hard to rebuild trust and obtain forgiveness from them.   

Should you stay?

If you’re the partner that had the affair it’s going to be a long road back. You can’t expect to simply say “sorry”, and pick up where you left off. You must be prepared to do anything and everything that your partner wants or needs you to do to prove that you’re sincere in your apology, solid in your resolve to be monogamous going forward, and ready to be transparent and trustworthy in all of your interactions with your partner. You will have so much to prove. Your partner is likely to be suspicious of everything you do and say at first. Your actions must match your words to prove to your partner that you’re sincere in your wanting to be with them exclusively and to live down the affair. . You will need the advice of a professional therapist with this challenge DON’T try to do on your own, it can only make matters worse.

Guilt – If you are truly sorry and trying to do the work to heal your relationship with your partner there will be guilty feelings about the affair. Your partner was betrayed by you and they have every right to bring it up to you, ask you questions about it and even some punitive actions or words are to be expected. You are the guilty party, so you have to own that and do your best not to be defensive and to be compassionate towards the pain you caused your partner. Be careful though some questions should not be answered the two of you need help deciding what questions help and are there ones that can make the healing more difficult. How do you refuse to answer something without sounding deceptive that is a difficult task. 

Rebuild – You’re never going to be able to go back to the way things were before you had the affair, and honestly, you don’t want to. Whatever it was that was going on in your relationship at the time made it vulnerable to the affair; you want to rebuild a better relationship with your partner going forward. One in which you both feel loved, important and emotionally connected. You want an “affair proof” relationship. It takes time and effort to achieve this, and you both have to be “all in” to make it happen. 

Forgiveness – Forgiveness is the response to a true apology on your part. Don’t be surprised if your partner doesn’t forgive you right away. They may or may not be able to do that. It’s not something you can control or force. You have to simply show that you are worthy of forgiveness by being transparent, trustworthy and absolutely authentic in all your dealings with your partner. There are specific ways to do a true apology here is the link to get that article:  https://www.huffpost.com/entry/relationship-advice-what-does-a-true-apology-look_b_587409d2e4b0eb9e49bfbe87?timestamp=1484000095320

Work on relationship – If you decide to stay (and I hope you will), you will have a great deal of work to do on a daily basis to not only show your partner that you’re sincere in wanting to fix what was wrong in your relationship, but to do the work every single day to be a good partner, to show gratitude, kindness, compassion and care for your loved one. The only way to repair and heal is one day, one moment, one positive interaction at a time.

Should You Go?  

You Get a New life – Leaving the relationship allows you to put the entire issue to rest and begin a new life as a single person, assuming you’re not moving into a new relationship or continuing with the person you had the affair with. The Couples Expert recommends that you do a post-mortem, an autopsy if you will, of the relationship that’s ending. This can give you a great deal of insight and help you to be more successful in your next relationship. Learn the lessons you need to learn and move forward in your life.

Housing – You will need to work out with your partner where each of you will live; together, separate or otherwise. If you have children together, you will need to provide a place for them to stay if you have shared custody of them. 

Financial considerations – Separating your co-mingled finances and investments can be ugly and complicated. It’s imperative that you do your best to sort things out in a civil and amicable way so that your soon- to- be ex-partner doesn’t suffer unduly. Can you make it on your own financially? Will you need to share rent or can you manage alone? Your partner will likely be angry if this is your decision; it will often make this part of the decision-making more difficult.

Loss and grief – A break-up or divorce is a kind of death. If you leave, it’s going to be hard on everyone involved.  Expect to feel the loss and give yourself permission to grieve. You’re going to have some emotions to work through before you’ll feel okay about it.

Family and friends – It’s awkward and uncomfortable to explain why you and your partner are breaking up. You may not want to admit to family and friends that it is because you cheated.  You will have to come to terms with what to say and how to talk about it with family and friends. Your mutual friends may choose to end your friendship because of loyalty to your partner and seeing you as being in the wrong. You may have to endure some harsh judgements from those closest to you, including your children. 

Loneliness – It’s tough being out on your own. If you leave the relationship you may get lonely. It can be difficult to be alone, knowing that your choices caused the end of your relationship. If you do leave, you will have to contend with these feelings.  It is not fun to sit with these feelings, and know that you have lost your love due to these choices.

Whether you stay or go, there will be consequences. Don’t make your decision in haste. Rather do your best to be calm, civil, and sincere. Base the decision on what is best for you. This is a time to be selfish and self-protective. Think though of the long term consequences there may be many. Base the decision of an intellectual perspective not an emotional one. Talk to each other about what you truly want in your heart of hearts. No matter which side of infidelity you find yourself on, the road ahead will be difficult and rough at times. The knee -jerk reaction to be angry and punish the cheater is not the way forward. The person who cheated is more than likely already punishing themselves.  Rather look at ways to heal and repair the relationship and build a new and strong bond of connection between you that will “affair proof” your relationship for the future. 

This only works if you both want it and are willing to dedicate your all to making this happen. I wish you the best.