It’s every wife’s nightmare: you learn that your husband has been with another woman. Maybe just recently, or maybe for a long time. A revelation like that can yank the carpet right out from under your entire world. You feel like you can’t trust anyone or anything anymore. You’re so overwhelmed with anger, you have no idea how to proceed. Everything seems upside-down and backwards, and your life will never be the same again.
Being cheated on is one of the worst feelings a person can experience. It can shatter your ability to trust, undermine your self-confidence, and make you doubt everything you ever learned about love and commitment. For many women, learning of their husband having an affair is an automatic deal breaker. They don’t feel they will ever be able to trust him completely again, and the breach of respect is simply too much to bear. It’s not always about the men, of course — any time either partner in a marriage breaks the most sacred of marital vows, the result is often separation that leads to divorce.
I have never been married, but I have been cheated on, and both times the infidelity ended the relationship. Personally, I cannot imagine a situation in which I would tolerate cheating and be able to continue in the partnership.
Recently, however, I came across a local support group for women who had decided to stay in their marriages after their husbands admitted to having an affair. In each case, it was clear these women were there because they wanted to try to make things work. I took the chance to speak to some of them, because I was intensely curious about what it’s like to have to dig that deeply into your heart to try to find forgiveness, and to have to work so hard to be able to trust again after that trust was shattered through no fault of your own.
These women came from all walks of life, and shared no particular common characteristics other than being on the receiving end of a life-changing betrayal. They all acknowledged that logically, they had no reason to feel guilty, yet as they started talking I began to notice signs that they blamed themselves, at least to some extent. Many of them wondered aloud what they had done to make their husbands look elsewhere for affection. Others worried that perhaps they hadn’t kept as physically fit as they should have, or that they hadn’t worked as hard as possible to make themselves attractive.
I wanted to scream at them to stop beating themselves up and kick those deadbeat husbands to the curb, but the truth is, I can’t imagine what it must be like to be in their position. It’s not such a straightforward situation, especially if there are children involved, and doubly so if the woman is a stay-at-home mother. It’s easy for someone like me to come in off the street and say, “Oh, your kids will be better off with no father at all, rather than having a liar and a cheater as a male role model,” but life isn’t that simple. I don’t know the details of any of their circumstances, practical or emotional.
I suppose it is entirely possible that a cheater can reform. I have certainly made mistakes in my life that changed my behavior forever, and I have been grateful for the people closest to me who have forgiven me for those mistakes and given me a second chance. I certainly don’t think that people are disposable, and I guess if that’s how I feel about it, then that must extend to cheating, also. I still can’t imagine a situation in which I might be able to let someone back into my heart who betrayed me to that extent, but perhaps that’s something I need to learn to be more flexible about. I’m not sure.
What I learned from these women is that there are no right or wrong answers to the problems of a marriage, even problems as serious as sexual infidelity. Each situation has to be taken in its own unique context, with all factors considered, and it is nobody’s business but their own if these women decide to stay and try to work things out. Relationships are complex, with an infinite amount of variables, and I’m slowly figuring out that my blanket solution of “kick him out” is not necessarily the answer to every story of betrayal that’s out there.