Surviving Infidelity: Everything You Need to Know
Finding out that your spouse has cheated on you is most people’s worst fear. It’s a deal breaker for many people. For the spouse who’s been cheated on, it’s confusing and emotionally traumatizing. But surviving infidelity is possible in a marriage – with the right help and tools. Let’s take a look at this comprehensive guide at how to get over a spouse who’s cheated and actually help your marriage thrive in the future.
Different Types of Infidelity
There are different “types” of infidelity; certain actions can be categorized in their own groups. You can infer from this then, that not all types of cheating are created equal.
This type of infidelity is where a person develops a sexual relationship with someone who is not their spouse. However, there is no romantic connection whatsoever. Any rendezvous are purely of a sexual nature. Sexual infidelity can make the victim of the cheating feel physically unattractive, inadequate, and rejected.
This is often referred to as an “emotional affair”. This type of infidelity is where a person develops a romantic, emotional connection with someone who is not their spouse. However, there is no sexual involvement whatsoever. Romantic infidelity can be just as painful as sexual infidelity, but for different reasons. An emotional affair makes the victim feel insecure in the relationship, because they are removed from having an emotional connection with their spouse.
Sexual & Romantic Infidelity
When the two above-mentioned types of infidelity are combined, it feels like the perfect storm. This kind of cheating is when a spouse engages in sexual activity and develops an emotional connection with someone else. This is like the ultimate betrayal to the cheater’s spouse.
Why do people cheat?
For someone dealing with infidelity, they may ask themselves this:
My spouse cheated. Does that mean they’re unhappy with me?
Not necessarily. About half of people who cheat actually report that they are happy with their spouse. So why would they cheat?
People cheat for a number of reasons, but there’s one thing in common for all of them. Cheaters overwhelmingly report that they cheated because they were missing something vital from the relationship.
Some people cheat because the relationship lacked intimacy. For others, they say there’s no emotional connection. There are thousands of possible answers, but the one thing in common with all of them is that something is missing.
This spouse feels unsatisfied about one, or multiple, aspects of their relationship. If you are in a well-matched relationship (where your partner understands your needs, and they are consistently met), there’s not much risk of infidelity.
If cheating does happen, you have to examine each aspect of the relationship and see what went wrong. Did intimacy go out the window? Was the emotional connection maintained? What about self-esteem – are both partners mentally and emotionally healthy? And conflict – have you been fighting often?
These are all questions you should ask yourself and your spouse if you are working on surviving infidelity in your marriage. If you can identify what went wrong, or what’s missing, you can work on fixing it.
“Accidental” cheating – is that real?
Yes. And no.
Some people are only drawn to cheat because of a unique set of circumstances. It’s all about the environment – something about the environment they’re in drives them to cheat.
This is like when someone “accidentally” sleeps with someone at a party when they’re drunk. Or if an overwhelming majority of the people they work with are of the opposite sex.
“Accidental” cheat is often be a one-time thing. But that doesn’t mean it hurts your spouse any less. This situational cheating makes the victim feel insignificant – that the spouse couldn’t exercise enough restraint to refrain from doing something so careless.
“Once a cheater, always a cheater” – is it true?
Yes and no (again). There are certain factors that make some people more, or less, likely to cheat than other people. Because of this, it also makes some people more prone to repeating it.
Statistically speaking, men are more likely to cheat. This has to do with their biology. Because men have more testosterone, they naturally have a higher sex drive. Therefore, they are going to want to have sex more than women (generally speaking).
If men are deprived of physical intimacy with their partners, they are more likely to cheat. A lack of intimacy is one of the main reasons why men cheat.
People with certain personality types are more likely to cheat than others:
- those who are confrontational or less agreeable
- people who value their freedom and independence to an extreme level
- those who are prone to impulsive behavior
- people who enjoy the adrenaline rush of thrill-seeking
- those who have difficulty adhering to accepted social norms
The list could go on, but the message is clear.
However, just because someone has one (or many) of these personality traits doesn’t mean that they’ll cheat for sure. If you recognize any of these traits in your spouse, don’t automatically assume that they’ll cheat. Always give them the benefit of the doubt first, and deal with a problem if it arises.
People with very rigid moral values are less likely to cheat than those who don’t. Often times, this correlates with people who have a higher level of religiosity. Those who are very religious tend to have stricter moral values, and are therefore less likely to cheat than someone with looser morals.
I caution again though – if your spouse is not religious, that doesn’t automatically mean they’ll cheat. There are plenty of non-religious people in the world that are still morally well-rounded, and are unlikely to cheat.
Why does infidelity hurt so bad?
Cheating can be more or less painful depending on some factors.
- a one-time thing, or a repeated event?
- accidental, or premeditated?
- a purely sexual encounter, or was there romantic connection?
Based on these factors, it’s easy to see that the most painful kind of cheating is one where there are multiple meetings, it’s planned, and there’s both sexual and romantic connection.
It hurts because there’s a betrayal of trust. That’s a given. Your partner has essentially communicated that you are defective and that there is someone better (or, that’s often how we feel). You become emotionally tortured and humiliated.
But there’s something more elusive that really makes infidelity sting.
It hurts because you were deprived of something that had been previously reserved for you only. You were the one going on dinner dates, wining and dining, etc. But you got pushed out, so someone else could step in.
Is surviving infidelity possible in a marriage?
Even with all the pain that cheating causes, surviving infidelity is absolutely possible. For those couples who are successful at saving their marriage after an affair, many of them say they’re stronger than ever.
The one imperative to surviving infidelity is this:
Both partners have to want to stay. You can’t make something work with someone who doesn’t want to be there.
If you’ve been cheated on, it might take some time for you to figure out if you want to stay. Broken trust takes a long time to heal. And depending on the circumstances, staying in the relationship might not actually be the healthiest choice.
If you’re the cheater, you’ve got to work with your spouse to figure out what caused the cheating to begin with. Surviving infidelity will require that you make changes, rebuild trust and learn to reconnect.
How can we heal from infidelity?
Surviving infidelity depends on a few important factors. If surviving infidelity means avoiding divorce, then it means that both you and your spouse want to stay married. Additionally, it means you’re willing to work through past and present problems. If you want to know how to win your spouse back, take note of these steps.
Time is the biggest factor in surviving infidelity. Everyday that goes by it’ll hurt a little less. People who’ve been cheated on often say that they picture or imagine their spouse committing the act of infidelity. And this hurts – big time. But as time goes on, our memories fade. All the little details you learn become less clear in your memory.
In addition, time has healing powers because it provides space to work on problems with your spouse. In most cases, infidelity is “caused” because something in the relationship is lacking. Time gives you…well, time… to identify the problem and implement a solution.
The second biggest factor in surviving infidelity is to understand why it happened. Was the cheating premeditated or accidental? Did your spouse act out of desperation because something was missing from the relationship, or was it purely carnal desire and spontaneity that drove the action? These are important questions to ask. Because, if you can’t identify the problem, you can’t possibly determine the right solution.
Understanding your part in the cheating as the victim is also important. Yes, the victim always plays a part. Cheaters often say they’re driven to cheating because they aren’t getting what they need from their spouse. (This is why speaking your spouse’s love language is so important). That means, in one way or another, you (the victim) neglected one or several of their needs.
Change what needs to be changed in order to save the relationship (whether you’re the cheater or the victim). The necessary changes are different for each partner, though.
Victim: to survive infidelity, you must make changes to be able to give your spouse what they need to flourish emotionally in the relationship. If its more affection and physical intimacy, work toward a way to provide that to your spouse. If it’s a lack of emotional connection, work on spending more quality time together, etc.
Cheater: to survive infidelity, you must cut off contact with your lover completely. This is the only way that your spouse will begin to rebuild trust – if the third person is no longer in the picture. You must work on communicating your needs with your spouse, and helping them implement solutions.
Take some space for yourself to figure things out (whether you’re the victim or the cheater). Setting up some boundaries for personal space is extremely valuable in surviving infidelity. This doesn’t have to mean separation. In fact, continuing to live in the same household can force you to deal with the problem, rather than running away.
But, establish some space or time where you can be alone with your thoughts and feelings to process what’s happened. Consider individual therapy (for both partners) to work through some difficult feelings, without the pressure of your spouse listening.
There are a lot of reasons why people cheat. Ultimately it will be up to you, the victim, if you WANT to forgive. Once you’ve worked through and all the previous steps to surviving infidelity, it’s time to let it go, and learn how to forgive the one who’s cheated on you.
This doesn’t mean you should (or will) forget what happened. Quite the contrary. You should remember the reasons why it happened in the first place, and constantly work toward avoiding it in the future.
But holding a grudge will not help you or your spouse heal. In fact, it will probably just push them away. And it could even cause them to cheat again! If you’ve had enough time, and developed enough trust to move forward, then do that. Move on.
Why the cheater needs healing too
Believe it or not, many cheaters don’t want to cheat. They feel they’re driven to it. This is where you find people who say they’re happy with their partner – that they don’t want to disrupt their marriage – but they “just can’t do it anymore”.
Ever heard that phrase before?
Cheaters cheat because they aren’t getting what they need. Usually, they feel abandoned, neglected, and unloved. And they’ll probably say it’s because of something you did, or didn’t do.
I’m not saying this excuses cheating – not at all. But it does explain it.
Cheaters act out of desperation to get something that they need for their emotional survival. We should be able to expect that much out of our marriages, right? I expect to be emotionally fulfilled in my marriage, as a direct result of my husband’s actions.
But what happens if I’m not getting that? What happens if I’m pushed far enough to the edge that I just have to take matters into my own hands to avoid becoming completely emotionally crushed, poisoned, and dead?
It’s like if someone disconnected your emotional oxygen supply – and you slowly start to suffocate. At this point you have a choice (and it’s not a great one) – to get that emotional oxygen from somewhere else, or slowly and painfully waste away. All because they couldn’t get what they need from their spouse.
That is a look inside the cheater’s mind and heart. Yes, the victim feels betrayed. But the cheater often feels betrayed as well.
How to avoid infidelity in your marriage
Get on the same page about what constitutes “cheating” in your relationship.
Does sexting count as cheating? Confiding in an ex? Having an open discussion about this will help draw boundaries for your unique relationship.
Regularly check in with your spouse.
Ask how your spouse is doing in the relationship. Yes, I know that sounds awkward. But a simple, “How are we doing?” can help you gauge your progress. Additionally, it will show your spouse that you care about their emotionally healing too.