An unfaithful spouse is an easy target to demonize. That’s why so many spouses who have strayed from their marriage find it a challenge to track down non-moralizing help when trying to answer an incredibly important question: Should I end my marriage or end my affair?
The fact is, regardless of how much hurt and confusion the betrayed spouse is experiencing—and it’s usually an awful lot—an unfaithful spouse may also be going through their own world of hurt and confusion.
That’s especially so if the spouse who is having an affair has, or believes they have, true feelings for the other woman or other man.
Because those feelings make it very hard, virtually impossible, to see the situation clearly or to make a clear-headed decision. They can persuade you to rewrite the history of your marriage or question it—was I ever really happy? They can trick you into making assumptions—my next relationship will be better! Basically, they can lead you down a path that, in the end, may take you somewhere you don’t really want to be.
A decision to end a marriage is a big one. In fact, it may be the single biggest decision you ever make in your life, and it can have life-long, life-changing consequences.
Are those consequences always bad? No, of course not. Marriages end all the time, and sometimes that’s the best course of action for both spouses, and their kids. Sometimes it leads to a better life for everyone.
But the opposite also happens, and it happens a lot. People who are swept up in the emotion, the fantasy, or the thrill of an illicit affair can make hasty decisions in the throes of that emotional drama and erotic excitement. These are decisions that they can come to deeply, deeply regret.
Ask twenty different people why spouses stray from their marriages and you’ll get twenty different answers. Probably all of them will have some truth, some value to them.
The same goes when you’re looking for advice. If you ask twenty different people that question—should I end my marriage or end my affair?—you’ll get twenty different answers. Unfortunately, almost all of them will reflect the personal opinions or personal experience of the person you’re talking to, rather than your specific situation.
If you’re asking yourself that question—should I end my marriage or end my affair?—what you really need to do is some clear-headed, long-term and fair-minded thinking about your marriage and the affair. You also need to do some soul-searching. And you need to do that without being lectured to or scolded.
Although my background in couples mediation means that I strive to be fair and objective, my approach isn’t entirely devoid of bias. My practice is called “Marriage SOS” – that means the bias is toward saving a marriage, if that’s possible.
To put it simply, I take the position that every person coming to my practice is still seriously thinking about saving their marriage. And I think that’s the best place to start because, ultimately, it may be the best way to prevent regrets.
Because an affair is a tough act to beat. There’s that alluring sense of the forbidden, and the way the other person makes you feel desired, special and alive. It’s hard for your all-too familiar wife or husband to compete with that. And let’s be fair—they shouldn’t have to.
Your marriage needs someone in its corner — not someone who will “convince” you to stay, but rather someone who will simply ask you to think it through. To weigh all the pros and cons. To guide you into figuring out why you did what you did, to help you understand how your injured spouse is processing all of this, and to encourage you to break through any “fantasy thinking” you might be having. Because trust me, it’s better you do that sooner rather than later. You do not want to have any regrets.
Too many people who have strayed from their marriage have found out the hard way that, when the fantasy wore off and reality hit home, there was no home to come back to. Their injured spouse was already long gone. This isn’t meant to be a scare tactic. It may, however, be a reality check.
In any event, if and when there comes a time that you decide to recommit to your marriage, I offer resources that might give you a good place to start.