Should I End My Marriage Upon Discovering an Affair?

If you have discovered an affair you are not alone.  Shirley P. Glass, Ph.D and a leading expert on infidelity,  states that “At least one of both parties in 50 percent of all couples, married and living together, straight and gay, will break their vows of sexual or emotional exclusivity during the lifetime of the relationship” and that “24 percent of wives and 44 percent of husbands have had extramarital intercourse”. This being said extramarital affairs are prevalent throughout society. 

If you are reading this column it is likely you have discovered your partner having an affair. Upon this discovery your first thoughts might be, “Should I end my marriage?  Isn’t this what one “should” do when an affair is present?” I am going to challenge this initial thought and say not necessarily.  Infidelity does not always mean that a relationship is at its end.

Affairs can be an indicator that a marriage is in need of repair. It may be possible that corrective action can take place and the relationship can be healed.  Yet at other times it can signify a failing relationship that needs to come to an end.  So how does one know if the marriage should be ended or if it should be salvaged?

Why did the affair happen?

Shirley Glass indicates that, “Not every person who is unfaithful is unhappily married. Marital distress can be seen as the cause or the consequence of an infidelity. The marriage may not have caused the infidelity, but disclosure of infidelity will certainly damage the marriage”. Often people assume that if an infidelity occurred the marriage was unhappy but this is not always the case.

There are many reasons an affair can take place including:

-symptom of another underlying problem in the relationship

-bored/lonely

-compulsive sexual behavior

-friendship that resulted in unintentional emotional intimacy that then moved to sexual intimacy

-emotional/sexual intimacy is not present in the relationship

-looking for a way to get out of an unhappy marriage.

-peer pressure

-sexual variety

-reaffirmation of being desirable

-feeling neglected

From this list some of the reasons point to the marriage as the root cause while others do not.  The why is not as important of a factor as the impact of infidelity on the state of the relationship. Telling the truth of the affair can rebuild trust. Through the telling of the story it is possible to heal the wounds that have been inflicted on the relationship. Even if you decide to stay or go this can be a time of renewal and healing.

Give Yourself Time.

The discovery of an affair can often cause indecision. One person’s mind whose seems made up can change the very next day. It is not uncommon at the discovery of an affair for both partners to flow between wanting to stay in the marriage and wanting to leave the marriage. I recommend that couples should wait three months before choosing to end a marriage.

As at the onset of the affair partners look at each other and are reminded of the pain.  At this stage it may appear easier to end the marriage. Couples often give up on the marriage too soon with regrets later on.  I urge you to take the time to make the decision you really want.  Three months allows you to go through the process of the emotional pain to determine what it is you really want.

Should I stay or should I go?

The choice to stay or leave a marriage is a personal decision.  It is one that should be made between the couple and individuals involved.  There is often societal pressure that tells the partner who was the victim of an affair that he or she should leave.  I often encourage couples to hold the discovering of an affair between the two partners and not to involve outside influence.  At times individuals will feel the need of outside support.  If this is the case I encourage you to tell one trusted friend or family member.  I have found in my personal practice marriages can flourish after an affair.

Often the affair can bring awareness to areas in the relationship that need repair, providing a new found vitalization into a relationship that was suffering.  Other times the affair can indicate a relationship that was already failing and needs to end.  In these cases the affair also presents awareness to the couple that it is time for the relationship to end.  I encourage you, as I stated above, give yourself the time to really determine what outcome you want in your marriage.

This is the time that getting a couples therapist can be beneficial as the therapist can assist in providing clarity to both partners on where the relationship should go.  A good therapist will not take sides, which is often a worry I see come into my office.  Instead they will assist you in examining each member’s role in the relational cycle that has caused the damage and may need healing.

Danger zone

Asking specific details of an affair can be damaging and unnecessary. Ask yourself why you want to know details. Understanding the root cause can be helpful.  Knowing specific sexual acts, places, dates, and times can be damaging as it can cause unneeded thoughts and hang ups.  One should ask themselves will asking this help create closure or healing or will it cause more damage and hurt.

This is up for debate with many therapists but in my personal experience I have found specific detailed explanations of sexual acts and behaviors have not been helpful.  Whereas asking questions surrounding the deceit and lying of infidelity can bring up discussions that are healing.

Note: To simplify the article I used the word marriage, but the word marriage refers to any monogamous and fully committed relationship.  As I specialize in couples of all backgrounds including married, engaged, living together, dating, and same-sex.  All of these types of couples experience the pain of infidelity.

About the author

Lyndsey Fraser, MA, LAMFT has over three years of experience providing individual, couples, and family therapy.  She specializes in couples of all backgrounds including married, engaged, living together, dating, and same-sex (lesbian and gay). Within this she also focuses on sexual concerns related to infidelity and sexual dysfunction.  To learn more about Lyndsey Fraser, MA, LAMFT you can go to her website at www.relationalconnections.com.

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