There’s no doubt that cheating rocks a relationship to its core.
Pain, betrayal, and anger often create a poisonous mix that can leave you wondering when to walk away after infidelity.
Stay or go?
Here are ten crucial considerations before making your decision.
When to walk away after infidelity: 10 crucial considerations
1) Are you being driven by potentially impulsive emotions?
In the wake of infidelity, there is a strong chance that your emotions are running very high right now.
It’s totally understandable. Finding out that your partner has cheated can feel as though your whole world has come crashing down.
Emotions are powerful. But they cannot always be trusted to help us make the best decisions.
We’re often told to follow our feelings. And that can be great advice. But when we feel calm, not when we feel threatened.
Because when your emotions are unstable, they are not a good guide.
They can prompt us to make decisions we might later regret. Decisions that come from anger or fear.
Before making any firm conclusions about whether you should walk away from your relationship, try to check that you are not being driven by impulsive emotions.
I know this can be a tricky thing to do. That’s why it can be a good idea to give yourself some space and time.
These feelings obviously are not going to settle overnight. So allow yourself time to process your feelings.
2) Has it happened before?
Have you found yourself in this situation in your relationship in the past?
If it’s a first-time offense, you might feel more inclined to invest in working on the relationship to try to save it.
On the other hand, if this is just another episode in a string of cheating, you may no longer believe that things are ever going to change.
It’s not strictly true that “once a cheat, always a cheat”. Real-life scenarios are far more nuanced than that.
As psychologist and Certified Sex Therapist, Ari Tuckman points out, although patterns can be telling, one off’s are less so:
“Many believe that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. The key word here is “predictor” which is not the same thing as a determinant. Someone with a long history of infidelity, across multiple relationships, is more likely to repeat that past behavior. On the other hand, someone who cheated once is less likely to cheat again, especially if it was long ago and a lot has happened since then.”
3) How committed do you feel to the relationship?
I suspect that if someone cheats on you within the first few months of dating you might be more willing to cut your losses and move on.
But the longer we have been with someone the more invested we understandably feel.
You have likely given plenty of emotional energy and time to a serious relationship that spans many years.
So it does become a consideration in whether you decide to stay or leave.
Similarly, for many people, marriage is more of a commitment. Even if in no other sense than legally speaking.
It becomes a more complicated process to walk away.
If you feel deeply committed to the relationship, then you are more likely to decide that you want to be sure you’ve done everything in your power to try to fix it before leaving it behind.
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4) Do you have anything left to give?
I’ve already highlighted how it’s perfectly normal for intense emotions to surface in the aftermath of an affair.
But perhaps that’s not how you feel.
Maybe, rather than feel filled with rage, deep sadness, or despair you actually feel totally emotionally and mentally drained.
Again, it’s to be expected.
But you might feel like you are running on empty and this whole situation (and relationship) is destroying you.
Put simply, you feel as though you just have nothing more to give.
It’s not that your emotions are too charged. It’s that you just can’t do this anymore.
Maybe you know deep in your core that you won’t get over it.
So one good question to ask yourself when the time feels right is, do I have anything else left to give to this relationship?
If the answer that comes back from within is yes, then you have a much better chance of moving forward and fixing what is broken.
5) Does your partner show genuine remorse?
Has your partner said that they are sorry for their indiscretions? And, if so, do you believe them?
Are they showing you that they truly understand why it was wrong and that they regret having acted that way?
Is your partner willing to change?
Remorse is bigger than just an apology. It needs to be an action and not just a word.
It has to feel sincere. It has to come with self-responsibility and a willingness to do better.
Part of that will involve your partner opening up and talking honestly about what has happened. Answering questions about it. Taking practical steps to reassure you that it won’t happen again.
- If your partner is not prepared to accept blame and tries to make excuses to deflect responsibility.
- If your partner thinks one “sorry” should be enough to put all this behind you.
- If your partner isn’t prepared to talk fully and openly about what they have done.
…Then you might question their level of remorse and as a consequence decide your relationship cannot be saved.
6) Is the affair totally over?
Certain details of the infidelity might impact your decision as to whether it is something that you feel you can move past.
For example, whether it was a full-blown affair that lasted some time, or whether it was a one-off incident.
If you know that you’ve been lied to for a long time, it might deepen the sense of betrayal or damage.
But a far bigger consideration is going to be whether it is totally over.
Does your partner admit to still having feelings for whoever the cheating took place with?
It takes two people to make a relationship work, and if the other is holding back because of conflicting emotions it’s much more challenging.
Can your partner commit to cutting this person completely out of their life?
That means agreeing that they won’t see them or speak to them again.
It’s going to be trickier to navigate if cutting them out of their life is not so easily done. For example, if it’s a co-worker or someone who is more entwined with your life for whatever reason.
What other reassurances do you feel you might need to know that it is truly over?
7) Will you unpack all your relationship problems?
You need to know why this happened. And the real causes usually run much deeper than excuses like “I don’t know why I did it” or “it just happened”.
Infidelity involves more than cheating. And in most cases, it is never really just about sex.
It is often a symptom of deeper problems in a relationship that haven’t been addressed.
That means being able to identify the real reasons behind why infidelity took place is going to be significant in moving forward.
The reality is that two people are in a relationship and contribute to it. And you might need to be prepared to face hard truths — on both sides.
Some of the deeper reasons why cheating can happen include:
- An emotional disconnection
- A lack of physical intimacy
- Conflict, resentment, and frustrations in the relationship
- Poor communication and boundaries
- Unresolved personal issues or trauma
Ensuring this doesn’t happen again will involve unpacking your relationship issues and getting to the heart of why your partner decided to cheat.
8) Would you be staying together for the wrong reasons?
I appreciate that so-called “right” or “wrong” reasons to stay in a relationship aren’t always so clear-cut.
There is no denying that a break-up impacts many areas of your life.
But generally speaking, the wrong reasons could include things like:
- Doing it for other people – for example, for the sake of your family, or your kids. The research shows that children are far better off with divorced parents than with unhappy parents.
- Because you feel like it would be a failure. In fact, sometimes the smarter and stronger thing to do is to let go, not cling on.
- Because you are scared of life after them. Fear is never the best motivation for making important life decisions. Change is always unsettling. But no matter how apprehensive you feel, the truth is that there is always a happy life to be found after a breakup.
- Because you feel obliged to try even when you really don’t want to. This decision has to center around what you feel is ultimately best for you, and not others.
9) Is there still love left?
As much as you may try to approach any big decision logically, the truth is that isn’t always possible.
When it comes to matters of the heart, the head doesn’t always get to rule.
You might find that your gut instinct tells you that you want to stay in the relationship but your mind says otherwise.
The reality is that leaving a relationship brings up all sorts of considerations.
Some are more pragmatic — such as financial and the day-to-day practical stuff. And others are more emotional.
One of those big emotional considerations is likely to be whether strong loving feelings remain.
Do you still love your partner?
Of course, it takes more than love to make a long-term relationship work.
But it is still an important glue that can help to hold things together, especially during challenging times.
If love remains, no matter how unnurtured it feels right now, it might help motivate you to do the hard work of healing the relationship.
10) Are you both willing to put in the work?
Whilst we’re on the subject of hard work, now is probably a good time to bring up this next consideration.
The road ahead is unlikely to be smooth sailing.
Repairing any relationship problems requires commitment and effort. And that’s especially the case with infidelity when you need to repair trust.
It can require things that are going to feel very uncomfortable:
- Brutal trust and openness
Half-heartedly going through the motions just to feel as though you tried is only likely to be a waste of your time and energy.
Rather than try to ignore your relationship issues and hope they resolve themself, you’re going to need a plan.
That might involve long discussions with your partner, finding practical ways to improve your relationship, and perhaps seeking outside support.
How do you and your partner feel about the prospect of putting in the sustained effort right now to make things work?
How do you know if you should leave after infidelity?
We’ve covered ten key considerations that you will want to think about when making your decision.
But you might still be wondering, but how do I decide?
Here are a few tips to help you make the right decision for you.
1) Go with your gut
All the tips and practical advice in the world can guide you. But at the end of the day, your own instincts are powerful when it comes to making the best choice for you.
Intuition is far from guesswork. Those initial instincts that we feel often come from careful calculations taking place in our subconscious.
It is silently weighing up the information you may not have even consciously thought about. And it draws on both subjective and objective data.
There is evidence to suggest that when it comes to complex choices, going with our gut can be the best.
As explained in Harvard Business Review:
“In the face of information overload, mounting risks and uncertainty, and intense pressures to make the right decisions, there is often debilitating evidence that delays our decision-making. We put the choice off, rather than deciding. Trusting your gut allows the freedom to move forward.”
2) Give yourself time
Know that it is ok to give yourself time and space to make a decision.
You don’t need to find all the answers right now. You may be feeling confused and have conflicting emotions.
Particularly if you are still in shock, you might want to step back from the pressure of making any definitive decision right now.
It doesn’t have to be a firm yes or no answer to whether you will walk away after infidelity. Right now, you can also choose “maybe”.
Allowing yourself the time to sit with your thoughts, feelings, and ideas about the situation can make it less likely that you make a choice you later regret.
3) Seek support to talk it through
You are not in this alone.
There is always support available for you. Whether it is a trusted family member, friend, or an expert.
If you need confidential advice, guidance, and support, then consider speaking to an expert at Relationship Hero.
This is a resource I have relied on several times myself.
The reason I really like using the site is that their trained relationship coaches not only listen and support you. They also give you practical help and guidance. Unlike therapists who purposely don’t offer advice, they do.
They listen to your unique circumstances and help you understand what you want, and create a plan of action to move forwards with.
You can connect with an expert 24-7, so if that sounds like something you might need, you can always check them out by clicking here.
4) Don’t judge yourself
Sometimes pride or ego affects our decisions.
For example, you might feel like you “should” leave your spouse in order to save face, when deep down you really don’t want to. You could worry that it would be a sign of weakness by staying.
Or the opposite could be the case. You could feel guilty about giving up on your relationship, but you’re also feeling exhausted and want to walk away.
In order to make the best decision for you, try to leave judgment at the door.
Remove the pressure of the “shoulds” and try to connect with how you truly feel and what you truly want.
What should you not do after infidelity?
We’ve looked at some of the things to consider and do after infidelity in your relationship.
But what about what NOT to do?
There are a few things that are best avoided. Rather than help you, these things will only make matters worse.
1) Don’t make snap decisions
I’ve already highlighted the risk of deciding your future when you are feeling at your lowest.
Of course, part of this is unavoidable. You clearly won’t be feeling at your happiest in the relationship after discovering your partner has cheated.
But it’s more about damage control.
It’s very easy to be driven by raw emotions such as anger, pain, and resentment.
You are justified in feeling these things. But try to separate the emotions you may feel about your partner right now and the relationship as a whole.
The best way to do that can be giving yourself plenty of self-care and taking the time you need.
2) Don’t turn detective
A big part of infidelity is often deceit.
Lies, betrayal, and cheating tend to go hand in hand. And this can tempt you to try to turn detective.
Whilst discovering the truth about your partner’s indiscretions is obviously an important part of moving past it — don’t fall into super sleuth mode.
For example, trying to dig around into the life of the person who your partner cheated on you with. Don’t go searching on social media for them, or try to unearth ultimately unhelpful details.
Knowing all of these things might feel important to you. But in actual fact it is only likely to increase your own pain and suffering.
It’s also a red herring.
The answers and solutions to your relationship lie between you two, and nowhere else.
3) Don’t seek revenge
Another temptation when you feel wronged and hurt by your partner might be to seek revenge.
You might want to inflict pain on them, like they have done to you. But trying to “teach them a lesson” actually doesn’t solve anything.
Seeking revenge as a knee-jerk reaction could be the final nail in the coffin of your relationship.
In the words of Mahatma Gandhi:
“An eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind.”
Try to find healthier expressions and outlets to work through the emotions you are feeling.
To conclude: How do you know when your marriage is over after infidelity?
The reality is that in the aftermath of infidelity you might not know yet whether your marriage is over. And that’s ok.
Focus on healing. This means taking care of yourself and getting support.
It’s ok to take time to decide. It’s ok to change your mind. It’s ok to try and it not work out how you’d hoped.
Relationships are messy.
I know not having conclusive answers can feel really scary.
Take comfort at least in the knowledge that there isn’t a narrowly defined right or wrong thing to do after infidelity in a marriage.
Everyone is just doing the best they can. And I’m sure you are too. Above all else, show yourself compassion and kindness right now.
You have time to decide whether you want to work towards building a stronger relationship, or whether you want to walk away.
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