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Overcoming Infidelity


I keep coming back to Shiri’s comment on our open thread the other day. It is the idea that there are going to be sustained periods of your relationship where things just aren’t great. That’s the nature of promising forever while still being human. They key, of course, is to know how long is too long and how much “not great” you’re willing to live through. Infidelity is often lumped into a category outside this spectrum, usually under the umbrella of unforgivables. And there’s a lot of shame around choosing to stay after a partner has cheated. But I’m inclined to agree with Mari here that there has to be room for some grey area on this one. I know not everyone will agree with me, and that’s just fine. But I think, as Mari says, that we should be able to have these conversations, without the concern of stigma or judgment, in order to make the best decisions for our relationships.

—Maddie 

Overcoming Infidelity | A Practical Wedding

Three months before our wedding I found out that my then-fiancé had cheated on me. It came as a total and utter shock. I felt like I had been punched in the gut. When I first received the news I started hyperventilating and began pacing from one room in our apartment to the next, as if the next room would hold the calmness and clarity that had suddenly been sucked out of my world. I had no idea that the man I believed was perfect for me, a man who seemed so dedicated to me, the man I was about to marry, had had an affair during the first few months of our relationship.

I thought I had known almost everything important there was to know about him. I was one hundred percent sure he would never do something like this to me—the thought never even crossed my mind. The revelation that he had been with someone else while we were together was earth shattering for me, and I felt utterly disillusioned and betrayed. I felt like a fool. And yet at the same time, I knew that I was still going to marry him. I knew that I would not leave him. It’s hard to explain, and I know it sounds ridiculous even as I write this, but we had been together for three wonderful years at that point, we were great together, and I felt a certainty that he would not jeopardize our relationship again.

My fiancé apologized at length. He explained that it had been a confusing time for him, how he didn’t mean to hurt me and how deeply he regretted his past actions. He told me he was head over heels in love with me and had never in his life been more excited about anything as he was for our wedding day.

It wasn’t easy, of course. It’s taken a lot of time, a lot of talking, and a lot of tears to get through this, and it is probably something that I will continue to struggle with for a long time. I continue to deal with insecurity and, at times, fears that it could happen again. He works hard to remind me that I am everything to him and that it will never happen again. We have slowly been picking up the pieces and rebuilding the trust that is an integral part of any successful relationship. We know that without it, we won’t be able to function.

What’s made this whole process of healing and overcoming infidelity more difficult has been that I didn’t and still don’t feel as though there is anyone I can talk to about this. I feel like even my most understanding friends and family members, while providing a comforting ear, would silently judge me for staying with someone who cheated on me. In romantic comedies, the guy or girl usually leaves the scummy cheater to be with someone better (Wedding Crashers, The Wedding Singer, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall all spring to mind). In my life, I still fear that others would somehow pity me if they knew what my fiancé had done.

I’ve felt totally alone in this, but surely I can’t be? The General Social Survey, an annual survey that has tracked US social behaviour since 1972, finds that about ten percent of married couples are involved in infidelity every year. But it seems to me that until a couple gets divorced, infidelity is rarely spoken about. If this is something that is going on in one out of ten couples every year, then why can’t we talk about it? And why can’t we talk more publicly about ways of overcoming it?

I know that I used to think less of relationships where one partner cheated on the other, thinking that one must have decided to settle for less than perfect. I know there are lots of reasons why people stray from their marriages, and I know there are a lot of reasons to end relationships that are not working. But I now know there are also very valid reasons for staying together and working it out. I just hope that more people are able to have an honest discussion about infidelity and are able decide whether their relationship is worth saving. Mine was.

Editor’s Note: Infidelity is one of those tricky topics that can be a painful trigger for some of us. As always, we ask everyone to please respect the author’s choices and frame comments in a way that speaks from your own personal experiences without shaming anyone else for theirs. 

Photo by Gabriel Harber Photography (APW Sponsor)

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  • Anon for this

    I went through something similar with my partner, except I was that cheater. After being together for barely 2 months, he had to fly back home and we began the long distance part of our relationship. I wasn’t sure if I could handle the distance. I didn’t have confidence in myself to remain faithful. I wasn’t sure how smart it was to start a relationship that would either end or cause one of us to move really far from our homes. To make matters worse, days after he left, my sister got married. I was 20 and hadn’t quite figured out how to pace myself at the college keggers I had been attending, and ended up WAY too drunk (also, my parents extending the open bar AFTER the bartender had already made the last call led to way too many tequila shots had by all. Don’t do this at your wedding!). I ended up cheating on my boyfriend. THEN I got caught up with do I tell him? Do I not tell him? Does this mean we could never work? This other guy is pretty nice, should I date him instead? Should I just resign from relationships forever? I made the choice to tell my boyfriend about what had happened, and we were able to get past it.

    Infidelity is bad, no argument there. But for some people, it’s all the lying to cover up the infidelity that will hurt someone more (and maybe make it harder for him/her to trust you again).

  • Amanda L.

    You made a really difficult decision that none of us should judge without standing in your shoes. The one thing I will offer up is about why there might be a stigma. My guess is that it’s because if everyone just accepted staying with a cheating partner as the norm, then it might feel like a subtle way of saying that the infidelity itself was ok. It might also feel (from the outside) like the person who cheated didn’t have any consequences.

    Your post also really struck a chord with me because I feel the same way about my husband as you did about your fiance. I literally cannot imagine him cheating on me. At the same time, I know life is long, and our marriage will hit bumps, and we’re human. I hope I handle what comes our way with the grace with which you’re handling this. (And I dare say you’ve found your place to come talk about this issue when you need to).

  • BB

    I appreciate your perspective and admire your strength and forgiveness. I do not know if I could be so understanding/accepting/ever really forgive. I do understand where you are coming from about your friends and family responding poorly. Even looking within myself I see these emotions for a friend whose boyfriend (now fiance) cheated on her in high school (over 7 years ago!) and I still have not fully forgiven him. I am frustrated with myself because she is clearly happy with him, and if she can trust him, shouldn’t I be able to? It feels so petty. It doesn’t help matters that we have never really interacted much, nor have I been around the two of them together very often over the years, so I don’t have many other good experiences to balance one ugly memory.

    Every relationship has it’s hurdles, and I send strength your way to keep persevering!

  • http://smittenimmigrant.wordpress.com pluis

    Personally, I think it is too bad that monogamy in its current sense is such a dominant social narrative. It makes infidelity, which is not at all uncommon, as OP says, such a big taboo that, not only is it often responded to as Immediate Relationship Death, but it also stifles meaningful conversations about the why, and the what-now and the is-there-a-path-beyond-this..

    Sometimes I even feel like the dominant monogamous discourse sort of indirectly leads to more cheating because it is not ‘possible’ to discuss attractions or crushes outside of the relationship, which then leads to suppressed feelings and hiding things. If it feels like there are no options but to suppress or to lie, it becomes easier to justify lying, maybe?

    Personally I believe that both monogamy and non-monogamy are viable strategies along which we can organize our romantic lives. I took a big step towards accepting that stance when I realized a partner had cheated on me and I was.. remarkably not-upset. I was hurt and angry and felt lied to, yes, but not more or less angry or hurt than I had felt over other serious lies (No, I did not get in this accident because I was drunk, or No, the money was stolen, I did not buy weed with it). It was the fundamental dishonesty that bothered me and I have since tried to eliminate dishonesty. To me, the best strategy is to very clearly make space in our relationship to discuss attractions to other people and desires to be intimate with other people.

    Sometimes these talks are hard. They make me feel small, insecure, insignificant. Often, nothing happens with these talks other than that they’re talked. Sometimes, a talk leads to explicit permission to explore. By making extra-marital attractions a part of our marriage, they lose the power to drive us apart. They become slow, careful experiments we embark on together. They help us bond and grow stronger. In the end, they make me feel courageous, self-sufficient, brave and awesome, even if they never lead to anything other than some conversations.

    I am not an advocate for non-monogamy in general. There are many people for whom (serial) monogamy is the one relationship structure that makes them feel good and allows them to be the best people they can be. Still, I think that they, too, would benefit from more nuanced discourse about sex inside and outside of monogamous relationships. If only because it would allow people like OP to talk about her choice (which I think is a courageous one!) without the fear of being seen as a ‘doormat’ or as someone whose relationship is fundamentally broken.

    • Briggs

      “It was the fundamental dishonesty that bothered me”

      Yep, that’s it exactly. A very good friend of mine was in an open relationship for several years. It was working well, and they were following their rules of always being honest and communicating about any extra relationships they had outside theirs. Until for some reason he didn’t tell her about one. That ended what was otherwise a good thing: not the infidelity, but the dishonesty.

    • anon

      Sometimes I even feel like the dominant monogamous discourse sort of indirectly leads to more cheating because it is not ‘possible’ to discuss attractions or crushes outside of the relationship, which then leads to suppressed feelings and hiding things. If it feels like there are no options but to suppress or to lie, it becomes easier to justify lying, maybe?

      I agree with this. My fiance and I have been together for 9 years, since we were 19 years old, and we are unintentionally the only person either of us has either slept with. There is some pressure that comes with that, and I’d much rather have some very hard conversations than ignore that pressure and let it do some serious damage. Years ago we basically promised one another that we would come and talk to each other before doing something stupid. Personally, I’d be more inclined to give my blessing to some extra-marital nookie and have everything be out in the open, than be lied to. It’s the lying that would break my heart.

      • BB

        Your relationship length/age is very similar to mine, and we have also agreed to talk about potential “infidelity.” Although neither of us has gone through with it, it has (re)opened up the discourse about what is attractive/fun/sexy/dangerous, and we have found ways to satisfy those cravings in each other.

        • Alyssa

          Same here to this entire comment. Somehow accepting that needing another partner is possible and acceptable makes me want to try harder to make our sex life as fulfilling as possible.

      • Alyssa

        Us too…well, 10 years since 16, but same boat, and we’ve discussed many times the probable eventuality of one of us needing explore outside the relationship, setting
        ground rules of how to check in before it happens. While it’s all great and open on paper, I am a pretty jealous person when it comes to other women flirting with my husband, so i have no idea how I’ll actually take it.

    • Abby J.

      “Sometimes I even feel like the dominant monogamous discourse sort of indirectly leads to more cheating because it is not ‘possible’ to discuss attractions or crushes outside of the relationship, which then leads to suppressed feelings and hiding things. If it feels like there are no options but to suppress or to lie, it becomes easier to justify lying, maybe?”

      I absolutely agree with this; it’s like setting up a situation for failure, really. I mean, if 100% emotional and physical fidelity is the one and only definition of marital success or failure, how impossible does that become to actually succeed at doing?

      And honestly, I think this also prevents a lot of skills that young unmarrieds in our culture could be learning, about how to recognize warning signs in both themselves and others, how to establish boundaries without ruining friendships and relationships, and how to discuss things with their partner before things ever even got close to becoming a real problem. These are certainly skills I had to learn for myself the hard way, not without hurting my then-boyfriend, now-husband in the process unfortunately.

    • http://landlockedlove.blogspot.com Kelly

      I tried to have an “open” relationship once. My boyfriend cheated on me repeatedly, so we had a long and serious (and on-going) discussion about what he needed outside the relationship, and tried to come up with a set of rules, guidelines, etc, that would make it possible to stay together. I never took advantage of the fact that I could be with someone else; he did.

      In the end, I couldn’t deal with it. It’s not the reason our relationship ended, but the whole experience was painful for me. I wanted very much to be open about this sort of a thing. I wanted to try to create a situation in which these kinds of affairs were acceptable, non-threatening, or even just tolerable. We talked a lot, and he was very honest about his needs and wants, as well as his deep feelings for me, and I just couldn’t get there. We tried full disclosure. We tried me not knowing anything about it. We tried and tried and it was still unendurably painful for me every single time.

      I’ve been cheated on by other partners as well, when no such arrangement was attempted. I don’t believe that infidelity is an instant deal breaker. But like others have said, I can’t chalk it up to a moment of weakness. It is many many choices strung together that lead to an act. Is it forgivable? Maybe. Are there worse ways to break your vows? Absolutely. Cheating is not the only betrayal in marriage, or any relationship. But it’s also not something I’d be able look the other way on. That doesn’t mean I’d leave my husband right away. Or ever. I can’t know what I’d do unless it happened, and please, god, let it never happen.

      But I know I’ll never attempt any kind of open relationship again. Not with my husband, not with anyone. I am not wired that way.

    • Sarah

      My fiance and I practice non-monogamy in a pretty structured way- in the small community where we work, we’re both in high-image fields (education, social work) so we keep it on lockdown. At home (far away, across the country), we have a small group of people who we’ve been fluid with for years, and that just works best for us.

      We actually started this as a strategy to deal with my serial cheating- I had cheated on every person I’d ever dated, and could feel myself gearing up to go there again. Rather than doing that, I talked to my then-boyfriend about it and after probably a year of talking, we put it into practice. It works really well for us- we have set rules, we have total disclosure, and the ability to re-negotiate on the fly if needed.

      I expect we’ll keep doing this as marrieds and as long as we can, really- it keeps me sane.

  • LIZ (SINCE 1982)

    I have absolutely seen relationships recover from and thrive after infidelity. A lot seems to depend on context and, from what you write here, I see two familiar signs that (if I were you) would validate my decision to forgive and move forward with the relationship:

    1. Your then-boyfriend’s infidelity was an isolated incident spanning a relatively short period, rather than a continuing pattern of behavior.

    2. He took the initiative to confess this to you: to apologize, make clear that he considers it a mistake that he would never repeat, and give you the agency to determine whether you still see a future with him now that you have all the facts.

    When I have seen relationships dissolve after infidelity, the lying was more of a poison than the cheating itself (as pointed out above), or the cheating was really a symptom of an underlying disrespect/disregard for one partner by the other. If you choose to talk to family and friends about this at some point, you may deal with some jumping to the latter conclusion, but telling them about how hard your love is working to make you feel secure and earn your trust again may help diffuse that concern.

    My heart goes out to you and I hope you’ll have a beautiful life together!

    • http://stephanieearlygreen.com Steph

      Totally agree!

      These situations need to be judged on a spectrum; they are not black and white. Other factors that I’d deem important in this case are the fact that the infidelity occurred in the context of a dating relationship, not a marriage (so there presumably wasn’t any life-long commitment to fidelity made at that point) and quite early on in the relationship, as well. There is a difference between cheating on a person you’ve been dating for a few months and cheating on your spouse or long-term, committed partner. Not saying cheating is ever justified or okay, but there are degrees of badness. And I’m also not saying that cheating in a marriage relationship is always a dealbreaker, but the considerations necessarily change.

      The very best of luck and well wishes to the author and her fiance – you guys should be proud of yourselves for dealing with this in a way that was right for you.

    • http://thedilettantista.com/ The Dilettantista

      Yes–precisely what Liz said. I think you made the correct decision here, and these things are neither black nor white. The behavior happened at the beginning of the relationship (when frequently there can be a lot of insecurity on both sides), it was isolated, and he confessed of his own accord.

      I would love to get a similar story about a partner choosing to stay but from the perspective of a couple that had been married a significant amount of time (maybe five or more years), with the infidelity occurring during the married period. While I don’t want to assign “categories” to infidelity, I would personally find infidelity much more upsetting if I were married (and in an agreed-upon monogamous relationship, I think open relationships can work for many people and I agree with the statement above that monogamous relationships dominating the cultural narrative aren’t helping things–APW we should have a post about that too, tales from a person in an open relationship/marriage and how it works for them!). For me, cheating would carry less weight (I know, all infidelity is bad, but these are just my feelings) if it happened before marriage or before there is any agreed upon “We are in this for the long haul.” Again, I don’t mean to underplay the original poster’s feelings, I’m just saying that I don’t think she should feel any shame or invalidation. The choice makes perfect sense in this situation.

      • KB

        I’d be curious as well – I mean, I can’t see the nuts and bolts of it all, like “Hey, so I met this guy/girl last night who’s hot – would it be cool if I hit that?” I can relate to negotiating the terms of the relationship with your partner, but what happens when you actually put it into practice?

      • Cleo

        Here’s a post that ran a couple years back (I’ve read all the archives) about open relationships/marriages:

        http://apracticalwedding.com/2011/03/reclaiming-wife-respecting-the-foundation/

        • http://thedilettantista.com/ The Dilettantista

          Thanks Cleo! Looking forward to reading this after my third potential summer intern interview of the day (out of four, sniff, I am excited for new interns but I hate giving interviews).

    • http://arduousblog.com ruchi

      Maybe I’m the only one here who feels this way, but if my husband had cheated on me a few months into our relationship in a fairly isolated incident, I would never want to know. Because the truth is, it would eat at me and cause me a huge amount of pain, even though I don’t think cheating on someone you’ve been dating for a couple months is necessarily a deal-breaking sin.

      There’s a part of me that thinks confessing cheating can be a selfish act, like it’s a chance for the cheater to purge himself but can cause a lot of hurt to the other partner that is unnecessary. Similarly, if my husband were to ever cheat on me one night on a business trip and that was it, I don’t think I would ever want to know (presuming he was safe about it.) Life and marriage are long and a fuck up here and there is I don’t think a marriage breaker.

      • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.ca/ Sheryl

        You’re not alone. I’ve been very clear with my husband that if there’s ever a one time mistake that occurred on his part I wouldn’t want to hear about it. At that point, telling seems to me more about relieving your own guilt and looking for forgiveness than trying to care for your partner. People make stupid mistakes and if it’s a mistake that was made once and never again, well, some things I’d just rather not know. I think it’s a matter of knowing your relationship. I’ve been very clear on how I feel on that issue, so telling wouldn’t make sense.

  • Army Amy*

    I’m so glad APW has the courage to discuss such hard topics as this.

    My parents were married for 25 years. On their 25th wedding anniversary, my dad served my mom with divorce papers, revealed that he had been cheating on her for a long time, he was moving out of state, and he was marrying the other woman. Woah. To college-junior me, it was so out of the blue and mind-blowing. It rocked my family badly. My mom had to declare bankruptcy, my older brother still no longer speaks to my father, and I questioned my relationships with everyone. (Trust issues, party of 1!) Even though it sucked for a few years, I can see now very clearly that everyone (parents, former misstress/now step-mother, children/siblings), we are all so much happier now. And I vowed that if things we ever bad between me and my husband, that’d I’d definitely leave him. I would just know that I could be happier without someone who would treat me like that.

    Oh, but it is so much more tangled and difficult when you are the spouse and not the child. I made vows to my husband that I’d be by his side no matter what. And I was so cautious in getting married because of my family’s history. During the hard times, I ask myself, “Is this the thing I want to end my marriage over?” And if you’re both willing to work (really willing) isn’t it worth it to try? So when I hear people say things like, “I’d divorce my husband if he did xyz,” I just nod knowing that it’s so much different in reality than how you imagine it.

    Beautiful piece!

    • emmer

      “So when I hear people say things like, “I’d divorce my husband if he did xyz,” I just nod knowing that it’s so much different in reality than how you imagine it.”

      YES! Applies to so many things, not just infidelity.

    • Class of 1980

      “I made vows to my husband that I’d be by his side no matter what.”

      Unless you consciously crafted some unusual vows, I’d say that no one vows to stay by their spouse’s side “no matter what”.

      Even the strictest Christian denominations allow divorce for infidelity. So do most other religions. Infidelity is really in a category of it’s own as far as what a person should feel obligated to do about it.

      • Army Amy*

        In not anti-divorce. Like I said, my whole family was better for my patents’ divorce. (I’ve often wished they’d done it sooner.) And I don’t want to imply that people should stay together no matter what. (Poor choice of words, I guess.)

        For my husband and I, as long as we are both willing to work things out, I might forgive things I’d previously ruled unforgivable. It took getting married for me to realize how not black and white these kinds of things are.

        • Class of 1980

          I hoped that’s what you really meant. ;)

      • JW

        Not to be hugely nitpicky, but I’m not sure this is true. For instance, I think Catholicism (the largest Christian denomination) only allows for divorce in situations of harm/abuse.

    • KC

      Also: the 25th wedding anniversary is not the day to serve divorce papers. I don’t know what day is, but not: Thanksgiving, Christmas, the anniversary of when someone significant has died (parent or sibling or child), Valentine’s Day, their birthday, OR YOUR ANNIVERSARY.

      Sorry. That just seems particularly… something-y.

      • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.ca/ Sheryl

        It seems like when one spouse has engaged in an ongoing affair and is leaving the other spouse sometimes the common sense and compassion for their spouse are gone. In my own family I’ve seen pretty idiotic choices in a day to drop that bomb, and that’s all I can chalk those decisions up to.

  • Steph

    I want to apologize on behalf of the judgemental people. I definitely qualified as one in the past (I was 20 when the Monica Lewinski scandal broke and was initially horrified with Hilliary Clinton for standing by her man — as if it was any of my damn business!) All these years later at the more mature age of 33 I have come to realize that everyone’s marriage is different, and just because *I* don’t think I could forgive cheating in my marriage doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with other people who make a different choice. I am sorry you feel shame or that you can’t talk about your situation and even though I don’t know you personally I’m sorry for in the past being a person who contributed to that sense of stigma

    • Class of 1980

      Well, yeah, but Bill Clinton is a serial cheater. Perhaps that’s the reason many people find it hard to understand where Hillary is coming from. Just saying.

      • Anon

        There is a working theory amongst many of the non-monogamous folks I know that the Clintons actually *have* an agreement that he can have women on the side but think that admitting it would be politically disastrous.

        • Class of 1980

          Yes, that is what I have believed all along. However, to admit such a thing would be political suicide.

  • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.ca/ Sheryl

    While I can’t imagine my husband ever cheating life is long and we’re human, shit happens and mistakes are made. For me, in this relationship, it’s not an automatic death knoll for our relationship. It’s certainly a sign that we have issues we would need to be working on and that the steps we’d been taking up to that point had not been enough. I love being married to this man too much to throw everything away over one bad decision, and I didn’t promise just to stay when things are easy.

    Which isn’t to say that I wouldn’t still be devastated, because I would be. But there are hundreds of little reasons why I chose him and one bad choice doesn’t automatically negate them.

  • KATE

    Does anyone think that it would have been better for her fiance NOT to tell her about the infidelity? I haven’t been in this position so I’m not sure how I would feel, but I’m wondering if it is sometimes kinder to not tell your partner, when it is a one time incident, you learned your lesson, and you are sure it will never happen again. I read the Dear Prudie column at Slate, and this is the advice she often gives to cheaters who are racked with guilt about a one time infidelity. I’m wondering if anyone has been through this and could offer an opinion on whether ignorance is sometimes bliss.

    Also, kudos to the writer of this post. Your ability to move past the infidelity and forgive your fiance says a lot about not just the strength of your relationship, but your strength and self-confidence as a person.

    • kelly

      Yes! Prudie, that’s where I read that! (Couldn’t remember and it was driving me bonkers.)

      I agree wholeheartedly with that sentiment. In a case like this, it feels like the penance for cheating is to live with yourself — no good can come of telling your partner, especially if it was such an isolated incident.

      Of course, OP and her partner may have a very different understanding when it comes to infidelity, but my fiance and I have both said that we would stick it out and make it work if one of us had an affair. If he or I cheated and it was an isolated, one-time thing, I would probably not want to drag our relationship through that mess.

      (For the record, my father cheated on my mother and they stayed together. I know the terrible, torturous process of dealing with cheating very well, and I don’t see the point of getting into it if the cheating wasn’t indicative of a deeper issue in the relationship.)

      • KATE

        Haha Prudie is the best! Her column and APW are my two must-reads each week.

        I’ve thought about it (though haven’t discussed it with my partner), and I don’t think I would want to know if it were a one time incident and if we were both happy in the relationship. I’m not sure that I am secure enough as a person to really be able to move past it.

        Even if the cheating were a symptom of a problem with our relationship, I think I’d rather have him ask that we go to therapy to work on that problem and keep the guilt about infidelity to himself.

    • One More Sara

      For what it’s worth, Mari never said how she found out about the cheating. Her partner may have resigned not to tell her for precisely this reason, but somehow the truth still came out. Or maybe he wanted her to make an informed decision before they got married. We don’t know.

      I do have a friend that did this. She was in a long-ish relationship and wasn’t sure if they should bother doing long distance after graduation. She ended up cheating with The One That Got Away, and the LACK of guilt she felt about it helped her decide to end the relationship without the boyfriend finding out about her cheating. She figured she was already going to hurt him pretty bad, no reason to put salt in the wound. However, if you mess up and cheat on someone, and you want a future with this someone, I think it’s usually best to come clean right away. The truth tends to come out anyway.

      • Adi

        This is exactly how I feel–you’re in a marriage, a partnership. If he slipped up once and made a mistake, maybe that’s a sign that he needs help changing the behaviors that allowed it to happen. Was he alone with an ex he never got over? Was he drinking? I feel like cheating is never just cheating, and a mistake made needs to be addressed, not swept under the rug, especially because things have a way of getting out anyway, and how would you rather find out?

    • 39bride

      I tend to have the same opinion about one-time cheating, in theory. On one hand, if my husband cheated on me in a moment of weakness, I don’t think I’d want to know. But on the other hand, cheating is more than a moment; it’s a whole series of steps and decisions that lead to the moment that we call cheating. And in that light, I have a much harder time feeling comfortable with someone who would so completely ignore their internal warnings until it got to the point of no return.

      Then again, I know a woman who was cheated on by her husband (I don’t know the details, but my impression is that it wasn’t a long-term thing and it was related to their long separations under great strain due to his job) and stayed with him. He is incredibly remorseful, understands his personality/character weak areas that made him susceptible, and accepts that the effects on her seem permanent in some ways (for example, he’s extra-careful to give her no reason to feel insecure–i.e. not even an APPEARANCE of anything inappropriate with a woman, because he knows it hurts her). They adore each other and at some point made a conscious decision to “turn the page” on the past. They raised wonderful children and I have the utmost respect for both of them. But I often think that I could never tolerate what she has… or maybe it’s a matter of never being as strong as she is to have forgiven him…

      OP, you are so right–we have to give each other space to recognize that in the same situation the “right thing” may be different for each person.

      • KATE

        I agree that cheating is “more than a moment,” and you’re right, all the decisions that lead up to it are concerning. If he really felt remorseful after cheating, though, and knew it would be a one time thing, I still think I wouldn’t want to know, regardless of how the cheating came about. But the remorse is important. I think I know him well enough to trust that even though he’s capable of mistakes (like cheating), he is a good guy and would make the right decisions in the aftermath (i.e. wouldn’t keep cheating, wouldn’t lie to me about it if it was a result of problems in our relationship).

    • K

      The difficulty I see with that position is if you don’t tell, then 1) you have the dishonesty factor (and man, my husband would *know* something was wrong because I do not have a poker face), and 2) one-time, spur of the moment, often drunk sex tends to not involve protection. So in that case either you suddenly and inexplicably decide you and your long term partner need to use condoms until enough time has passed for you to get tested (and how would you answer the questions that would raise?), or you roll the dice on exposing your partner to whatever you may have picked up from the one-night stand, which seems to me an even more egregious thing to do, because it’s premeditated and could seriously affect their health.

      • Ann

        Yes. This has been my biggest issue with several of my friends who have cheated on their significant others and not come clean–they put their partner’s health at risk.

        Having been on the receiving end of that treatment (as a teenager, long ago), and contracting high risk HPV as a result (it eventually cleared my system, but still), I was deeply hurt that someone I cared about would act with such disregard to my physical wellbeing as well as my emotional wellbeing.

      • meg

        Well, I think my message is discuss FIRST. It’s fine to have a policy that you don’t share with each other if you screw up, within specific guidelines (which then removes the dishonesty factor). We tend, culturally, to not choose to discuss this in marriage, because we like to pretend it would never ever happen to us. But it might. In reality, it happens to a lot of people (damn the human animal!).

        Health issues are another question, but what I would have a problem with is being married to someone too dumb to put on a condom, even drunk ;) Safe sex, FTW.

        • K

          Sure, but unfortunately it is entirely possible to get blackout drunk and not have any idea *what* you are doing until you suddenly realize you’re already doing it — even on amounts of alcohol that normally wouldn’t hit you that hard. It happened to me once on a lousy two and a half cocktails, which is not that much, and was nothing for me at the time. Fortunately all I did was go upstairs and pass out on the host’s bed, but I could easily have wound up doing something much more regrettable. It was an unsettling experience, to say the least. A few days later I came down with a nasty case of the flu, so my completely nonscientific theory is that my system was compromised but I didn’t actually feel it yet. The body is a funny thing. Anyway all that just to say dumb might not enter in.

          • meg

            Well. I mean, in that case, I’d be more worried about the blackout drunk bit (why it happened, if they are ok). To blame someone for getting blackout drunk (if it’s on purpose) is one thing. But to blame someone for what they did when they had no memory/ control is another.

            I guess I’m saying it’s nuanced to me, and the way we take a hard line on the SEX and just the SEX makes me think we’re missing other issues, and sometimes destroying our lives needlessly.

    • meg

      Me. I think that. I’ve actually been pretty vocal over the years on APW that I think that. I think we all make mistakes, and we over weight sexual infidelity mistake and under weight other mistakes (financial infidelity, anyone?). I think that building a life together is made up of so many things, and I don’t like the cultural narrative that one mistake should always destroy the rest of it. So if it was a mistake, do we sometimes over share with each other? I think yes.

      • Class of 1980

        Personally, I don’t think of infidelity as a “mistake” and the word bothers me. I’ve lived a fairly long while and I’ve seen a lot. The person who cheats has a reason.

        It may be that the reason is that they simply want to have sex with this new person, regardless of how they feel about their spouse. It may be that they are desperately lonely in their marriage and haven’t been able to get their spouse to address that there are problems … and they finally crack.

        Clearly, some reasons for cheating are reprehensible and some are understandable. But it’s not a mistake; it’s a statement … of something.

        To me, the question of whether to stay or go really comes down to the reason it happened.

    • Marina

      It depends on the person. My best friend has told me repeatedly that she would prefer not to know if her husband cheated on her. I, on the other hand, would care much more about the hiding than the cheating. If my husband cheated on me and told me immediately I feel like we could get past it pretty easily, but if I found out twenty years later it would be completely devastating. And I’ve told him that. ;)

      In general I find I like my relationship better when neither of us are actively working at hiding anything. Not that we tell each other every thought that passes through our head, but that if a subject comes up neither of us have any qualms about talking about it. Surprise parties drive me crazy. ;)

      • Amy

        Yes, I agree with this. For me, the lying is the worst thing, so no matter how small or how much of a “one time thing” it was, for me, lying would more likely end the relationship than cheating. Trust is everything to me. The sex I could get over (though yeah, it would still hurt). But the lying would be much, much harder to get over.

      • MARBELLA

        I think it very much depends on the relationship. I agree that I could probably get past it if it was a one-time mistake and I was told straight away. But if I found out years later, it would make me question everything that had happened since then, and wonder how my husband could live with lying to me for so long. We are the type of couple who can’t even keep presents a surprise though.
        I also very much disagree that the ‘guilty conscience’ should be a type of penance for the cheater – I know I personally would find living with a guilty conscience unbearable for the rest of my life, and so I would be devastated if I found out my partner had had to go through that because they wanted to spare my feelings. To me that isn’t realistic or indicative of a relationship where each person cares about the others emotional well being. Yes it would be horrific for the cheated on person to have to deal with the emotions that come up once they find out, but I feel like that could be worked through because it was out in the open. Forcing the guilty party to be guilty for the rest of their life though – ugh. I cheated on an ex boyfriend (not a serious relationship, we were only together for a couple of months) and never told him, because we broke up anyway. Over 10 yrs later it still makes me feel intense guilt that I lied when he asked about it, even though I knew it spared his feelings and we did not remain friends. I can’t imagine having those feelings of guilt with my life partner.

    • MTM

      The other thing to consider about this is the human factor. There would be another person(s) involved (whomever your partner was with) in the situation and details/stories have a funny way of getting back to the person’s partner via friends of friends, the internet, anonymous emails, whatever. While infidelity doesn’t have to be a deal breaker, I would imagine that finding it out from someone other than your partner very easily could be.

  • http://www.wrightremedy.blogspot.com Addie

    I think we all have different things that break us. And it’s really hard to see our friends, loved ones or even strangers live through situations we think we could not endure ourselves. My feelings about monogamy are um, fluid, so cheating wouldn’t break me; however, mismanage my money and shit gets real.

    Jane Bennett said it best I think when being too quick to judge another’s choices. We need to “make allowance enough for difference of situation and temper.” The only road we can see clearly is the one we’re walking on ourselves. The best we can do is support others and believe they will do what is best for them and their relationship. Which may mean keeping your mouth shut when they want to stay or helping them pack when they want to leave.

    • KATE

      Bonus points for working in a Pride and Prejudcie quote!

  • http://www.piercedwonderings.com Lynn

    Vows get broken every day in a million different ways.

    We have friends who are married who say the most horrible things about each other. But they’re monogamous.

    One couple we know, the husband cannot live by a budget. He doesn’t think about money and spends what he wants, when he wants, which causes incredible strain on their marriage because the wife is always worried about whether they have enough money to pay their bills. But they’re monogamous.

    Another couple we know, the wife treats her husband like a child…he can’t make a decision on his own because she knows he’s going to screw it up. But they’re monogamous.

    For me, those kinds of things are as painful as infidelity and are even more of a dealbreaker than cheating on me. ALL of the vows we took are important, and breaking one of them doesn’t mean that my marriage is automatically over.

    • http://byjacki.com Jacki

      What a great point, Lynn. In my first marriage, we both broke our vows to love and honor each other. We showed little respect for each other’s needs. We did not cheat on each other but we broke the vows in other ways.

      I always thought infidelity would be a black and white dealbreaker. In some cases, it still would be – such as if my partner were to cheat on me with his ex-wife. That would be it – no second chance, nothing – get out of our home now and never speak to me again kind of deal. I would never be able to recover from that. But I now understand that every situation and every relationship is different and that in some cases it is possible to recover from and thrive after infidelity.

    • meg

      THIS. THIS EXACTLY. <3 Lynn.

  • Erica

    I have had a similar situation, though it involved both my partner and I looking for some sort of validation outside of our relationship at a time when things were really, really tough. It was the worst period of my life, a time to which I refer as “The Dark Times.” At one point, my partner even had another girlfriend…while we were still living together. Yeah, I know. I felt like a total idiot. I was terrified of what other people thought about me for trying to make it work.

    The thing is, it took The Dark Times for me to realize that my partner is a human being, replete with faults and feelings and all of the messy things that come with being human. I realized that he isn’t always capable of acting the way that I want him to act, and that that is OK. Not to justify bad behavior, but in a way, it allowed me to have compassion for him as someone who makes mistakes (just as I would want to be held in compassion for my own mistakes). We sank to the bottom of the relationship abyss. We know what that looks like now and damn, we never want to do that again. It has taken a LONG TIME for us to come out of it, but I am so proud to say that this experience has allowed us to actually BUILD trust in our relationship (instead of having a false sense of trust). My relationship is AWESOME now, and I have to partially credit all of the work we had to do because of The Dark Times. We have seen each other at our worst and have so much respect for one another now. We have no problem talking about the difficult stuff because we can see where each of us is coming from. I know it is a difficult road to take (in fact, we both have joked that perhaps we wouldn’t have fought so hard for our relationship had we known just how much work it would be), but I am a true believer that it is the messy stuff in our lives that pushes us to grow. I am proud of you for sticking to what you think is right. You are not alone.

  • Anon for this

    My now-husband and I had an almost infidelity issue before we were engaged, but had been together for several years, living together, etc. Nothing actually happened, but the whole situation and the way I found out was extremely upsetting. I can definitely identify with feeling like I couldn’t tell anyone about what had happened. My friends are wonderful and I tell them nearly everything, but I just couldn’t do it. When I realized that I didn’t want them knowing because I didn’t want them thinking less of him, that was really when I “knew” that we were going to stay together through this. Like I said, we’d been together for awhile, but this one incident really made me feel like we were a team. I didn’t tell a soul, because I was protecting him and us from judgement, knowing that even if I got over it, my friends might not. I’ve been guilty of it myself, judging other people’s partners for things they’ve probably long gotten past, and I didn’t want that for us. It’s so tough to keep quiet though!

  • Melissa

    Five years ago, this was my situation. Only I was the cheater. I was young, in my first (and only) serious relationship, and I was overwhelmed by the feelings I was having. And so, in moments of youthful stupidity and loneliness, I cheated. And I was guilty, so guilty. I remember the shame, and the absolute agony of telling my boyfriend. But somehow, the pain of that moment brought us closer together.

    I still think about it, and when he’s being particularly obnoxious, I remember the depth of his love for me. My cheating actually made our relationship stronger.

  • carrie

    “I know that I used to think less of relationships where one partner cheated on the other, thinking that one must have decided to settle for less than perfect.”

    I used to think this. While I’ve never personally experienced infidelity in my relationship, my husband is my soul mate and since meeting him, starting a life with him, partnering with him, I have thought infidelity (especially in this example) is simply not black and white. Our life together means more than shutting a door quickly and finally.

    To me, you are stronger and more true to your commitment for working through it rather than walking away.

  • http://Rippingback.wordpress.com Amber

    If you really need to talk about it with somebody, I suggest looking for a professional. This way, you can not only discuss the situation with someone who won’t judge you, they can give you tools to process it and work on your communication/relationship.

    My last relationship ended in part because of the emotional cheating my ex was doing – we had a poly relationship, we had established rules, she changed them without consulting me. That wasn’t the deal-breaker; she was actually abusive, but ironically it was the cheating that let me get my head out of the relationship enough to realize how terrible it was so I could leave. Obviously your situation is not mine! But I think cheating can be a “red flag” that can wake you up to other stuff that’s going on. Cheating generally doesn’t happen in a vacuum. (An affair at the beginning of the relationship, I’d find easier to forgive – he hadn’t figured out how important you were to him yet, now he has. A forgivable error.)

  • Anon

    Having been cheated on once, aside from the dishonesty, the biggest thing I had trouble forgiving was the way I felt my partner put me at physical risk. The agony of waiting for my STI-test to come back after finding out about the affair is not something I ever want to relive. The potential pregnancy that could have resulted (and frankly the financial/legal impact that would have on our family) is also something that weighed extremely heavily on my mind. In my case I think the cheating was a symptom of bigger issues and we went our separate ways. I think that those who can get past an affair should be commended for their communication skills and I am sad to hear the original poster feels like she can’t share her experience with more people. I agree that a more open dialogue about infidelity/monogamy/recovering from cheating would be helpful for many relationships.

    • meg

      I think this is such an interesting point. For me, the sex part of breaking vows (assuming those are your vows) is one thing. If, however, you have sex in a way that puts your partner in physical risk, or risks pregnancy, to me those are different (and frankly way bigger) issues. Screwing up and sleeping with someone else (once, in particular) is not great. To put me in serious physical risk? That is different.

      • Anon

        There was a man I dated years ago, that turned out to be married, with four little children. His wife eventually found out (I think a single friend of hers found his profile on a dating site). She got in to all his accounts and started contacting all the people in the address books. When she contacted me (years after I told him to leave me the hell alone because I had my suspicions), I was probably about the twentieth person to confirm his other “persona” that he had made that wasn’t married. What makes me sick is that this man was putting his beautiful, trusting wife and his children in real physical danger. To me, that’s even worse than the cheating.

  • Ashley

    I’ll join the chorus of “you’re not the only one!” singers. My fiance and I will have been together for almost 7 years at the time of our wedding. 6 months after we started dating, I got an anonymous facebook message (yeah, a facebook message) stating that my then-boyfriend had cheated on me over a school break three months prior. I was actually with my boyfriend when I got the message and read it out loud to him, laughing because I just thought it was a dumb joke one of his friends was playing. He looked at me, tears in his eyes, and confessed that it was true. He said he wanted to tell me, but a very close mutual friend had suggested he didn’t since it would only make me feel worse and him feel better.

    I did the exact same thing you did – paced from room to room, shaking with anger, trying not to vomit, and trying to wrap my head around how he, the man I trusted so much, who I was planning on marrying one day, did that to me.

    It was rough, and yes, 6 years later I’ll still feel a swirl inside of anger over it every once in a while, but honestly him cheating IMPROVED our relationship. We instantly had better communication, we both realized that our relationship is worth fighting for.

  • Cameron

    My comment doesn’t apply to Mari’s story necessarily, because I don’t know the specifics of the cheating. I believe that it’s possible for people in relationships to have a one-time, out of the blue, vulnerable and weak oops-moment, in which they cheat. It’s a discreet incident, never to be repeated. I think, though, that the vast majority of cheating is instead a symptom of serious issues in the relationship or in the mind of the cheater. Cheating is a manifestation of these fundamental issues, much like a fever is a symptom of an infection. For this reason, I don’t think that anyone can judge how to react to a partner’s cheating until he/she unearths the underlying cause of the cheating.

    • meg

      This also, so smart.

    • KB

      I totally agree with this point 100% – but I had to say that this reminds me of that scene in When Harry Met Sally where Harry’s friend says “They say that infidelity is just a symptom of what’s really going on” and Harry replies, “Oh yeah? Well that symptom is f&$@ing my wife!” It can be really hard to keep that in mind when your whole focus becomes this one “other” that has entered the relationship.

    • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com Basketcase

      I guess as well, looking at some of the comments from people who have been through it, it depends on what point in the relationship it happens and how long it goes on for?
      If you’ve been dating 3 or 4 months and they slip up once, it might terminate the relationship, or it might make you realise its worth fighting for. Because a one-off really can be just about the sex.
      Whereas if you have been married for 3 or 4 years and they have a long-term affair? Then its emotional as well as sex, and there are often also financial implications.
      And really, a lot of the time, its the emotional connection with someone else that could prove the most difficult to get over I think, as it speaks to a bigger lack in the primary relationship?

      • meg

        Right, but that’s why I think this comment is brillant. She points out that it’s possible for people to just simply make mistakes. But that when it’s more than just a mistake, it’s usually a symptom of a deeper problem. But simple mistakes are not always a symptom of anything, other than being fallible and human.

  • Emily

    I cheated on my husband about two months after we got married. We were bitterly unhappy; DH thought that getting married meant I would do everything for him…like his mother had done everything for him. I thought that getting married meant I wouldn’t have to be the strong one all time, that I would be able to relax and enjoy life, instead of working all the time and worrying about paying bills.

    So when DH got fired about two months into our marriage, we stopped talking, and I started resenting him for staying home all day and playing video games or watching porn. We weren’t having sex, and I had to remind him multiple times to even take the trash out. It was a bad situation.

    So I cheated. I didn’t really hide it from DH. I was trying to get him to leave me. I wanted him to WANT me to go. I wanted him to hate me, so I wouldn’t feel guilty for leaving.

    By our 5 month anniversary, our marriage was completely broken. But DH wouldn’t divorce me. I agreed to go to counseling, and we fixed our communication problems. We learned what each other expected in the marriage, and compromised. DH learned that I was not going to take care of him, and he needed to pitch in and do chores. I stopped cheating, and I am still financially responsible for us, since a year later, DH still doesn’t have a steady job. I haven’t cheated in just over a year (yay!), and when I feel discontent, I put myself on a sort of internet lockdown. I won’t let myself cheat again.

    • LZ

      Congrats on putting all that work in to moving forward! I imagine this to be a very rough time, and it sounds like you guys are working through it together —- What powerful stuff!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00388929873803169413 Kristen

    I’ve been cheated on by every person I’ve ever dated, save my husband. Which I think says an awful lot about me, the kind of people I chose to allow into my life and how I allowed them to treat me. Because of that, I’m not sure I could move past another infidelity in my life, but I see that as a flaw in myself. I don’t know if I’m strong enough to have it happen again and with the one person I ever really loved.

    I think someone can cheat and truly repent and truly know it was a one time thing and reinvest in their relationship. I also think one of the best things we can do as humans is forgive each other for being human. I think NOT forgiving that kind of indiscretion from someone we purport to love more than anything (partners/husbands/wives/etc.) is sometimes maybe not in the spirit of commitment and especially marriage. Of course each situation is different and each person has different personal beliefs and feelings but I hope we’re turning a corner with relationships in our culture where we are able to get through the tough stuff that has maybe played a large role in the high divorce rates in America. We’re supposed to learn from our mistakes and those of the ones who’ve come before us. I hope that includes dealing with infidelity in various ways instead of only having one view point.

  • Carisa

    THANK YOU!!! This piece is so brave and fantastic. I have been there, twice actually with the same person. For me ist was the lying and secrecy. In addition to that though, I felt a deep sense of loss over feeling falible. In college my partner and I were “the perfect couple” the ones everyone else wanted to model their relationship after. That is a lot of pressure! I realized through both experiences that sometimes I need time to just mourn how we cannot live up to that completely unreasonable expectation others set on us. It can be really isolating, but I am betting if you open up about it to friends a bunch of them will surprise you with how supportive they are!

  • SweetAdeline

    This is such an interesting topic and so brave of Mari to talk about it! I think a lot of people have been through this and it’s worth taking a look at how other cultures (the French for example) handle issues like infidelity. It’s treated as such an unqualified deal breaker in America that I totally get why you feel like you’re somehow *supposed* to leave someone automatically, but sometimes that doesn’t make sense. People make mistakes. We’re human. We let our desires get the best of us sometimes. But I think more than “did this person touch their parts to another person’s parts” SHOULD go into a decision to end a relationship.

    For some people it’s not that big a deal. For some people it is. And that’s a really personal decsion with no right or wrong attached to it.

  • Anonforthis

    Another interesting point to raise is how views of cheating and what’s acceptable evolves over time. When you’re first with someone, you’re all starry-eyed and constantly aware of each other and can’t imagine sharing this person with someone else. But then what happens of, after a while, that intensity cools or you realize that one or the other partner needs more freedom or flexibility? I think THAT is the harder part because it’s SO easy to say in the beginning that you’d never cheat and have this high bar of expectation and be totally cool with that – but when it comes time to renegotiate the terms of the relationship, you’re already locked in and that becomes (as Dan Savage would say) the “price of admission.”

  • Laurel

    Everyone should read this Dear Sugar column, in response to someone who think she’d react to infidelity by just ending things, no conversation required. Maybe the best perspective on marriage and other kinds of long-term love I’ve ever read. A small small taste:

    Which is a complicated way of saying, it’s a long damn life, Happily Ever After. And people get mucked up in it from time to time. Even the people we marry. Even us. You don’t know what it is you’ll get mucked up in yet, but if you’re lucky, and if you and your fiancé really are right for each other, and if the two of you build a marriage that lasts a lifetime, you’re probably going to get mucked up in a few things along the way. This is scary, but you’ll be okay. Sometimes the thing you fear the most in your relationship turns out to be the thing that brings you and your partner to a deeper place of understanding and intimacy.

    • Shiri

      Thanks for posting that Dear Sugar. It’s a fantastic, actually breathtaking answer.

    • Lauren P

      Thanks so much for posting the Dear Sugar column. The piece above already hit a nerve, but the Dear Sugar column took it to a whole other level. I would say from experience of currently going through it that emotional infidelity (no sex involved) can be just as damaging as pure sexual infidelity. I needed to read that column right now, and I needed to read the piece above, because so much of it resonated. I am not on the other end of it (whether we make it or not). My feet and his feet are firmly planted in this space of limbo, confusion, good days, and bad days. I want my marriage, and he wants his marriage. Every day gets better, but some days are worse.

      The reaction to the cheating presented in both entries was what really hit home and is something that is so hard to explain, but was stated so eloquently here. And, having the notion of being such a strong woman causes further confusion as I try to sort out my feelings. At times, it means that I change my previous definition of strong, and allow myself to be sympathetic and be what my husband needs me to be. It also means that I demand my husband to be what I need him to be.

      We are still a work in progress.

    • meg

      Exactly. Great column, but really aren’t all her columns great?

      • Laurel

        She’s amazing. Have you read her memoir?

  • Larkin

    I was in a six-year relationship with a man who, I later discovered, routinely cheated on me, lied to me about it, and convinced me that I was a crazy, paranoid, nagging bitch if I ever voiced concern or uneasiness. I always kind of knew he was doing it, but I didn’t have any “proof,” so I just let him convince me that I was nuts. It wasn’t until AFTER I finally left him (he was pretty awful to me in general, surprise, surprise) that I actually confirmed some of those infidelities and knew for sure. His cheating was really just an outward sign of his complete and utter disregard for me as a human being with feelings, a disregard that he exhibited in plenty of other ways as well if I had allowed myself to acknowledge it sooner.

    THAT, in my mind, is the “scummy cheater” that needs to be dumped without ever looking back. He is completely different from your now-husband, who just made a mistake, felt awful about it, and finally ‘fessed up so that you two could hash it out. Everybody makes mistakes, and mistakes can be remedied. A constant pattern of “mistakes” and a disregard for the other person’s feelings, however, cannot. To me, that’s the difference between needing to leave someone and being OK with working it out.

    Yes, cheating on someone is awful… but throughout the course of a marriage it’s pretty safe to say that both people are going to make mistakes and probably do some things that hurt their partner, and they’re going to have to work through it. As long as it doesn’t represent a much bigger underlying problem, I think infidelity is just another one of those things.

    ETA: APW, you guys are awesome for posting a piece about this. It’s so easy to decree that “CHEATING IS UNFORGIVABLE!” But, when you’re in a long-term committed relationship, it’s not really that black and white. Kudos!

    • meg

      Just exactly this all over the place.

  • Adi

    For me, the worst part is the lying.

    My ex cheated on me, a one-night thing with a prior ex. He immediately told me and we worked through it. At the end of our relationship, he was emotionally cheating on me for months. The one night hurt, but the ongoing? It was hell. He told me later that our relationship had “been over for a long time” and I was fragile and he didn’t want to hurt me, but in truth he wanted out of Us and the easiest way to do that for him was to find a new Us. He had to make sure she was good enough to leave me for. The thing is, if it was over, he should have told me, right?

    My husband and I have a militantly honest policy. If we feel attracted to someone or have feelings we’re worried about, we talk about it. Even if it hurts, it’s better than the alternative. After working through infidelity with my ex, trying to forgive and move on an trust again, I’m afraid I don’t think I have it in me to try again. I love my husband so much, but we’ve both been cheated on and we both know how it feels. If he could put me through that, regardless of the circumstance, I just don’t think I could ever look at him the same way.

  • http://kristyshealthrevolution.wordpress.com Kristy

    Ok, one, no it does not sound silly that after you had been together for three years you knew he wouldn’t do it again! We change SO MUCH in our relationships. I can’t 100% tell from this, but it seems to me that he admitted to cheating, and he did it early, early on in your relationship. To me, that seems like something he could have kept from you….well, forever, and the fact that he told you takes a lot of guts. Not that I’m condoning his actions. Not that I think it wouldn’t hurt to hear that, but I’d like to think if my fiance (who I’ve been with for 3 years) told me something like that I would be able to get past it. We were both completely different people when we first got together. We have changed, and grown as a couple. I remember when we were just “seeing each other” and I was kind of playing the field! Thinking about it now, it makes me want to hyperventilate, because I can’t even imagine being with anyone except him.

  • Marisa-Andrea

    The reasons a person may cheat on their partner can be incredibly complex so it makes sense that the wronged partner’s reasons for staying can also be just as complex. I tend to think that people are basically a particular way at their core, but I also think life has a way of throwing us curveballs that lead us to behave in ways that are not always consistent with that core. There are basically decent and good people who do crappy things to their partners. And the reasons can be complex. And devastating. I’ve seen marriages recover from infidelity. I’ve seen people cheat for all kinds of reasons. Life is a journey and there are lessons to be learned about ourselves everywhere if we are open. I don’t judge partners who choose to stay. I try to be less critical of those who do cheat.

  • TB

    In the midst of an unhealthy relationship, I cheated, and was promptly dumped when I was found out – I tried to deny it even then, but I never asked him to forgive me because I felt I deserved to be left. I was so ashamed of myself, knowing how I’d hurt someone I cared about. I carried the shame into my next relationship, with the person I’d eventually marry, and it pulled me/us down for years. I believed that I couldn’t have a good relationship because I didn’t deserve anyone’s trust anymore, and I was convinced that I would be cheated on, that the universe would take revenge somehow. It took lots of hard talks and therapy to help me get past the shame of what I’d done. I try to talk as honestly as possible about this precisely because of the shame I felt. Feeling untrusting and untrustworthy for years took a toll on me, but once I moved on I realized that infidelity might be a deal-breaker in many cases, but it’s worth talking about. As with a great many things, silence buries the issue in stigma and shame.

  • Annony for this time

    When I was little, I didn’t know there was anything wrong in my parents marriage. Growing up, I’ve learned bit by bit that they almost got divorced and the reason being my dad had cheated. I know many say that my mom should have left him. There are many reasons people screw up in their lives. Some people are just cheaters and don’t care about hurting others (I’ve run across a few). In my parents case there were unresolved issues that they needed to work on such as how to handle three small children and how to still be intimate and the fact that my dad was traveling so much for work that he was hardly home. Learning about this as an adult really shook up what I knew about my parents and their marriage. But also made me realize that there is forgiveness and that genuinely repentive partners can work through these mistakes and build a stronger relationship. When I asked my mom about it, she said there are still times she feels hurt and that there’s always that little niggle of doubt in the back of her mind. They have gone through counseling and honestly my dad has come a long way from the man I never saw as a kid to now a man who takes my mom with him on his travels and acts like a little kid when surprising my mom with little gestures. Their marriage has shown me that two people who want to stay together can work through many obstacles and come out the other side together. So I would never judge your decision and would say hang in there, get professional help if needed to help you out to emotionally deal with the pain, etc. And your fiance did tell you when he really could have kept it a secret. It may hurt but he trusts you enough to tell you his mistakes. There are things that I was told a week before my wedding that tore me apart (too fresh to write about) but we are working through them and I know like you do that this is the man I want to be with no matter how much finding some things out have hurt (trying to hold myself together while family was in town was horribly hard – but they also helped keep me sane and start to enjoy the wedding again however they don’t know what has happened). And the important thing is we are working through them together.

    • Not Sarah

      Your story makes me think of my parents’ relationship. My dad wasn’t home much when we were little, but that’s because he was out drinking instead of coming home. As a two year old, I saw this and wouldn’t speak to him at times. I have a feeling there was something bigger going on there, but my mom doesn’t want to talk about it out of respect for my father.

      It definitely makes me wonder about what being married to someone for 25+ years really means.

    • anony

      I scanned the comments hoping to find your post. My parents also survived my father’s cheating – and are stronger for it. It’s still so painful to think about (I’m crying right now), but I’m proud of them for persevering. They were married 25 years before my father’s affair with his much younger co-worker. I was 17 and found out accidentally (mom already knew and was in counseling). Fast forward 15 years and they’re approaching their 40th anniversary. Now that I am in my early stages of wedding planing, I realize that their marriage is one to aspire to.

      I know that my mom suffered tremendously, partly because everyone (even my elementary school teachers) has always said that my dad is the perfect husband and father. But she also realized that she wasn’t insane to stay with him; many people make it work after infidelity. Those of us in our 20s and 30s can learn a lot by asking our parents about their experiences. We might be surprised by how many good people make poor decisions, and how many good couples stay together instead of separating.

  • Jennie

    For me, physical infidelity is different from emotional infidelity. My father met a woman who he subsequently left my mom for. He was open and honest about it fairly quickly and they tried to work through it. But he told her he had loved the other woman more deeply after knowing her two weeks than he had in being married to my mother for 31 years. Ultimately he was done with the marriage even though my mom wasn’t.

    I don’t know for sure what I would do, but given that over a year later, I’m not ready to talk to my father, I’m pretty sure I would not be able to move past emotional infidelity in my marriage. As many have said, physical infidelity can be a one time mistake. Becoming emotionally involved/falling in love with someone is a process with lots of decisions and chances to turn back.

  • Jenny

    I agree this is a wonderful topic to bring up. Each and every one of the boyfriends I had prior to my husband all has cheated on me. It’s safe to say I have insecurities and trust issues, especially on this topic. My husband has cheated on almost every woman he has been in a relationship. I would be naive to say that we would never have this problem. There is a high probability that we will have to deal with this exact issue, and even now, I cannot say it would be a deal-breaker.

    I don’t know the statistics, but it seems to me that people aren’t together for 40+ years anymore. The world is smaller, the temptations greater and I think people just don’t dig in and deal with things and push through them as much. I feel it’s worth it, but people give up too easily these days. (And I’m certainly not saying everyone does, nor that its a majority, just my gist feeling that there is a portion). Yet, realistically, the people married for over 40 years didn’t have smooth sails the whole time. They were committed to getting through it. I’m sure this is a far more common item than people talk about (as is much of the topics on APW – thank you!),

    My deal-breaker (I think with just about anything) is dishonesty, lying and lack of commitment to deal with the issues. I believe 95% of infidelity has to do with other issues and if you aren’t willing to work on those, you can’t get beyond the act itself.

    Talking to other people is hard. I think its hard on both sides – the person talking and the person listening. No one else is in the same situation as you are if you are in the relationship – other people don’t love the person as you do and may not understand the commitment and therefore will judge and not understand your decisions. I believe its best to seek professional people to talk to, not family and friends. If you talk to them you open yourself up to another side of human nature – judgments. And if you do open up about any of it – you should open up about all of it. Let people know what you are thinking and feeling…I think it helps lessen the judgments if you are open (again, honesty).

    Someone I know cheated on her long time boyfriend, and cheated for several months. She said that she was going to leave him and a month later they were engaged and are now married. A big part of why she cheated was that she felt like he would never propose and she was “evaluating her options.” As far as I know, he still doesn’t know about her cheating – though I suspect he knows she was at least thinking about it – and from my point of view, her cheating was rewarded with exactly what she wanted. It was hard for me to watch the whole situation and be involved as a person who knew about it. Especially as the relationship is still continuing on. Our relationship has been strained by it. And not because she cheated or the horrible things she said about him then married him anyway, thats her life decision, but because she decided that hiding it and lying about it is somehow better for her relationship then just dealing with it.

    But then again, we all have our own individual “deal-breakers.”

  • Anonimal

    So glad to see a posting about this. I’ve been cheated on too, and the feeling alone bit is very difficult. You never know who is going to judge you/your partner and who will be supportive. And you can’t take it back once it’s out there. I know I’ve told my dude and my therapist many times that it feels like such an isolating experience — even more so as time passes. There is all kinds of information out there about “How to survive infidelity” but it only talks about what to do in the short-term. Then you get the caveat that it could take years to get past it. Okay — then what? What happens after it’s been years? No one talks about it after that, and that’s exactly what I’m looking for.

    Here’s my story — We were together 6 years when I received a sext that wasn’t meant for me. World turned upside down and all of that. I asked him to move out, but we agreed to go to counseling and see where it goes. At the end of the day, our relationship wasn’t working, and it was his dissatisfaction and inability to even talk about it that landed us in that mess. As a psychologist, I understand that people generally do things that don’t make sense and they hurt each other. But people also have an amazing capacity to grow and change in response to failure. So I gave him a chance.

    We’re still together, about to celebrate our 9-year anniversary. After much counseling (individual and couples), lots of hard work, and moving to another state, things are wildly different. We’re still the same people, but it feels like we finally grew up. That said, after almost 3 years, it’s still a daily struggle for me. It hurts less and less and feels much more distant as time goes on, but it’s always there. This is due, in part, to my own personality. I spend a lot of time up in my head, over thinking everything to death. It’s just pure torture at times. For example, I still struggle with the habit of checking up on “her” on facebook. I heard it over and over again from my therapists that I was letting her live “rent free” in my head and it was doing more damage to me than her.

    I feel like I’m still living in limbo — not fully in and not fully out. During the initial, short-term aftermath, things improved exponentially. The pressure of that situation necessitates impressive change. But now, life has settled back down into a normal and much less emotionally-charged routine, and the pressure to deal with the day to day issues is much, much different. So I go back and forth. Our relationship is so much better than before, full of fun, happiness and normal struggles. But what happens if I never really get past it? I’m still trying to get there. So I would like to know how you get through the in-between? What happens in between the immediate turmoil and the long-term fulfillment of a much stronger relationship?

    • Annony

      Over thirty years later, my mom still deals with it. The one thing she told me is that you never fully get past it and those feelings usually surface during times where you and your spouse argue, etc. What she says she has learned is how you let those feelings affect you when they come. You can give in to those feelings and fall down in to that wreck again. Or you can acknowledge where those feelings come from, why they have surfaced and what you have done personally and as a couple to keep moving forward and the positive aspects (strange to think of something positive coming from something so horrible sometimes). While being cheated on is horrible, she said over the years having to work through this issue has brought them much closer together as a couple and they’ve made really positive changes to their relationship (like scheduling weekly date nights and sticking to those plans – if it had to be rescheduled they made sure the rescheduled date happened – and making sure to tell each other they appreciate each other and to actually show physical affection in public like holding hands).

      It’s definitely a process. And I don’t think anyone ever fully forgets or gets over any type of hurt from a loved one. From what I’m learning it’s all about choosing what emotions you let stay around when they surface.

  • http://www.piercedwonderings.com Lynn

    I’m always a little uncomfortable with the notion that cheating is a symptom of a greater problem in the relationship or that something is missing in the relationship.

    That might in fact be true….but I also think that many times, cheating is really just about the person who does the cheating…his or her own issues that need to be dealt with.

    Making cheating about the relationship and what’s happening within the relationship takes the focus off the person who has done the cheating and can add a whole nother level of guilt and shame for the person who has been cheated on.

    I don’t know if I’m saying what I’m meaning to say here or if it makes sense. Forgive me if it is confused.

    • Jenny

      I think the cheating is a symptom of a problem – not specifically a problem of the relationship – i agree it could (and probably often is) an issue with the cheating person individually. But if you are in a committed relationship then the issue that one is having can have a devastating impact on the relationship. And, I feel, that being part of a committed relationship is that you are there to help the other person with their issues. And really, that “help” may be giving them space. But, either way, if the underlaying issues aren’t dealt with, whether individual or within the relationship as a unit, then is hard to deal with the incidence of the cheating.

    • Natalie

      I do understand what you are saying here, and I agree. In one situation, I had a friend who was cheated on, and her husband blamed her for the cheating by saying that she wouldn’t sleep with him, their sex life was terrible, etc. But as you point out, there isn’t much of an excuse for infidelity unless there was open communication about a problem. My friend’s husband could have suggested a conversation, counseling, or could have offered to check in with my friend instead of just outright cheating on her in their marriage. This is so very complicated and communication becomes the great equalizer in solving many of these issues.

  • http://www.myownbridalshow.com Bonnie Brown

    Boy, this is sure a loaded one!
    There are so many issues here as have been touched on within many of the other comments. Some may say, well you weren’t married, so does it really matter? Some would say, did you have a monogomous relationship at the time? What do you really think was the issue behind the cheating? Whatever it was, I , personally would have a very hard time getting past it and would have a hard time trusting him after this came out. I would want to get to the root of the issue and if he did it once would he do it again after you are married?
    In one respect, if you ever were looking to cheat, would this give you the free pass? kind of as a one- up-man-ship? I think not… if life is just about tit for tat, it would be a pretty miserable existence!
    Some would say once you cross that line that it would be easy for him to do it again, as he has already done it , but you know him better than anyone, what do you think? I feel like if you have it in your heart to forgive him, then maybe you could also forgive him in the future too? The main thing is to get to the true reason for his infidelity. This way you can hopefully avoid it in the future. Best wishes and luck to you both!

  • http://www.thehousealwayswinsblog.com Rachel Wilkerson

    “What’s made this whole process of healing and overcoming infidelity more difficult has been that I didn’t and still don’t feel as though there is anyone I can talk to about this.” I am finding that there are SO many things about relationships (and, really, adulthood) that are made so much more difficult by the inability to talk to anyone without feeling judged. I get so angry when a woman (or anyone really) has what was surely a difficult choice dismissed and dissected by people who can’t believe, not even for a second, that someone might really know what is best for herself or her relationship. For me, there’s something very empowering about watching a woman stand by her choice, particularly when it’s the culturally unpopular one; while it dealt with a tough subject, I really, really liked this post.

  • Natalie

    Thank you for sharing your story, and for having the courage and the candor to do so. This is not an easy thing to talk about, even in the best of circumstances. I, myself, am a very distrusting, skeptical person, and it comes out fiercely in my marriage. I was in a terrible relationship that didn’t inspire trust while I was in college (21-22) and it was hard for me to trust anyone after that. My now husband came along and over time I was able to trust more and more.

    At one point in our relationship–we had been dating for about 1.5 years–he had spoken to his sister about a woman he had grown up with who he thought was attractive, and expressed interest in seeing her. I knew this because I went through his email without his consent (a huge, huge mistake on my part, and I do still regret this decision.) Still, I had an intuition at that time that something wasn’t right, and it really hurt me that he would even express interest in seeing someone else. He tried to brush it off, telling me that it was a joke between him and his sister, but it bothered me on a pretty deep note. I was also mad at his sister for even letting him entertain the idea, since Tom and I had been dating for quite some time and it was widely known that our relationship was serious.

    In time, I have learned to let some of those insecurities go, and also I have learned to focus on things outside of my marriage (my hobbies and rewarding career) that aid me in getting out of my own head and obsessing over every detail of my marriage, and if my husband is thinking about other women. He married me for a reason, and so there is security in that for me emotionally. I also try to remember that I am not perfect either, and I have made many mistakes of which I am not very proud. My point is that it really helps to not obsess over these things, but to definitely know when you should formally confront them with your spouse.

  • Grace

    I told myself for ages that I would never, ever put up with my fiance (then-boyfriend) for infidelity. Of any kind. I told him up front: “If you ever cheat on me, it’s over. There are no second chances.”

    Then one day he confessed that he’d cheated–well, cyber-cheated–with someone we both know.

    I was devastated. I completely understand that “sucking” feeling, in that it felt like everything good in the world had suddenly gone away. I didn’t cry. I decided, inexplicably, in that moment, that I was going to forgive him. We’d just gotten engaged, we’d just moved into an apartment together, in about thirty seconds’ time I watched my potential future flash before my eyes, where I was moving everything (after painstakingly moving it in), and, more importantly, where he was no longer there.

    I justified it with “It’s just cyber-cheating, and anyway I never told him it as out of bounds, so now he has his warning and we can go on with our business.”

    I’m pretty good at talking myself out of feelings, repressing the ever-loving sh*t out of them until they come roaring back five years with seemingly no trigger. I couldn’t suppress these feelings at all. This was a year ago, and to this day I still get insecure about dumb things and sometimes when I’m angry at him I feel the words “WELL YOU HAD CYBER SEX WITH A MUTUAL FRIEND” bubbling up and I know I’m not entirely over it. But I am, in fact, completely committed to making it work. So I don’t say those words–they’re not helpful, and we’ve rehashed the same crap anyway. Now that I’ve decided that it’s worth it to move on, and marry the man who understands me most in the world and who makes me so incredibly happy on a regular basis (99% of the time ), I have to actually do it.

    And honestly, that was what taught me the most about relationships. They’re not 100% anything. Ultimatums are useless, and easy to make when you don’t know what you’re talking about. This painful experience–while I would not wish it on anyone–showed me how strong our relationship really is.

  • Anya

    There is a movie about this. It’s Italian and the English title is “The Last Kiss” and it’s AWESOME. Go watch it! It’ll make you feel less alone. In fact, we should all watch it. APW should have a movie night that features it….somehow.

    • http://www.snippetsof.blogspot.com Sarah E

      Seconded for APW Movie Night of any sort.

  • Heather

    I was cheated on in high school by the man I ended up with. We had only been dating a month and it was a blackout drunk bad decision type of deal that didn’t involve actual sex. It ended things for us for a while. I still feel blindingly angry about it from time to time when I’m really down. And I know in my heart how futile it is to hang on to that resentment. We’ve grown up since then and most of the time I can appreciate how far he’s come as a person. It would be sooo easy to end all arguments as Grace said with “Well YOU did (insert offense)” but honestly, there’s no lasting reward in meeting hurt with hurt. I know now that it was my choice to forgive that convinced my husband of his love for me. And I need to live up to the decision I made. I so admire you for yours.

  • anonymous

    For nuanced takes on the meaning of fidelity in marriage, try watching any of the movies Sarah Polley has directed: Away from Her, Take This Waltz, Stories We Tell. She grapples with love in all its messiness. They’re not perfect films (Take This Waltz, especially, has a last act problem) but, man, are they deeply human films.

  • honey cowl

    I know I’m way late to this thread, but I just want to say it’s awesome. I’ve been in the OP’s position, at the very early beginning of our relationship, & I too just KNEW this wouldn’t break us apart. It was hard to describe the feeling to the few friends I chose to tell, but even at that stage, I knew that what we had was above one drunken mistake in a time when our relationship was undefined/in flux. Honestly, immediately after my “what the fuckkkkk” reaction, my second thought was, “this is just not that big of a deal.”

  • K2

    So this happened to me, and my now fiance and I were not engaged at the time. It was about 5 years ago, so it seems like a crazy long time ago now. He confessed everything to me – it happened after we were apart for a semester, in the next term while we were still apart.

    At the time I asked a friend for advice, and thank God I asked her, because she said “look, at the end of the day, this is your relationship and you know it best. Can you forgive him? Can you really get past this? Then do it. If you can’t, then maybe that’s a sign that this isn’t the whole problem.”

    I love her for that, because other people might have told me to break up with him. But that wouldn’t have been the best choice, honestly. We’re past it now, and getting married this year, and I’m so glad we worked through it.

    I feel like a lot of women are afraid to stand up for their relationships in situations like this, because we’re afraid of the social stigma and shame that goes along with staying with a cheater. But all relationships are not equal, and all mistakes are not deal-breakers. Thanks for this great post!

  • Sophi

    My now-husband cheated on me (twice) back when we were first dating. Painful situations, and both times I thought I would never dream of seeing him again. I’m glad I was wrong! Once we got to a more secure place in our relationship, where the long-distance dating felt like it was a temporary setback rather than an insurmountable challenge, things got better. I moved back home from college when I graduated, we got back together, and have been really happy ever since. I still remember that he cheated, of course I will never forget that, but I know we were different people then and our relationship was a completely different kind of animal at that point. Now we’re married (1.5 years and going strong) and having a baby together (geeeeeez!). And if I hadn’t forgiven him for something he did as a kid, when we were in a brand-new-not-yet-serious-relationship, we wouldn’t have the life we have today. I think people still judge him on it (my parents, especially!!) but the forgiveness has been so worth it. Good luck to all you ladies who are going through the same thing!

  • Christie

    While there are a ton of comments here, let me just say…you are not alone!!! I too have decided to stay with my fiance after recently learning about his infidelity that occurred earlier this year. YOU ARE NOT ALONE!!!!

  • ugh

    I read this a week ago when it was first posted and related to you because I thought if my husband ever cheated on me I would stick through it.

    Strange how I just found out last night he’s done quite a few untrustworthy things in the years we were dating. To vent a little; I first found out that’s he’s done drugs more than he first admitted, and more recently than he admitted. I then asked what else he hid from me and he admitted to kissing one girl and another time sleeping in the same bed as another. These things only came out after I kept prying and he kept (maybe pretending?) to be confused and unsure of dates or instances. He said there weren’t any more instances “that [he] can think of”… WTF DOES THAT MEAN. He swears there was no sex, but if he’s hidden multiple things like this from me how can I believe him. He also did not mutter the word sorry, didn’t act like he felt guilty and did not seem remorseful, which terrifies me. I’ve been nauseous since he told me and I can’t think of anything else. In the past he’s lied about little stupid things (like saying he did chores but didn’t) so I never really thought too much about not trusting him.

    I don’t know who else to talk to besides commenting on this post. Luckily I made an appointment with a new therapist tomorrow but I’m confused. I can’t talk to friends or family. I’m not worried about being judged for forgiving him, I’m worried about my friends and family judging him and thinking less of him. Overall he’s amazing and I’m still so in love with him and I thought we had amazing trust and communication.

    OP, I’m glad you were able to communicate with your partner and decide to stick through it. I’m hoping we can get over this as well.

    • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.com/ Jenny- Adventures Along the Way

      I hope you found someone to talk to, and I wish you the best as you figure out your next steps.

  • Molly

    I can’t say anything that hasn’t already been said. Mari, you are so brave. Thank you so much for making the unspeakable speakable. This post is wonderful and eye-opening.