NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Your Spouse Cheated on You: Should You Stay or Should You Go?

Many clients in my psychotherapy practice in New York City have told me, over the years, that if their spouse ever cheated on them, they would leave their marriage--there would be no if's and's or but's about it.  

Should You Stay or Should You Go?

These are mostly clients who have had problems in their relationships, but infidelity wasn't one of them. But I have found that for couples where one of the spouses has been unfaithful, many of them decide to work it out and try to regain trust.  And many clients who were sure they would leave if their spouse cheated often feel differently when they're faced with this problem.

Infidelity: Should You Stay or Should You Go?  No One Can Decide For You
Infidelity is a topic where many people have strong feelings, one way or the other.  And, of course, no two couples are alike, and no one can tell anyone else what's best for the other person's relationship.  It's up to each couple to decide.

There are many individuals who decide to try to work out their marriage even after the other spouse has cheated.  Often, this is a very hard decision to make because of all the emotional pain and anger involved, as well as the judgment that well-meaning friends and families have about the decision to try to reconcile that the hurt spouse has made.

Well-Meaning Loved Ones Aren't Always Helpful
Clients, who decide to stay with a spouse who has cheated, often tell me that they have looked to their friends and family for support.  But, instead, they experience their loved ones as being critical about their decision.  They hear comments from them, like "Once a cheater, always a cheater."  And this makes them feel very alone and unsupported.

Let's take a look at one possible scenario where a spouse decides to try to work out her marital problems after her husband cheated.  As always, this is a fictionalized case based on a composite of many cases so there is no breach of confidentiality:

Ann and Bob:
Ann and Bob, who were both in their 50s, were married for 25 years when Bob confessed that he had been having an affair for the last few weeks.  Bob was filled with guilt and remorse, and could barely look at Ann when he told her about the affair.  He told her the affair was over, and he wanted to stop lying to Ann about where he was going and work things out in their marriage, if Ann was willing.

Ann had no idea that Bob was having an affair.  Her initial reaction was shock.  She never would have imagined in a million years that Bob would cheat on her with another woman.  They had been "high school sweethearts," raised two children together who were on their own, given each other emotional support during the deaths of each of their parents, and stayed together through thick and thin.

At first, Ann wasn't even sure how to respond to Bob.  As the initial shock wore off, she began to feel waves of emotional pain that she felt would overtake her.  She felt like she was in a dream.  Everything felt so unreal.  She was sure she would wake up from this nightmare and everything would be back to normal. But when she saw Bob crying, she knew this was no dream, and she told him she needed time to think about what he told her.  In the meantime, she asked him to go to a hotel for a few days to give her time and space to think, so Bob moved out for a few days.

When Ann called her best friend, Mary, for emotional support, Mary was also in disbelief because, she said, "Bob didn't seem the type."  Then, she advised Ann to contact a lawyer and get a divorce.  But Ann knew she wasn't ready to do this.  She called her older sister, Karen, who was also shocked.  Karen told Ann that Ann could stay with her until Bob packed up his things and moved into his own apartment.  But Ann wasn't sure she wanted Bob to move out permanently.  The problem was that she wasn't sure what to do.

After a few days of crying and staying in bed with the covers over her head, Ann told Bob that he could come back so they could talk.  She was still filled with a lot of emotional pain and rage, but she felt she and Bob needed to communicate and she needed answers.  She felt that if he could just explain what happened, maybe she could begin to wrap her mind around this situation.

When Bob came home, he was very sheepish.  Ann could see that he was filled with regret and concern for her.  Although she was furious with him, part of her felt a certain compassion for him.  She thought to herself, "Normally, if he looked so sad and upset, I would be the one comforting him, but I can't comfort him now.  I'm so hurt and angry that I can barely take care of myself."

Bob began by apologizing to Ann again and telling her that he knew that, in having the affair, he was selfish and he never meant to hurt her.  He knew there were no reasons that could justify his infidelity.  Then, he explained, with much difficulty, how the affair began after having drinks with a woman he met at a conference, who lived in L.A. and who was in NY for a few weeks.

Bob couldn't explain what happened to him.  He couldn't understand it himself, but he knew that this other woman meant nothing to him.  And, when he came to his senses, he ended it.  He considered not telling Ann, but he knew it would eat away at him and he felt this secret would come between them, so he decided to tell her.  If he knew nothing else, he said, he knew that he still loved Ann very much, he didn't want to "throw away" 25 years of marriage, and he wanted to try to work it out with her, if she could forgive him, so they could be together for the rest of their lives.

Ann had hoped that some explanation would help her to understand how Bob, a dedicated husband and father, could stray from their marriage. But, after Bob spoke, she felt no closer to understanding it than before.  She was confused as well as hurt and angry.

As the weeks passed and they tiptoed around each other, Ann wondered if she played some role in this.  She was clear that Bob was responsible for his own actions, but she also knew that their marriage was made up of two people, and maybe there were problems in the marriage that contributed to Bob's infidelity in some way.

Her older sister and best friend were urging Ann to leave Bob.  Ann understood their concerns, but she knew she wasn't ready to just throw away their marriage, even though she didn't know if she could ever trust him again or ever get over the hurt and pain.

Feeling very alone, she began her own individual therapy to sort out her feelings.  Bob also began his own therapy to deal with his guilt and sadness and sort out his feelings about what he did.  After a couple of months, both therapists recommended that Ann and Bob go to couples counseling because it was obvious that each of them wanted to try to salvage their marriage.  Ann also stopped talking to her sister and best friend about her marital problems because talking to them only confused her more.

During their marriage counseling sessions, Bob and Ann had a chance to begin to reconcile their problems.  It wasn't easy, and there were times when Ann wanted to give up, but she stuck it out.  They began to look at the problems in their marriage that they had swept under the rug, including that they had not had sex with each other in more than five years, mostly because Ann wasn't feeling that sexual.

The work was slow and painful.  But they each had their own individual therapist to help them with feelings that came up in their marriage counseling and at home.  Over time, Ann and Bob began to feel that they could start to move on. Ann felt she could, slowly, begin to trust Bob again.  She felt that the open wound she felt as being cavernous was beginning to heal.  They began to be emotionally and sexually intimate again.  She took each day as it came, and she tried not to look too far ahead.

Trying to regain trust after a spouse cheats is a very complicated process.  For many people, there's no going back once it has occurred.  They work out their emotional pain without their spouse, but it can  affect their ability to enter into future relationships and trust again.  It's not so easy to just "move on," as friends might advise.

For other people, who aren't ready to give up on the relationship, it can feel overwhelming to sort through the many psychological layers involved.  When a couple decides to try to work out their relationship, if possible, it's best for them to be in couples counseling and for each person to have their own therapist.

Even though people who are close to you might feel that they know what's best for you, no one knows better than you and your spouse about your relationship so, although your loved ones might be well meaning, it's up to each of you in the relationship to decide what's best for you as individuals and, if  you remain together, as a couple.

Getting Help in Therapy 
If you and your spouse are dealing with the emotional pain involved with infidelity, you could benefit from seeking help from a licensed psychotherapist who has worked with this problem before.  

Most skilled therapists who have expertise with this problem will be objective and not try to steer you to either break up or stay together.  The role of the therapist is to help you decide what's best for you.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individuals and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.