Can Your Relationship Survive After Cheating?

A man sitting on a couch is having an argument with his girlfriend who has her head turned away
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When my wife’s first husband cheated on her, her mantra was “Everybody cheats, nobody’s happy.” That’s not true, but if you have a faulty man-picker and surround yourself with similar friends, it may be hard to believe. Misery loves company.

There’s a big difference between a drunken kiss and a full-blown affair where you’re leading two separate lives.

I’ve never cheated on anyone, but I do believe that a moment of unfaithfulness does not HAVE to be a dealbreaker. There’s a big difference between a drunken kiss and a full-blown affair where you’re leading two separate lives. Sophia Benoit, who writes (very well I might add) for GQ, explores this topic in an article worth sharing.

Fact is: it’s easy to tell a woman to dump a man who cheated (and I usually do) but, as Benoit points out, “People often are judged for not standing up for themselves, not having boundaries, or for “letting” themselves be treated disrespectfully. There’s also a common belief that “once a cheater, always a cheater”—that it’s only a matter of time before it happens again. Assumptions like these ignore the complicated web of considerations that go into deciding what to do after infidelity is revealed.

Esther Perel, noted relationship therapist, wrote a book called State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, encouraging people to try to understand how and why affairs happen, but also how a relationship might get better—with lots of work—after infidelity. In practice, it tends to be uncommon for a relationship to survive instances of cheating. One study found that only about 16 percent of couples who’d experienced unfaithfulness were able to work it out….Some statistics put that number much higher, especially when it comes to married folks; clinical psychologist Joseph Cilona, Psy.D., told SELF that, “Despite the ambiguous statistics, it seems reasonable to speculate that more couples are staying together after infidelity than not.”

The rest of the piece is Benoit interviewing individuals who stuck it out through infidelity. It’s pretty interesting as a counterpoint to the black/white view that cheating has to mark the end of a relationship. Understand, I am not endorsing cheating, and I am a guy who tells women that relationships are “full trust or no trust.” 

But I also know that if my wife cheated on me, I’d be REALLY hesitant to throw everything we have away because of her actions. Maybe that’s naive but I do believe it’s possible for people to make mistakes and recover from them – not just in theory, but in practice.

Your thoughts, below, are greatly appreciated.

For more of my thoughts on cheating and infidelity, click here

 

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Comments:

  1. 1
    Emily, to

    You’re not going to chuck the relationship with your soulmate for a one-night indiscretion.
    For me, it would have to be a one-time occurence (I’m certainly not encouraging it), it was with someone you don’t care about, you feel guilty and you aren’t going to do it again. And, frankly, you’re keeping that guilt to yourself. I don’t want to know. Now, an ongoing affair with someone you’re in love with (and that could include an emotional affair that’s not gotten physical) … I don’t know if a relationship can recover from that.

    1. 1.1
      Jeremy

      Emily, you wrote, “You’re not going to chuck the relationship with your soulmate for a one-night indiscretion.” Ha! I love a double-entendre. Because although I’m fairly sure I understood your intent here, the statement can also be read the other way. You know, when talking about the cheater, the one who quite possibly chucked the relationship with his/her soulmate for a one-night indiscretion”? And even if the partner was not a soulmate, what does the cheating do to the cheater’s own self-opinion? What should it do? What should it say to future partners?

      I agree with so many relationship experts who say that cheating doesn’t always mean the same thing…to the cheater. Sometimes a person is truly not getting what s/he wants and cheats as a way out (not a benign thing, BTW). Sometimes they’re just overcome by a moment of lust and an opportunity. But regardless of what the infidelity means to the cheater, it will just about always mean the same thing to the one cheated-upon. A loss of trust, a broken bond.

      Which is why I think it is so important for those people in relationships to avoid opportunity and temptation and not just trust their own character, trust that “I’m not a person who would cheat.” We aren’t the people we ego-invest in being, especially when emotions run high. When Dan Ariely ran an experiment on a bunch of men watching porn, he found that the more turned on they were, the more open they were to all sorts of sexual and violent and degrading things that men watching porn were not open to. When we are emotional, our judgment goes out the window.

      I recall a post where Evan wrote that he avoids making new female friends and being alone with women – he worries about temptation. And some of the women took umbrage with that – why should a man of good character worry? If you love your wife, how could you ever be tempted? Answer – because of human nature. Because there’s who we are when thinking fast, and there’s who we are when thinking slow, and they aren’t ever the same person. So our slow-thinking selves need to erect barriers against the faulty judgment of our fast-thinking selves.

      1. 1.1.1
        Evan Marc Katz

        “I recall a post where Evan wrote that he avoids making new female friends and being alone with women – he worries about temptation.”

        MAYBE I said that; it doesn’t quite sound like me. I did write this when I was first married 12 years ago.

        I was more concerned about my ability to stay faithful when I had just spent 25-35 as a player. Now? It’s a no-brainer. That’s how secure and happy I am in my marriage.

        That said, I will acknowledge that as a self-employed man who works from home and supports a stay-at-home wife, there is exceedingly little opportunity for temptation in my world.

        1. Jeremy

          I was referring to the discussion begun in post 1.2.5 and then in post 10 of https://www.evanmarckatz.com/blog/uncategorized/why-gender-feminists-ignore-science-that-doesnt-confirm-their-beliefs

          I think that a person who is unhappy in marriage can be tempted while thinking fast, but more importantly when thinking slow. Such a person rationalizes why cheating is logical, even deserved. But even a person who is happy in his marriage can be tempted to cheat, when thinking fast.

          I have an employee who trusts her husband implicitly. He often goes to a female friend’s house at night to work on music together, and will stay until the wee hours of the morning. My employee has no beef with this behavior. She says, “Look, if he cheats on me, I have no problem because I don’t want to be with a man who’d cheat. And if he isn’t going to cheat on me, I have to trust him.” My issue isn’t with HER trust. It’s with HIS judgment. Because no matter how trustworthy he is, if he’s alone with a young, attractive woman at night, working on music together, tired, emotional, entranced by shared activity and likely somewhat physically attractive, he has put himself into a situation where he is more likely to succumb to that temptation, no matter how happy he is in his relationship. It’s good that she trusts him. It would be better, IMHO, if he’d trust himself a little less.

      2. 1.1.2
        Emily, to

        Jeremy,
        “I recall a post where Evan wrote that he avoids making new female friends and being alone with women – he worries about temptation.”
        I guess I’m just not going to understand that. Yes, I have felt very tempted by taken men, but it’s very, very rare. Only one I can think of recently. I had to change jobs so I wouldn’t see him anymore. My point is … I feel it’s pretty easy to walk way under 99% of circumstances. The word “temptation” is too much. Usually it’s just a mild fliration because the job is usually a little dull.

        1. Jeremy

          We’re all tempted by different things. Remember in Fleishman is in Trouble (I’m only referring to it yet again because I know you read it and it has a great example of this) – the wife cheated on her husband, not because she couldn’t resist sexual temptation, but because she couldn’t resist lifestyle temptation. She was feeling low on herself, low about her husband, wanted things her husband wasn’t willing to provide (lifestyle wise), and met a wealthy, high-status man who seemed willing to provide them. And so she fell into bed with him, though she’d never have thought herself capable of an affair.

          I’m not generalizing about this – I know that lifestyle temptations aren’t your bag – I’m just saying that we all have our weaknesses and we all have our moments of weakness. We might rationalize what we do in those moments of weakness, but our partners won’t. Because regardless of what it did or didn’t mean to us, it means something quite consistent to them. So it behooves us to be thoughtful, to avoid precipitous action in this regard, even if we’re people who pride ourselves on precipitous action.

        2. Emily, to

          Jeremy,
          “She was feeling low on herself, low about her husband, wanted things her husband wasn’t willing to provide (lifestyle wise), and met a wealthy, high-status man who seemed willing to provide them.”
          I don’t like that narrative. It feeds into the all that red pill stuff about hypergamy and that a woman is always on the lookout for a more financially successful man.
          “I’m not generalizing about this – I know that lifestyle temptations aren’t your bag – ”
          You go that right! 🙂 Now, Madame Bovary makes perfect sense to me. (I know. You hate her,) Especially since the first man she has an affair with is such a rogue.
          ” So it behooves us to be thoughtful, to avoid precipitous action in this regard, even if we’re people who pride ourselves on precipitous action.”
          Actually, right about now I’d pay money to have some kind of temptation. When all it is now is eating too many brownies.

        3. Jeremy

          I didn’t mean it as a generalization, was just talking about the wife in the book. And I don’t think she would have cheated on her husband, even though she wasn’t satisfied with her role as primary breadwinner, of she hadn’t been particularly low. Emotional, stressed, having repeated marital spats. Happy Rachel wouldn’t have done what stressed Rachel did. And that’s my point.

          I didn’t hate madame bovary any more than I hated the female lead in the Post Birthday World. I just couldn’t relate to her. Her way of seeing the world and making judgements is too dissimilar to mine. Because when I’m tempted, I too often see what’s at the end of the tunnel in prospect, and I become averse to temptation in an almost Pavlovian way.

        4. Emily, to

          Jeremy
          “Because when I’m tempted, I too often see what’s at the end of the tunnel in prospect, and I become averse to temptation in an almost Pavlovian way.”
          I don’t know you personally, but it doesn’t sound like you’ve been really tempted. Temptation like the kind in “The Post-Birthday World” (I read the book) shakes you to the very core, and it takes everything you have to walk away from it. The protagonist is willing to blow up her life for it. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime, standing-at-a-crossroads kind of temptation. It ain’t being propositioned by some rando at a bar and feeling flattered but knowing you should say no.

    2. 1.2
      jo

      Emily, I tend to agree with you. Trying to put myself in that position: if ever my partner did this, the first thing I would try to find out is if this was only physical, or if he had fallen in love with her. If he was in love with her, I would be devastated and would feel pretty sure that that was the end. If it was only physical, I would be mad, but honestly would feel less insecure than in the first case, and would think we had more of a chance.

      I think it was YAG and Buck25 (in a conversation with you, in fact) who both agreed that the physical experience wasn’t a big deal in a man’s attachment to a woman, but the emotional connection was. And that is how I would feel in a situation like this from the woman’s perspective, too.

      1. 1.2.1
        Emily, to

        Jo,
        “I think it was YAG and Buck25 (in a conversation with you, in fact) who both agreed that the physical experience wasn’t a big deal in a man’s attachment to a woman, but the emotional connection was.”
        I agree that an emotional connection would bother me much more than a physical one in terms of cheating, but I think sex being the equivalent of the changing of socks is true for a certain kind of man. I think there’s a third kind of cheating that is lust/hormone/dopamine-driven and that can be, for a certain kind of man, very powerful. There are plenty of stories of men who have left their wives for a woman who has rocked their world sexually. I was just reading the book “Blind Faith” by Joe McGinis about a middle-aged man who arranged for the murder of his wife so he could be with his mistress. The sex with the mistress was beyond a level the wife could comprehend (his words). It’s a true story. Extreme example, I know, but that’s also a type of cheating I don’t think I could forgive. If he’s completley in lust/infatuation with the other woman, you can’t fix that.

  2. 2
    Jess

    Question for Evan, if a woman were to stay after the discovery of infidelity, do you still tell her that relationships are “full trust or no trust”? Or is there some gray areas to navigate now?

  3. 3
    Lynn

    “Maybe that’s naive but I do believe it’s possible for people to make mistakes and recover from them – not just in theory, but in practice.”

    I think both partners have to be willing to work on recovery. When my husband cheated on me, he had been having an affair for over six months, hidden money, and tried his best to make sure “he took the power back,” as he told me. You bet I had faults and contributed to the demise of the marriage, but he was interested in counseling/therapy. We divorced, he married his affair partner and they divorced after a couple of years. I moved on to a fabulous solo ten years and am now in an amazing relationship.

  4. 4
    sylvana

    hmmm…as usual, I’m the outlier here. They cheat, they’re out. That’s the ultimate breach of trust. I don’t have any issues with open relationships, but even within them, certain rules are strictly observed. If not, trust has been broken.

    I also don’t care so much about the emotional affairs as I would about just sex. A long-time affair including emotions (versus just a long-term sexual affair) signals that the relationship overall is pretty much a fail. They cheater isn’t really getting anything they need out of the relationship they’re in. Strictly sexual affairs (short or long-term) or cheating pretty much boils down to “fuck my partner, it’s all about me tonight”. It’s having your cake and eating it too. And it’s often done by people who are perfectly happy with their partners or relationships. Or happy overall, except for one thing (not necessarily just sex).

    And despite having had open relationships, I don’t quite understand the temptation part. If you have a good life and good sex life at home, why risk that if you don’t even know if the sex will be all that? And the consequences – good grief! I could never imagine hurting someone I supposedly care about that way. Neither could I ever betray someone’s trust that way. And if the sex life or relationship isn’t all that great, then either fix is or get out. Or tell your partner straight up that you want an open relationship.

    Blatant disregard for your partner’s feelings. Blatant and deliberate breach of trust. Zero respect for your partner. And all over what? Getting laid? Find some more exciting porn. Buy a new sex toy. Spice up your sex live with your partner.

    Did I mention the risk of bringing STDs home?

    Nope. Stand up for yourself and dump his/her cheating behind. Tell them to go find fulfillment with whomever was more important than the relationship and partner they had.

    That would be this sex-addict, open and monogamous relationship person’s view on cheating.

    1. 4.1
      Emily, to

      Sylvana,
      ” I don’t have any issues with open relationships, but even within them, certain rules are strictly observed. If not, trust has been broken.’
      I’ve read some first-hand accounts online from people in open relationships … and I always wonder, when they discuss the rules surronding them … how do you monitor that? If you and your partner are allowed to have casual flings, what if one of you develops more feelings for the third? Or you’re supposed to be praticing safe safe… how do you know your partner is actually doing that? That’s a hell of a lot of trust with something as disorderly as desire.

      1. 4.1.1
        sylvana

        Emily,

        It’s pretty much the same as it is in monogamous relationships. You have to trust your partner.

        And the casual flings are usually just that – flings. They don’t generally involve dating or spending much (if any) time with each other outside of sex. it’s not geared toward feelings.

        The other thing to keep in mind is that the element of the forbidden or secrecy is non-existent in open relationships. The freedom to do certain things often actually leads to you making better decisions. Just like anything else, if you can have it all the time, it’s no longer that special, and you don’t necessarily feel like you’re missing out if you don’t take the opportunity presented. You don’t have that element of “who knows when or if I’ll ever get this chance again” that often causes people to cheat.

        1. Emily, to

          sylvana,
          “The other thing to keep in mind is that the element of the forbidden or secrecy is non-existent in open relationships. The freedom to do certain things often actually leads to you making better decisions. Just like anything else, if you can have it all the time, it’s no longer that special, and you don’t necessarily feel like you’re missing out if you don’t take the opportunity presented.”
          Oh, ok. That actually makes perfect sense. If you know you are free to hook up with someone, and there’ s not the added element of it causing internal moral conflict while also having the allure of it being transgressive, you can probably see it much more clearly for what it is: just a hook up.

  5. 5
    Anonymous

    I stayed in my marriage for 10 years after my husband cheated on me AND had a child from that affair. We worked har don therapy and had 2 kids of our own. But I wasn’t be honest. I believe I stayed in to show “her” she wasn’t going to win, that I was better. He ended up giving too much attention to a few other women and I while I don’t believe he psychically cheated, after those discoveries it was time to leave. If you can find the root of the “why” and admit it often(not always) takes the breakdown of two people to cause an affair, it can be repaired. I know because I can say whole heartedly I tried. In retrospect I wish I left but we live the path we chose and I am in a solid loving relationship because of lessons learned the hard way and A LOT of therapy.

  6. 6
    Britt

    What about the situation of the cheater then having a relationship with whom he had the affair? Wondering where the falls in the conversation of “can a relationship survive cheating.” It isn’t something you see often discussed or written about, from my limited research. It begs a similar question but has its own nuances.

  7. 7
    Nina

    Been there done that. Always leave. Always. Extenuating circumstances…only physical..blah, blah. That person knowingly put a bullet in the relationship. I left a 5-year marriage (10-year relationship) with a 2-year old It wasn’t easy, but it was the right thing.

  8. 8
    Cheaters never win

    Honestly, once a cheater always a cheater. I gave this cad a second chance a long time ago…but he put his quill in so many ink wells. He just couldn’t help himself.

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