Finding out your husband had an affair can make you feel angry, resentful and hopeless. The shock and betrayal often elicit strong reactions, and understandably so. But once the strong emotions have subsided, you’ll start thinking about your next move. Should you walk away from your husband after his affair? Should he move out? Is divorce the only option?
Figuring out the appropriate course of action after your husband’s affair is not a trivial matter. Much depends on your circumstance and whether you both can commit to working on your relationship. Keep in mind there are the immediate emotions and reactions to your husband’s infidelity, and then there are the decisions and actions which should be well thought through. Here are a few important considerations to help you navigate your relationship after an affair and figure out where to go from here.
Why Did He Cheat?
An affair isn’t a random occurrence. Rather, it reflects a dynamic within your relationship with your husband. Your husband likely went outside the marriage for something he wasn’t getting within the marriage which he strongly desired. While often the unmet need is sexual in nature, sometimes it can be emotional, at least in the beginning. If you think about the dynamic between you and your husband before the affair, you might be able to determine the root causes which contributed to the disconnect in your marriage.
Should You Walk Away After His Affair?
Walking away is equivalent to “silent treatment” – it may give you time and space to process the situation but ultimately it won’t work as a long-term solution. Your husband can’t read your mind and neither one of you can resolve anything without being present and actively engaging in problem solving. It’s unrealistic to walk away from your husband and expect things to get better between you. So if you’re angry and need time to cool down, walking away is a reasonable option, but only for a while. But if you want to find a solution, you’ll need to come back together to address the challenges, needs, and wants in your relationship.
Here are two client case studies which help illustrate when walking away works for you, and when it works against you. Names have been changed to protect patients’ privacy.
“The first thing I did after finding out he had an affair was to pack my bags, pick up my toddler from daycare, and head to my sister’s house. I gave her my phone so I wouldn’t have to answer any calls from anyone, especially him. I spent a week crying and punching pillows. Eventually I got it all out of my system. Then I knew I had to go back and deal with the situation, for me and for my son. My husband tried so hard to explain himself but I couldn’t even manage a 2 minute conversation before storming out of the room. I couldn’t stand the sight of him. I would have divorced him on the spot if it wasn’t for our son. So I agreed to try counseling for his sake.”
“I’ve never felt more betrayed in my life. I was fully aware that we were spending less and less time together between his job and my school workload. I figured it was temporary and we just needed to be patient until we got to a better place. But my husband got involved with a coworker instead. I threw him out of the house as soon as I found out. He was gone for a few days but it only made me more anxious. My mind kept racing. All the worst possible outcomes came to mind. I figured the best thing I could do at that point is to talk through everything with him. I wanted him to explain himself and take responsibility for his actions. But I also wanted for us to take stock of our marriage and see if there’s still a chance we can work things out.”
How To Heal A Relationship After Infidelity
The surest way to heal your marriage after an affair is to talk together, figure out the causes which led to the affair, and then work on repair and prevention. This requires both you and your husband to make an effort to work on your relationship. Research has shown that this effort is worth it: Up to 75% of couples who work on improving their marriage after an affair end up being happier and feeling closer than during the years preceding the affair. Much of this work will involve rebuilding trust and strengthening your emotional connection in order to prevent future affairs.
Monogamy vs. Consensual Non-Monogamy
Although monogamy is the norm for most couples, it’s not always the right for everyone. There are circumstances when one partner’s needs and desires cannot be satisfied by their spouse. This is likely in instances of illness or physical limitations, mismatched libidos, or past trauma which interferes with intimacy. In these, and similar situations, consensual non-monogamy may be a reasonable workaround. Both spouses would need to agree on the terms of the arrangement and set clear boundaries.
Working with a couples therapist will help make this process easier. Like anything else, there’ll be some trial and error before you and your partner find an arrangement that works well for both of you. So if monogamy is not a viable option for any reason, stay open to other possibilities which can help sustain your marriage.