Many people wonder if they should stay or go after an affair. Often I hear something like, “Funny, I always thought I would leave if I found out he was having an affair, but now that it's happened I just don't know what to do.” Making the decision to leave certainly isn't easy. And, sometimes, staying is just as hard.
Many people feel concerned about what other's will think of them if they stay. Others aren't sure they can live with themselves for putting up with “bad” behavior. They think if they stay, their partner won't learn their lesson or it looks as they their partner can get away with treating them terribly. I hear so often things like, “I don't want to teach my kids that it's okay to cheat” or “My mom stayed after my dad cheated and I saw what it did to her.” or “People will think I'm really stupid for staying; what a fool I am!” In fact, it's very common for the person who was cheated on to feel just as embarrassed about the affair as the one who cheated.
So how do you decide if you should stay or go after an affair?
Here are some general guidelines to help.
One First, in general, you don't want to make any drastic life changes too quickly. In the beginning, emotions can be very volatile and you will need a little time to see what can be sorted out with your partner.
Two Look for signs that your partner is demonstrating transparency, vulnerability and a strong willingness to do whatever it takes to make it right. Is he or she completely willing to go to couples counseling or get individual therapy. Is he or she willing to listen (as much as possible) to your feelings and answer your questions about the affair? Is he or she being emotionally available and responsive to you?
Three If your partner is being defensive and/or not taking any responsibility for how the affair hurt you, leaving may be appropriate. There are ways to step into this slowly without making any permanent, drastic decisions like sleeping in another bedroom, leaving for a few weeks or even renting a short term apartment. You need to make it clear that what happened was not okay.
Five While it's never your fault that your partner had an affair (all of us are 100% responsible for our behavior), can you see the bigger picture of how your marriage has been suffering in the years prior and how you've been behaving to make things worse? If you can, can you see a pathway for improving the marriage and finding forgiveness and trust again? If so, then staying might be a viable and important consideration.
Six It's rarely clear cut on if you should stay or go after an affair. Take your time to make a solid decision that's best for you and your family. And, most importantly, seek professional help. It's important to feel supported, to learn coping skills for managing the stress of painful emotions and a good therapist will help you understand the roller coaster of emotions and help you find a pathway to rebuilding the relationship or making the decision to leave.
I highly recommend the book, Getting Past the Affair for helpful tools and tips to heal your relationship.