By Jonathan Decker, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
If your marriage has been rocked by an affair, join me for my free online Healing From Infidelity course.
Few things are more devastating than learning that a partner’s been unfaithful. You commit yourself, your life, your time, your energy, and your heart to someone, and they betray all of it. How could they do this? Especially when they say they're sorry and that they love you. If they loved you, wouldn't they not have cheated? The thing to recognize, right out of the gate, is that affairs happen for many reasons, and your spouse's thought process may not be what you think it was. Of course, what they did was wrong. Period. But does your spouse legitimately care about you? How did this happen? Can you trust that they’ll never do this again? Let’s break these questions down.
Do They Legitimately Care About You? If So, Why the Affair?
On the surface, it seems that the answer is no, or at least he/she didn’t care about you more than themselves, since they did something so selfish and damaging to you and your relationship. That answer, though valid, doesn’t speak to the full complexity of the situation.
In an article for Psychology Today, Robert Weiss explains that even persons who love their spouses may cheat because of self-exploration (trying to figure out who they are), the seductive nature of transgression, succumbing to the allure of lives not lived, or the pull of new or forbidden emotions. Your spouse may have been vulnerable to temptation due to losing touch with who he/she is along with who he/she wants to be. They may have fallen due to the simple fact that, while there is “peace in righteous doing,” there’s a rush that comes from doing wrong. Perhaps they felt trapped in their life and was looking to see if the grass is greener on the other side (it never is). Or perhaps they were drawn in by the challenge or vanity of someone else falling for him.
I can’t answer whether or not your spouse truly cares about you. I’d have to meet them. I’d have to work with you both to be able to have an opinion. It’s possible they’re lying and manipulating. It’s also possible they never stopped loving you, they only stopped keeping that at the front of their mind and the center of their focus. It’s possible they’ve come to their senses and that their feeling for you is sincere, as is their guilt.
How Did The Affair Happen?
Again, this is difficult to know without meeting with you. Some couples are happily-married and one partner still strays. In other cases, breakdowns in the relationship contribute to the betrayer’s vulnerability to temptation (he or she is still responsible for succumbing, of course). I listed four reasons above why someone in a happy marriage might choose to cheat. Oftentimes, though, a marriage passes step-by-step through growing apart before either realizes how serious the distance has become.
Turning away from each other instead of towards, avoiding conflict, feeling unsupported, comparing one’s own marriage to that of others, relying on others to meet one’s needs, seeing one’s partner and marriage through a negative lens, rewriting one’s history so that the couples’ story is less romantic and genuine, minimizing a partner’s strengths while overemphasizing their weaknesses, and connecting with a new confidant are all part of the process leading to an affair. If you and your spouse can identify how exactly you got here, if you can trace it step-by-step, you can learn where and how to intervene so that an affair never happens again. We can help with that.
Can You Trust That They’ll Never Do It Again?
Whether or not it’s safe to trust your spouse depends on whether or not they’ve taken full accountability for the affair. Do they own it, or does they try to minimize, justify, excuse, rationalize, or shift blame on to you? Are they facing the consequences of their actions? Are they humble, transparent, and honest, willing to answer your questions? Is the affair over? Completely over, with no unnecessary contact?
These are the questions to consider when it comes to trusting whether or not they’ll do it again. Their remorse needs to equal the pain they’ve caused. That way you know that they’re serious about not returning to past behaviors and the chances that they’ll break your heart again are less.
I hope this helped. My heart, love, and prayers go out to you. God bless you.
Jonathan Decker is the clinical director of Your Family Expert. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist, husband, and father of five. Jonathan earned a masters degree in family therapy from Auburn University as well as a bachelor's degree in clinical psychology from Brigham Young University. He is an actor, author, and television personality.