Is staying in a marriage after an affair stupid? By Anne Bercht
Question: Dear Anne, The issue that has concerned me currently is the constant political talk on the news of late, about spouses who decide to stay or reconcile a marriage after an affair has been discovered and calling those spouses “stupid” for doing so (without any acknowledgement of the many differences in each situation, or the capacity for healing and keeping families together). How do you approach these harsh and uninformed judgments many have to deal with?
"The weak can never forgive, for forgiveness is an attribute of the strong." - Ghandi
Answer: The ability to forgive and reconcile comes from a place of maturity, wisdom, intelligence and strength – nothing less. It takes greater strength of character to rebuild a marriage after an affair, than to just give up and quit. Smart people are able to refrain from making emotional decisions, seek wise counsel, and discern the difference between a marriage worth staying in, or one that it is best to leave.
If you really love your spouse, and your spouse expresses genuine remorse and is willing to do their part in rebuilding the marriage, there are greater rewards in staying than there are in giving up. I wonder how can those who just throw in the towel like big babies, giving up what they really want in life because there is a major obstacle in the road, have any self-respect?
In my situation, the other woman was bound and determined to marry my husband. I don’t blame her for the affair. I blame my husband, but in my case she was the pursuer in the affair relationship. She wanted my life. She was banking on the fact that as soon as my husband told me of the affair, I would be so mad that I would just throw him out, making it easy for her to take over my life.
How could I consider myself to be intelligent, if after eighteen years of marriage, I allow some other woman to waltz into my life and walk off with my husband, breaking up my family and taking my children’s father away from them without taking the time to see if my husband would choose to learn from his mistake and become a better man.
If I view myself as a woman who is worthy of deep love from a man, how can I not even be willing to give some time to my decision of whether or not I want to stay?
If I’m a smart woman who respects myself and is capable of thinking for myself and making my own decisions, why should I allow those in society who have never walked in my shoes to dictate my life for me based on their own ignorance of the topic?
The ability to forgive a spouse, heal a marriage and become a better stronger person through the pain takes a smart, mature, and good person (and if you are lacking wisdom, strength and maturity, you can develop them through the process).
One of the biggest rewards I earned for staying and working it out was the respect of our then teenagers. All of them came to us on separate occasions and in their own words said to my husband and myself, “You know what Mom and Dad, most of our friends parents are having the exact same problems as you and Dad have had, except they just give up, throw in the towel and quit. You and Dad worked out your problems. We really respect you for that!”
People don’t earn respect by giving up and quitting. They earn it by making the hard choices to do the right thing.
I’ve come to see that my husband’s affair was not something he did to me. It was something, which was a reflection of his weaknesses (not my lack of intelligence) and what he didn’t understand about affairs, before the subtle lure of friendship at work led him beyond the line. It was not an intentional act of disrespect towards me. He didn’t have an affair because he thought; “Now I’m going to disrespect my wife by having an affair.”
Of course if he was continuing to have affairs and I stayed in the marriage that would be different, but he has done everything any man could ever do not only to make it up to me, but to become a better, stronger man himself and to ensure it never happens again.
A vice president of a large corporation once made a huge mistake, which literally cost the company millions of dollars. As a result he (and everyone else) assumed he would be fired. But the President said, no way, I’ve just spent millions of dollars training this man. He’ll be the smarter for his mistake. After spending all that money on his education, I’m not about to let some other company reap the benefits.
So also my husband made the biggest relationship mistake possible for which he has paid a huge price and become a much better man as a result. Should I now just hand over the man I love to some other woman, now that I’ve paid the price in his learning experience? What would be smart about that?
Is it smart to start over with some other loser who hasn’t learned this lesson yet and have my heart broken again when I don’t need to? How could I respect myself for that?
A close relative of mine threw in the towel on her marriage in the emotion of the moment after discovering her spouse’s affair. Time went on. They both remarried. Twenty years have now passed. They are still in their second marriages, but they still talk to each other. My relative greatly regrets her decision. Both her and her first husband agree today that they love each other more than their current spouse, but confess because of making quick and emotional decisions in the heat of the moment without gaining proper perspective first, they are now stuck in marriages to second best.
Twenty years have past and the initial trauma and emotions have subsided. My relative says, “I couldn’t see it then, but we could’ve worked it out and we both would’ve been much happier. It was stupid to get divorced over the affair. I gave up what really matters to me in life, and I deeply regret making such an important decision in my life while I was on an emotional rollercoaster.”
I say how could my self-esteem be so low as to not be smart enough to stand up and fight for what I really want? How could my self-esteem be so low as to not be willing to grow into a better person and learn how to overcome major pain and learn how to build a better marriage? How could my self-esteem be so low as to be a quitter, without first giving my marriage at least a chance when I really love my husband?
Of course, everyone has a choice and I respect and promote individual choices especially when it comes to infidelity, but being able to forgive, heal a marriage and overcome problems is a sign of strength of character and is for heroes. The wisdom and love it takes to heal a marriage after an affair is something to be proud of. It’s not for the stupid, weak or faint of heart.
Daring to make your own choice and do what you really want is to be commended and respected. This is neither stupidity nor low self-esteem.
Is staying after an affair stupid? No, absolutely not! It takes a smart, sharp, and wise woman or man.
Being smart is not in the staying or in the going. It’s in being self-controlled, willing to seek advice, and then making a wise choice for you based on the unique variables in your situation.
No woman or man, who chooses to stay, with a good man or woman who takes responsibility for their actions and does the work to heal the marriage, should ever think of themselves as stupid.
Stupidity is letting other people’s opinions dictate what is right for you. Stupidity is breaking up a family if you love the person and they truly change their ways. Stupidity is suffering the financial loss of divorce and being alone, if you are married to a good person, who did a bad thing.
Kudos to all the SMART men and woman who were able to successfully rebuild a better stronger marriage on the other side. Enjoy your rewards! You've earned it!