Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do. – Pope John XXIII

“To give up.
What a bell of freedom that rings within me”
No more wanting to understand what makes you tick
No more wanting to be able to communicate freely
No more waiting for reassurance, for explanation,
…or the words that never come
No more wondering what you are doing
Or who you are with
And then
No more depression
No more hurting
And all it would take
…is to give you up
But that
…would take too much

– This poem is taken from ‘The Monogamy Myth’ by Peggy Vaughan, Page 177.

The following article is based on information written by Peggy Vaughan in her outstanding book that can help you understand your feelings after your spouse cheats.

The Monogamy Myth‘, Chapter Nine -The Marriage/Divorce Dilemma, and is used with permission.

My Husband’s Affair …’ in a chapter titled ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?’ outlines from my personal experience my own ambivalence towards my marriage for a long period of time, and the factors that eventually led to my own decision to stay. These factors may also help you in making your own best decision for your future.

There are times in life when we are in-between. We are like Linus in the old Charlie Brown cartoon without our blanket. Our life as we had known it has ended, a door has closed and we cannot go back. The past is the past. Yet the future? What will become of my future? I do not know. My future has become the great unknown. Can I have happiness? I am in-between past and future. I am like a trapeze artist who has just let go of the trapeze, somersaulting through mid air. Will I catch the new trapeze on the other side? When you are in this uncertain place, being patient and taking things one day at a time makes the present situation more tolerable and the future easier with the passage of time.

A Feeling of Ambivalence After Your Spouse Cheats

It is normal to have ambivalent feelings towards your spouse who has betrayed you. We’re often not really sure what we want. We weren’t prepared for such betrayal. We’re not even sure sometimes if we really still love our spouse or not. Frankly, we are confused. How do we know whether we should stay or go? One woman at our meeting reported that while she was going through it, her counselor told her that she would know, if and when it was time to leave her marriage. She left that counseling session feeling a bit confused. “Couldn’t I get a more concrete answer than ‘You will know?” she wondered. In her situation, she did end up leaving her marriage, and she did know. She made her decision based on the fact that after much trying her husband was just not sorry for what he had done. He only regretted getting caught. More importantly, she made her decision based on the fact that he was unwilling (after some time) to discuss the affair or put any effort into improving the marriage. He seemed to be a person who was using his marriage only as a home base from which to pursue his own independent life, not to have a marriage, a friendship and a loving, growing relationship with his wife. Although it has not been easy (the divorce road), she lives with peace that she has made the right decision, and like me she shares the sentiment, her husband’s affair has become the best thing that ever happened to her. It was a sound eye-opener to an intangible she had been wrestling with for sometime. Her marriage had not been what a marriage should be. For years she had been plagued by sadness, loneliness and disappointments, but you stay in your marriage and keep working on it, don’t you? The affair (not the affair itself, but her husband’s unwillingness to talk, acknowledge his fault and put effort into rebuilding) shone a spot light on what was truth.

Spouse’s Ambivalence

While many spouses, who have had affairs, do not decide to leave the relationship, they often seem like they don’t care, unwilling to put energy and effort into rebuilding the marriage. Another woman in our group shared that when she is actively implementing ‘tough love’ principles and boundaries, her husband does what seems right (or at least enough to make it appear so to outsiders). He will attend counseling or support group meetings, yet he remains distant. As soon as things seem a bit better, and she relaxes a notch, he slips right back into the old unhealthy patterns. The question she must ask herself is, for how long is she willing to participate in this relationship dance? How long is long enough before he should have gotten his act together and be putting effort into the relationship of his own initiative. In this situation the unfaithful spouse seems oblivious. This woman reported that her husband thinks their marriage is great right now, yet he doesn’t participate in activities and responsibilities at home (unless it is demanded – at which point he puts in a bare minimal effort), neither does he care to ask her how she feels about their marriage. He seems self-centered.

The reality is that after your spouse cheats, many times the person who has had an affair doesn’t really know what they want. They may not want a divorce, but they may not want to give up the affair either. Most people, who are still participating in an affair after their spouse knows about it, are simply living in the moment, and completely ignoring their need to choose between the marriage and the affair. It is very difficult for a person who is waiting for a spouse to choose between the marriage and the affair to think clearly in the moment, but thinking clearly is exactly what is needed.

Advice from Others

There are two camps, those who feel spouses who have had affairs should never be forgiven and therefore the marriage should be ended after an affair, and those who say the marriage vows are a covenant, it is ‘for better or for worse’ and the marriage should be saved at all costs. As far as the covenant is concerned, I agree, it’s a covenant (which means an agreement or a promise), however, unless I misheard the minister in my excitement on my wedding day, I thought I remembered part of that promise being pledging to ‘be faithful until death do us part.’ As far as I can tell, after my spouse has had an affair, I no longer have a promise; rather I have a broken promise. Unless the promise is sincerely remade, I think all anyone has after an affair is a broken promise, not a promise. There is a difference. What those who believe you should stay in the marriage ‘no matter what’ seem to be ignoring is the lasting impact this experience has on most people. It is certainly possible for a person to eventually put this behind them, but it is neither reasonable nor desirable to bury reality. The situation must be dealt with. Broken hearts must be mended.

Consider the Children

Studies have proven that divorce after your spouse cheats has a long-term effect on the lives of children. That being said, it doesn’t mean keeping the marriage together is always actually in the best interest of the children. Judith S. Wallerstein in her report entitled ‘Second Chances,’ reports “To recognize that divorce is an arduous, long-lasting family trauma is not to argue against it. Divorce is a useful and necessary social remedy. And the fact is that most divorces with children are not impulsive…Most worry about the effect of divorce on their children. There is considerable evidence that a conflict-ridden marriage is not in the best interest of the children. There is evidence, too, that children benefit from the dissolution of such marriages.”

My husband and I have often compared our own childhoods, and discussed who was worst off. I grew up in a broken home and yes it had a huge impact on me, long into my adult life. My husband’s parents stayed married and committed to each other; however, they fought constantly and degraded one another often in front of the children. I, at least, had peace in my home. My husband did not. As mothers I believe we are modeling to our daughters how to do relationships. If we allow ourselves to be mistreated by our husbands, we are teaching our daughters, by example, that this is okay. Would we be satisfied if one day our daughter’s husband treated her the same way we allow our husband to treat us?

Other Factors

There are other factors to consider after your spouse cheats such as finances and social impact. Unfortunately, if your spouse has an affair and you therefore decide to pursue a divorce, some people will blame you for the failure of the marriage, since you initiated the divorce, rather than considering the factors that led you to that decision. But are we going to let the uninformed, unfeeling and judgmental attitudes of others hinder us from seeking happiness in our future after the pain of infidelity?

Even here there is a benefit. We get to find out who our true friends really are. Many times seeking divorce will mean the loss of mutual friends we had while we were married, however, the friendships that remain after the divorce often develop greater meaning, quality and depth. I can honestly say that my best friends are people who I have had the privilege of weathering a storm with. This is where depth is developed and you discover what the friendship is really made of. On the flipside this depth and quality is also there to be developed in the marriage after an affair. An affair can actually be the storm that brings forth unprecedented intimacy and quality in a marriage, but it takes two. Unless your spouse is also willing to go there, you can’t have it.

Guidelines for Making Your Decision

  • Make your OWN decision.
  • Do not rush the decision.
  • Get as much information as possible.
  • Do not make this decision based solely on emotional factors, nor solely on practical factors.


Questions to Help You Decide After Your Spouse Cheats:

  1. Is your spouse willing to talk about what happened, to try and learn from it, to avoid future affairs and to improve the marriage overall?
  2. Is there a willingness to acknowledge the fact that attractions to the opposite sex are normal and will likely happen again in the future
  3. Is there a plan for ongoing discussions regarding how these future temptations will be handled?
  4. Is there a commitment to honesty and communication as a basis for your marriage, rather than simply a promise for future monogamy?
  5. Is there evidence of willingness for ongoing honesty on topics other than affairs? (If there is not honesty about other issues, there is little likelihood that there will be future honesty about affairs.)
  6. Even if there is little evidence of the above at this time, does it seem reasonable to think that you will be moving towards these things in the future? Change of this kind doesn’t happen overnight, but there needs to be hope for the future.

In the final analysis, each person is responsible for making their own decision (regardless of the opinions of friends, family, professionals and the general public), because they have to live with the choice they make. It takes strength and clear-headedness to assess the situation and do whatever is best for you.

Email your questions or comments to Brian and/or Anne