Moving past infidelity in relationships


This column is part two of a three-part series the Express will run over the next three weeks regarding infidelity in relationships.

Sometimes a spouse wishes to end an affair but is hesitant to tell his or her extra-marital bed mate that it’s over. The spouse may feel guilty about ending it, and may worry how the end of the affair will affect the other person. This type of inaction, flip-flopping or reluctance is misplaced loyalty in the extreme. It can do irreparable harm to the marriage, as the betrayed spouse begins to see his or her partner as even more unfaithful, uncommitted and unreliable.

It is impossible to move past infidelity and rebuild a marriage while a spouse is involved with another person. Moreover, the other person – the marital interloper – does not require, and is not entitled to, time or effort when it comes to ending the affair. He or she should not have had a presence in the first place, and the sooner he or she gets the boot, the better. There is no need for private meetings to ‘find closure.’ An unfaithful spouse who claims differently is adding to the insult and injury he or she has already caused the other spouse. Spouses who make excuses or refuse to cut contact with the interloper are not sincere about saving their marriages.

Full accountability on the part of the unfaithful spouse is also essential if the marriage is to survive. There may be legitimate marital problems that contributed to the affair; however, most people have marriage problems at one time or another, yet not all people break their vows. If you’ve cheated, you’re at fault. Refusing to admit the infidelity – even in the presence of clear evidence to the contrary – or shifting blame onto your spouse will likely be the last nail in your marriage’s coffin.

But let’s assume the unfaithful spouse has done all the right things – he or she has ended the affair, cut ties with the other person, and has been accountable for his or her actions. Now what? Well, now he or she is likely to face some tough questions from a heartbroken spouse. Who was she/he? How many times did you do it? How did you do it? Where? How long did it last? Was she/he more attractive than me? Do you fantasize about her/him?

The answers to some of these gut-wrenching questions may be more valuable than the answers to others. For example, a spouse is entitled to know the identity of the extramarital girlfriend or boyfriend, whether there was sexual activity, where they usually met and how long the affair lasted. Moving past infidelity is practically impossible without these kinds of answers.

Other questions that a betrayed spouse might ask – although perfectly understandable and natural to ask – may be less helpful. What did you do in bed? How did you touch him or her? These are the gory details.

If you’re a betrayed spouse who is agonizing over how many details you want or need, you may wish to ask yourself the following question, and use it as a general guideline:

How much information do I require from my spouse to reassure me that he or she has ended the affair, loves me and only me, and will work to save our marriage?

Be realistic but honest with yourself about the information you need. Once you hear a gory detail, you can’t ‘unhear’ it. It may be helpful to write down your questions and sit on them for a few days. Even if you don’t change your mind about needing to know the answers, at least you will have had time to collect yourself before asking them.

Next week, in part three of this article on infidelity, we’ll look at two important issues – the reasons for infidelity and rebuilding trust.

Debra Macleod is a relationship consultant with a new office in Red Deer.