Infidelity is a lot like a bomb going off right in the core of a relationship. The damage to your dynamic, to your trust in one another, and even to your self-worth is immense. If you’ve found yourself in this awful position, I’m sure you’d like nothing more than for the pain to stop and for life to feel normal again. Of course, before any of that can happen, you have a difficult choice to make: do you leave your partner, or do you try to rebuild your relationship? This is a really difficult question, even when your heart isn’t breaking in real-time, but now that things are turned upside down it can feel impossible to make a choice. The hard truth is that you have to. It’s the first step on your road towards regaining the happiness that you deserve. In order to make that choice, you have to know when to walk away after infidelity.
Let me start by telling you that my heart goes out to you. I know exactly how destabilizing it is to be cheated on, and how deep and lasting the pain can be. It is absolutely possible to rebuild your sense of self-worth after an incident like this, and there’s no question about the fact that you deserve the effort that it takes to do that. But, what’s harder to know is whether or not you should put the same effort into rebuilding your relationship. If you’re not sure, you’re in the right place. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I’ve helped a lot of people make the right decision about their life after being cheated on. However, the truth is that there’s no single answer about what happens next. Plenty of people have rebuilt their relationships to be even stronger after cheating, and plenty of people have found joy and inner peace by walking away. Your path forward is totally unique to you, and you can shape it any way you wish!
In today’s article, I don’t want to lay out a one-size-fits-all solution for your current dilemma. Instead, I’d like to take some of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned through my time as a love and relationship coach here at Happily Committed and give you a guide that you can use to help yourself find the path that’s right for you. First we’re going to go over some of the obvious signs that it’s best to move on, and then we’re going to take a look at some of the more subtle red flags that can indicate problems as you try to rebuild your relationship. Once we’ve gone through those, then we’ll talk about what it takes for your marriage to survive after cheating. I hope that by reading through this, you’ll feel empowered and confident to make the choices that lead you to the happiness you deserve.
So, without further ado, let’s dive in!
When to Walk Away After Infidelity: A Roadmap
I’d like to start with an example. It’s from my one-on-one coaching sessions, and it encompasses one of the most important elements to consider when figuring out whether or not you and your spouse can recover from infidelity.
Several weeks ago I was approached by a client, let’s call her Susan, who was struggling with a very familiar question: how to get over an affair. She told me about the agony caused by her realization that her husband had a brief “fling” with a colleague while on a working trip overseas. She was adamant that their relationship, other than this incident, was perfect and that she wanted to do whatever it took to move past it and save their marriage. As usual, I started working with her to form an action plan towards strengthening their relationship and finding forgiveness, and in order to do that, I had to ask her some questions about his willingness to meet her halfway in this healing process. I was surprised when she gave me the following answer: she knew he was willing to meet her halfway, because he had met her halfway every time this had happened before.
Obviously, that changed the dynamic of our work together, and the bigger picture started to emerge. Susan’s husband cheated on her regularly, both in drawn-out affairs and in casual hookups, but she was so afraid of losing him that she compartmentalized each incident and would try to get over each one individually. In turn, it was quite obvious that even if her husband was outwardly remorseful, he had no qualms about cheating since he knew that there were no consequences.
Susan had been in this cycle for so long that she had become almost numb to the pain he was causing her. It was clear that she had convinced herself that each time was the last time, and even in our work together, was adamant that this time her husband really was going to get himself together. My heart broke for her: obviously, this woman was madly in love with someone who didn’t respect her, and she had sought out my help to get past the pain he caused her even though it was just a matter of time before he hurt her again.
So, why bring Susan’s story up first? Well, it’s a strong example of one of the most common signs that it’s best to move on: a serial cheater.
Recognizing a Perpetually Cheating Spouse
In Susan’s case, whether or not her husband’s remorse was authentic wasn’t important. His repeated infidelity could only be explained by one of two things: compulsion, or a deep and cynical dishonesty about his character, and both of those are serious individual battles that he himself needed to fight. The fact that he kept cheating through their 10 year marriage wasn’t a great sign that he was interested in fighting them at all. Either way, Susan had taken it upon herself to make the relationship survive his actions, and tragically, there’s no way for that to work! My job was to help her understand the same thing I’d like to tell you: if your spouse is a serial cheater, it’s time to walk away, because you can’t fight a battle going on inside of someone else.
The difference between one-time cheating vs. repeated infidelity is huge, and the reason why talking about this is the first stop on our roadmap is because the very possibility of moving past infidelity hinges on whether you and your partner are going to work together on the problem or not. And if your partner cheats again and again (or even worse, is having an affair right now), then the only one pulling the weight is you. That’s more than an uphill battle: it’s a battle that’s already lost. You’re far better off walking away, no matter how hard it might be.
So, your first step is just to be honest with yourself about the scope of the problem! Once you’ve ruled out the possibility that your spouse is a serial cheater, and you’re sure that the affair really is over, then you’re clear to start thinking about the future. But, given the massive damage done to your trust and to your heart, that still may look grim: can your relationship really survive cheating? Well, every case is different, but as you take the next steps I would keep an eye out for some of the biggest red flags that indicate that it’s time to move on from a cheating partner. Let’s take a look:
Red Flag #1: No Changes in Their Attitude Towards Your Marriage After Infidelity
When you’re trying to picture your married life after an affair, you don’t have to imagine the distant future to get a feel for what things may be like. All the signs you need are right here in the present moment. Here’s what I mean: is your partner truly remorseful? Are they committed to doing whatever it takes to change, or to salvage the relationship? That effort matters far more than the eventual results, because that’s what’s going to set the tone for your day-to-day lives during the long period of regaining trust and intimacy. That feeling on their part is the basic building block of your road to recovery. Without it, it’s not even worth trying. Here’s why:
Infidelity is the strongest threat a relationship can face, and once it happens, the chances of its long-term survival plummet. That’s not to say it’s impossible to recover, it just means that the danger of things not working out becomes very real. And if your partner recognizes that danger, and is willing to do whatever it takes to combat it, then they have both a goal and the motivation to achieve it. They’ll need those two things, since they have a lot of work to do making up for the pain they’ve caused you.
On the other hand, a partner who is not remorseful, or who shows no willingness to change, also sees that same danger but doesn’t care enough to avoid it! Staying with someone who doesn’t value your company is a horrific prospect for your long term happiness. In a case like this, you can expect the cheating to happen again, because your partner is unwilling to do the self-reflection and self-improvement needed to address their root problem. Even worse, as you recover from the pain they’ve inflicted, you won’t be able to count on them to support you. Why would they, if they’re not worried about losing you?
If this sounds like your situation, believe me: there is far greater happiness outside of this relationship than inside of it. You deserve to be valued, respected, and taken care of. We all do! If someone isn’t treating you with the care you deserve, especially after hurting you, then it’s time to move on.
Red Flag #2: Lying After Infidelity
So, what if your partner does say that they’re remorseful? Or that they’re willing to do anything to change? Well, this is where accountability comes into play. There’s a big difference between actions and words when it comes to marriage after infidelity. The tough conversation in which you both decide that you want to move past infidelity and make this relationship work is very important, but it’s just the first step. You’re going to need to keep holding your partner accountable to the changes that they need to make, and making sure that they’re treating you the way they claim they want to. What’s the biggest sign that they’re not actually serious about what they’ve said?
In any shape or form, big or small, serious or insignificant: If your partner is still lying to you after cheating, then you have a serious problem that needs addressing. Dishonesty is a part of infidelity, and if it’s still there in any form after your partner has committed to changing, then you can’t be sure they were being totally honest about that commitment either. Lying can also indicate a manipulative personality in your partner, in which case they’ll say anything you want to hear with no intention of actually changing. Most importantly, lying is a breach of the trust that needs to be rebuilt between you two! Even if it’s a small and seemingly inconsequential lie, it’s a serious red flag that the ground you’re trying to walk on together is fundamentally unstable.
Red Flag #3: Falling Out of Love After Infidelity
Out of all of the things you should keep an eye out for moving forward, this may be the most uncomfortable. But there’s no way around it: you have to ask yourself if the damage is deep enough to where you no longer have feelings for your spouse. If so, that’s a completely natural consequence of your partner’s infidelity. It’s their responsibility, not yours, that your love has dried up.
But, in the whirlwind of emotions that happen after infidelity, it can be easy to get confused about how you actually feel. Here is one way to clear things up: try to measure the intensity of your feelings instead of trying to understand the feelings themselves. This is useful because, typically, extremely strong feelings like anger or rage are fueled by a deep sense of pain and betrayal. That pain comes from being hurt by someone you love, and when those heated feelings subside, you’ll find that you do still love your spouse, even though they have caused you immense suffering. In this case, you can consider trying to rebuild the relationship.
However, if you’re not feeling strong emotions at all, and are exhausted and resigned about this entire situation, it may be because there’s nothing inside to fuel your anger or heartbreak. You may simply be out of love. If this sounds like you, your best bet is to move on, because we all deserve to love and be loved in return. Loving someone is one of the most beautiful parts of life, and if your heart doesn’t beat for your spouse anymore, you’d be robbing yourself of even more happiness by wasting time trying to revive a dead relationship. Respect yourself, and walk away.
How to Move Past Infidelity in Marriage
So, what if you’ve checked for the biggest red flags, and you’ve found none of them? Well, then I have good news: your relationship can rebound from this low point and be even stronger than it was before. It’s going to be a monumental struggle, but with the right amount of effort and teamwork, you two can move past infidelity. In general, the biggest thing you need to focus on is rebuilding trust and communication between you two. That’s an essential first step, because you need those elements in order to begin finding and addressing the root cause of the cheating. Of course, each situation is unique, but there are some tried-and-true methods that can help you succeed. Feel free to check out our course on how to get over infidelity and stay together to hear some more specific tricks and tips. Of course, if you want an even more personalized action plan, reach out to me or any of the other coaches at Happily Committed any time.
However, before you can do any of that, you need to know that your relationship really is worth fighting for. So, let’s recap how to know when to walk away. First of all, you need to make sure that your partner isn’t a serial cheater. If they are, you need to accept that you can’t fight their battles for them. Next, check for the three most serious red flags in a post-infidelity marriage:
- No changes in their attitude toward your marriage after cheating
- Lying after infidelity
- Falling out of love after infidelity
Once you’ve ruled these things out, you should have the confidence you need that your relationship is truly worth saving. No matter which path is ahead of you, I want you to know that I believe in you, because happiness is possible for everyone. The fact that you’re here, figuring out what your options are, and making a plan is a great sign that you’re going to succeed.
Your coach when you want to know when to walk away after infidelity,