The idea of surviving repeated infidelity within your marriage probably never pinged your blissful connubial radar. But here you are.
There was a time when even one indiscretion would have been a death blow to your trust and marriage. A one-night stand, a long-term scandal – it wouldn’t have mattered. A bubble busted is a bubble busted. Poof. Gone.
Repeated or serial infidelity can happen in several ways. The unfaithful spouse can have a series of clandestine trysts with different partners – a pattern of one-nighters or work-trip rendezvouses.
He or she can become involved in a long-term affair that eventually ends. Then, after seeming to be remorseful and repentant for a calming period, begins the unfaithful behavior again.
The serial cheater can also have a pattern of leaving a committed relationship for an affair partner, then doing it again…and again.
It could also be a combination of the above.
What matters is that the infidelity doesn’t do an about-face without looking back. It’s as if the cheating spouse is never quite convinced the coveted elixir of life doesn’t lie outside his or her marital vows.
Suddenly all the agony and work involved in surviving infidelity in your marriage “just that once” seems like a farce. Another lie, just like your entire marriage has been. How could you think otherwise?
But it’s never that simple, is it? Love never is. Relationships never are.
So here you are, looking for hope that surviving repeated infidelity is even possible. Is it possible for you? Is it possible (even desirable or wise) for your marriage?
And, if you are going to wake up from the nightmare with a pulse, what are you supposed to do? What do you need to know about surviving long-term infidelity in your marriage?
The presumption so far is that you are the betrayed spouse. But you may be the unfaithful partner, struggling with a pattern of choices fraught with character and relational morbidity.
Perhaps you want to stop this runaway train. Perhaps you’re being carried on an undercurrent of addictive behavior and you have no idea how to get your foot off the accelerator.
Perhaps you’re as terrified as your betrayed spouse is angry.
And perhaps you’ve had no idea just how angry you are deep inside. And your spouse is so terrified that anger is the only vehicle for moving through the emotional paralysis.
As difficult as surviving one affair is for a couple, surviving repeated infidelity is an outward swim at high tide.
Serial cheating, whatever its form or frequency, speaks to a much deeper problem that hasn’t been solved.
And, ultimately, neither spouse – and certainly not the marriage – can survive it without willingly flinging into the dark abyss of relentless examination.
If you and your spouse are going to survive repeated infidelity in your marriage, there are some things you need to know. And there is a mountain of work you need to do.
Below are 6 things couples need to know about surviving repeated infidelity.
Past behavior is a good indication of future behavior.
This maxim requires some light treading, as it could be mistaken as a statement of futility for a marriage in crisis.
But we’re talking about repeated infidelity here. And the very nature of “repeat” implies a behavioral pattern.
The philosopher Immanuel Kant distinguishes between two hindrances to morality – affect and passion.
Affect, simply put, involves the direct movement from feeling to action. There is no intermediate reflection or intentional choice.
Passion, on the other hand, involves an actual perversion of choice. There is reflection. And there is an erosion of the decision-making process.
While affects are fleeting and quickly come up against the reason and moral comparisons they had bypassed in the moment, passions are different. They are the derivatives of desire, not feeling.
They morph the person’s judgment and therefore the pathway from feeling and inclination to action.
And, in this way, they set the stage for a conversion of behavior – and character – going forward.
It’s a deeply philosophical argument, for sure. But it helps explain the role of deeply rooted patterns that reflect lapses in character and predictability going forward.
Remorse and repentance have nothing to do with the root problem.
If your marriage has already survived infidelity, you know how essential the unfaithful spouse’s remorse and repentance were to its healing.
But once the infidelities start adding up, no amount of regret and repentance can fix the problem. The problem is the problem.
An addict, for example, can be sorrowful and self-flagellating with every relapse. But no amount of apology and promise to change deals with the problem underlying the behavior.
The person who cheats has to be willing to go where he or she doesn’t want to go. Examine the unexaminable. Experience the fear of diving into the void that he or she has been trying to fill from the surface of life.
Harsh as it sounds, sorry is as sorry does.
Serial cheaters don’t think the rules apply to them.
There is always someone else to blame. There’s a spouse who isn’t interested in sex or who nags or no longer lights the cheater’s fire. There’s always a circumstance that’s unavoidable, a need that must be indulged.
When the rules don’t apply to you and someone else is to blame, chances are slim you’re going to do the hard work on yourself. Your excuses and justifications are too valuable.
The betrayed spouse suffers extreme emotional and even physiological damage.
The impact of infidelity on the betrayed spouse can’t be overstated. The loss of self-esteem, self-worth, trust, hope, concentration, confidence. The disruption of sleep, eating, work, relationships.
Surviving repeated infidelity may be too much for the betrayed spouse within the context of the marriage.
But, if you both decide to give your marriage another chance, there must be uncompromising compassion toward the emotional wounds of the betrayed.
The steps of the healing process are the same for serial infidelity as for a singular infidelity.
The questions don’t change. Is the unfaithful partner truly remorseful? Is he or she willing to get help and do the work?
Is the unfaithful partner willing to be transparent and accountable?
Do you still love your spouse, whether you’re the betrayed or the cheating spouse?
Healing and reparation can never happen without uncompromising, even painful transparency and accountability from the unfaithful spouse.
And the betrayed spouse has to be willing to forgive – in time – and move forward.
Surviving repeated infidelity together means forging a new connection.
Your marriage is never going to be the same as it was when it still had the innocence of fidelity. It has already changed for the worse.
Surviving as a couple means your marriage will now have to change for the better…and for good.
You will have to decide that you’re going forward with a painful truth in your history and a willingness for re-creation in your future.
You are, in essence, marrying one another again, but with an inextricable story woven into your vows.
There is no formula for surviving infidelity, let alone surviving repeated infidelity.
But tucked into the possibility (or impossibility) is “survive.” And survive you must…and will. Perhaps together. Perhaps apart.
Either way, your survival of infidelity is calling you to a fully examined life.
It’s also calling you to the best, most hopeful version of yourself.
Mary Ellen Goggin offers relationship coaching for individuals and collaborates with her partner Dr. Jerry Duberstein to offer private couples retreats. To learn more about working with Mary Ellen, schedule a ½ hour complimentary consultation.