It’s unbearable, really, the shock and devastation of infidelity in your marriage. In a moment of discovery or disclosure, all the life in your body can drain away to nothingness. And only anger, hurt, confusion, and a cauldron of negativity can fill the vacuum left behind. It could be either one of you, and the betrayal would cut as deeply. But surviving her infidelity has some special considerations that differ from surviving his.
Don’t get me wrong. Gender doesn’t exonerate or condemn when it comes to cheating.
However, when it comes to surviving an affair, it’s helpful to understand the influences of gender on both the unfaithful and the betrayed.
It’s no secret that men and women have different needs and wants. They think and process differently and bring a Mars-Venus yin-yang to relationships.
Their opposing strengths and weaknesses, when embraced for their potential, can solidify and balance a relationship. Each partner contributes his/her gifts fully for the greater good of the relationship and family.
At the same time, he/she uses the safety of the relationship to learn from the partner and work toward greater balance within himself/herself. There is trust, camaraderie, respect…and the safety of believing that each can get his/her needs met within the context of the marriage.
When viewed as adversarial, however, those same differences can tip the scales to a state of constant disharmony and imbalance. Differences don’t magnetize and inspire a commitment to clarifying communication and mutual support, but instead cause division and a search for sameness.
How is all this relevant to understanding infidelity – both the motivations for it and the ability to survive it?
Those inherent differences between men and women weave through every aspect of infidelity. Men and women, in general, cheat for very different reasons.
It stands to reason, then, that the perception by the betrayed will be similarly rooted in gender norms, as will the healing process.
If you are the Mars native in this relationship and your wife has cheated, you will need help surviving her infidelity.
The fundamental steps to rebuilding the trust in your marriage will be universal, regardless of gender. But how the two of you climb that staircase will be unique to your genders and your roles in this romantic triangle.
If you still want to stay with your wife, be prepared for the storm before the calm. And trust that these 8 tips for surviving her infidelity will pace you through the seemingly impossible.
Approach with a cool head.
You may be fuming and filled with so much adrenaline that your own fury may surprise you. This is not the time to approach the topic of your wife’s infidelity, let alone to make any decisions.
If you need a physical outlet for all that anger, take a run, go to the gym, mow the lawn, or scream into a pillow. But never use your physical dominance to instill fear in your wife or to threaten the other man.
Saving your marriage is going to be a tough journey. But your composure will make all the difference to the end result.
Get help sooner than later.
Surviving your wife’s infidelity is going to be one of the greatest challenges of your life. And that holds true whether you end up together or part ways.
You will both have to dive deeply into painful, complicated, often ugly territory. And chances are you won’t know how to do so with confidence and the assurance that you are helping more than hurting.
If you knew how to “do marriage” perfectly, you wouldn’t be stuck in the same cycle of relationship fights. And you wouldn’t be wondering how the two of you got to this place.
Working with experts – especially a husband-and-wife therapy team – who specialize in marriage and infidelity will provide the safety you both need. You can let your guard down because those with the knowledge and experience will guide you through the blind spots.
Seek to understand how and why the affair happened.
You’re going to want to know…and you’re not going to want to know. But you have to know. This long, ugly stage is imperative to the healing process.
Understanding and surviving her infidelity in no way require you to take responsibility for it.
They do, however, require you to take responsibility for your role in your marriage. What was lacking? What did you ignore, take for granted, minimize? What was your wife needing that you couldn’t or wouldn’t provide?
Have you missed or ignored the signs that your wife has been unhappy in your marriage?
What has been missing or unhealthy in your communication? What negative patterns did both of you bring to the marriage and perpetuate out of ignorance of better relationship skills?
If you stand staunchly in your “manly” convictions about emotions/feelings, for example, you may discover that your wife shuts down.
More often than not, women cheat out of a yearning for emotional connection. The sexual part of a relationship, assuming it gets that far, blossoms out of a feeling of being understood, heard, and cared for.
If the affair were on the other foot, you would probably be allured more by physical attraction and/or solicitation than by emotions.
But this isn’t the time to assume or impose your Mars-ness. It’s the time to seek understanding of what pulled Venus out of orbit.
Get honest and clear with your own feelings.
Men, in general, aren’t as comfortable, let alone articulate, with their feelings. If you follow this norm, you probably stop short of “going into” your feelings for clarity and deeper meaning. Why bother risking the discomfort and all that rehashing?
“Fixing” things or finding pragmatic solutions may seem much more logical and efficient.
But, like it or not, those feelings are there, and they’re not going away just because you close the door on them.
Surviving your wife’s infidelity is going to take both of you getting honest and going into unchartered territory.
One of the best reasons for doing this work under the guidance of experts? Their ability to guide you through both the recognition and healthy expression of your feelings.
Learning this one communication skill can be all the difference between staying stuck in old patterns and moving forward.
Expect a complete end to the affair relationship.
No matter what your wife wants or does, you will need to navigate your own healing from her affair.
But, if the two of you are going to save (and re-create) your marriage, the affair has to completely end. No contact. No social media connection. Nothing. Nada.
As obvious as that sounds, it may not be that simple, let alone easy.
Men are more capable of compartmentalizing something like a sexual affair. “It was just sex.” (Not that that makes it easier for the betrayed wife.)
Women, however, tend to connect sex and emotions. And emotions can build ties of longevity that are difficult to just walk away from.
You need and deserve to know that the affair is completely over if you are going to invest in the work of saving your marriage.
Don’t indulge the images.
Going back to the differences in why men and women cheat, you may naturally focus on the sexual component of your wife’s affair. This is natural…to an extent.
Yes, you are going to have to fight the natural urge to focus on the sex. Staying stuck in visuals will not only challenge and prolong the healing process. It may also preclude you from being fully present to the process of hearing and understanding what your wife shares with you.
Constantly imagining sexual details will make it painful for you and difficult to get back to a place of intimacy with your wife.
Make your renewed marriage your north star.
You’re going to feel angry, frustrated, exasperated, hurt, diminished, unsure, and even inclined to give up.
The work of surviving your wife’s infidelity is an investment of your whole soul. It’s a risk. It offers no guarantees. It’s like letting go of the trapeze to grab the waiting hands of the very person who has just dropped you. The only net is the one you decide is going to be there.
When you decide that your marriage is worth fighting for, you inevitably, even unknowingly, decide that you are worth fighting for.
And there, within that equation, is the woman you still love, despite a betrayal you loathe. And she is worth fighting for, as well.
In the end, there is one decision that will decide whether or not your marriage survives.
To forgive or not to forgive? That is the question.
You will never forget. Neither of you will. But your only choices are to trade your unforgiveness for “what’s behind door #1”…or to hold onto it and let it fester.
You will need to forgive her, and she will need to forgive herself. And, for the ways in which you both failed to care for your marriage, you will need to forgive one another.
Unfortunately, for as traumatic and isolating as infidelity is, it happens a lot. And it isn’t the proclivity of just men.
Women reach beyond their vows for satiety of their hunger, as well.
Some couples make it and others don’t. But those who do know and stake their lives on one truth:
In the end, your redemption lies in the choice and determination to survive the betrayal and come out the other end…together.
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.