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Answers To The 6 Most Common Surviving-Infidelity Questions

When it comes to surviving infidelity, questions abound for everyone involved and affected – the betrayed spouse, the cheating spouse, even the affair partner. 

There is the obvious litany of questions from the angry, betrayed spouse. 

Questions that erupt from x-rated imaginings of passionate, sexual trysts. Questions about lies convincingly delivered to a trusting spouse. Questions about emotional attachment and even love between the affair partners.

There are also questions from the straying spouse.

Questions that, in the court of public opinion, warrant little to no sympathy, let alone answers. Questions that are, however, critical to the ensuing dialogue and quest for understanding and healing. 

But there are also questions that precede the immersion into insufferable details. 

Questions about the process of surviving such a fracture to the marriage. Questions about the likelihood of surviving it. Even questions about the worth of trying.

Here are the 6 most common surviving-infidelity questions we hear from clients seeking therapy for infidelity, followed by our answers:

  1. How could s/he do this to me?

    How could you?

    It’s as much an expletive as a question – a summarized statement of disbelief and disgust by a spouse whose world has just been eviscerated.

    It’s natural to assume that only bad, lacking marriages are the subjects of affairs. But this simply isn’t true.

    The emotion of betrayal may be rooted in the perception of personal assault. You violated my trust. You destroyed everything we had. You lied to me, stole from me, played me for a fool.

    The truth of affairs, however, is that they are usually more complex than that.

    And an astonishing percentage of those who stray actually, if not paradoxically, claim to be happy in their marriages.

    They are aware of the chasm between their values and their behavior, and they are often as shocked and confused as their spouses.

    For couples committed to doing the work of surviving infidelity together, deep-seeded truths can be discovered.

    Usually, as boldly explained by Esther Perel, the straying spouse isn’t seeking another person, but another self.

  2. Do marriages survive infidelity?

    The short answer? Yes.

    And no.

    Of the roughly 40% of marriages that suffer infidelity, 53% don’t survive 5 years. But that means that 47% do survive.

    There is no questioning the devastating effects an affair has on every life in its path.

    But it’s important to know that surviving it is possible. And both spouses play an equal-but-different role in making that happen.

    In that regard, the more relevant question might be: Why do some couples make it and others don’t?

  3. How can I ever trust my cheating spouse again?

    Re-establishing trust isn’t guaranteed. Trust is hard-won, if won at all, after infidelity.

    While the onus is on the cheating spouse to prove trustworthiness, from the tiniest to the biggest ways, the betrayed spouse isn’t without responsibility.

    The spouse who cheated will have to become humbly transparent for what might seem like forever. Phones, passwords, emails, accounts – the betrayed spouse must have access to them all.

    At the same time, the betrayed spouse has to be willing to grow in trust and gradually step back from the parental-like monitoring.

  4. Will my betrayed spouse punish me forever?

    The cheater’s fear of perpetual punishment by the betrayed spouse is as much a hindrance to healing as the betrayed spouse’s fear of more infidelity.

    Surviving infidelity together requires working together.

    Spouses in recovery will undoubtedly feel as though they are on opposite sides, at least in the beginning.

    What matters, however, is that they know they are fighting for the same outcome, even if they have seemingly disparate responsibilities.

    That assumes not only a commitment to faithfulness going forward, but also a commitment to forgiveness.

  5. What are the right questions to ask my cheating spouse? I want to know everything!

    This is where things get tricky in the work of surviving infidelity.

    Questions flood the betrayed spouse’s mind, and the guilty spouse instinctively doesn’t want to answer them.

    There is, understandably, a mix of personal emotions for the cheating spouse. Shame, embarrassment, protectiveness about sexual details from the affair…and a hesitation based on potentially irrevocable harm to his/her spouse.

    This part of the healing process is critical.

    The betrayed spouse needs to start making sense of his/her reality, to be able to put pieces of the affair time together.

    And the cheating spouse has to be willing to answer honestly without dragging his/her spouse along with guarded “trickles” of information.

    Because this process is both so critical and delicate, it is all but impossible to do without professional help.

    There are questions that are important to ask, not just for satisfying curiosity, but for truly understanding the affair and the marriage’s prognosis.

    Likewise, there are questions that can lead to more harm than good.

    And experts who specialize in marriage recovery will compassionately distinguish the two and help both parties ask and answer essential questions.

  6. Will our marriage ever be the same?

    No, it won’t.

    But think about that before you despair.

    Do you want it to be the same? Do you want to return to the same lack of awareness, attention, and personal accountability that left your marriage vulnerable in the first place?

    Of course you want the pristine days of unadulterated hopes and dreams.

    But you now have the opportunity – and yes, it’s a choice to see it that way – to exchange the naivete of that innocence for the maturity of deeper awareness.

    Would you ever choose to achieve that kind of growth in this way?

    Surely not.

    And yet, here you are, standing eye-to-eye with choices and consequences. And the only constant in this moment, as in life, is that you have new choices to make.

    Where your marriage goes from here, as you have so painstakingly learned, will be a direct reflection of those choices.

When it comes to surviving infidelity, questions may seem never-ending.

They can be frightening, even nauseating to ask and gut-wrenching to answer.

But questions asked with a genuine intention to grow in awareness, understanding, and trust can be a courageous prelude to healing.

If the answers have the same genuine intention, a couple has a strong foundation for surviving infidelity…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, contact her here.

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Mary Ellen Goggin

Mary Ellen is a highly skilled and intuitive relationship guide. She brings over 35 years’ experience with individuals and businesses as a lawyer, mediator, personal coach and educator. She received her J.D. at University of New Hampshire Law School and a Master’s Degree at Harvard University. Mary Ellen co-authored Relationship Transformation: How to Have Your Cake and Eat It Too with Jerry Duberstein — and they were married by chapter 3. Mary Ellen brings a unique blend of problem-solving, practicality, and warmth to her work. She’s a highly analytic person, with geeky and monkish tendencies. She’s a daredevil skydiver, a voracious seeker of knowledge, and an indulgent grandmother. Her revolution: helping people become the unapologetic rulers of their inner + outer realms. Read more about the retreats