Couple sitting outside at a cafe discussing surviving affairs and infidelity.

Surviving Affairs And Infidelity: Why Some Couples Make It And Others Don’t

The work of surviving affairs and infidelity can seem insurmountable. And, for many couples whose relationships have been unearthed by cheating, the outcome is proof of the seeming impossibility.

But the truth is, like anything else in life, there are always those who will defy the odds. Somewhere along the line they decide that they are more powerful than predictions. They decide to go the distance — even if the distance has been multiplied by their own wrong turns.

And so it is with surviving affairs and infidelity. There are those couples that make it. And there are those that don’t. Their circumstances and the reasons behind their affairs may not be remarkably different, but their choices in the aftermath are.

Why is it that some couples make it and others don’t? If infidelity rips out the heart of marriage, how is it that some couples manage to get theirs beating again while others don’t?

Make no mistake about it. Resurrecting a marriage from the ashes of infidelity takes work. A ton of work. So much work that the broken spouses will wonder why they didn’t invest the effort in the first place. They could have prevented a lifetime of pain and conditional trust.

And perhaps that’s the difference. Regardless of the humility wrought by hindsight, some couples are willing to embrace better-late-than-never, even with its penalties and high interest rate.

That’s not to say, of course, that every couple bent on surviving affairs and infidelity comes out the other side thriving. But, for those who decide to fight for their relationship, there are choices they are making that give them a shot at hope.

One factor that stands out in the influences on survival statistics for infidelity is the presence of strong commitments within the relationship. If you are married, you have a more vested interest in your relationship than if you are just starting to date. And, if you have children together, your vested interest is even greater.

Point being, it’s much easier to walk away and chalk your broken heart up to thank-God-I-found-out-now-and-not-after-we-got-married if you have a limited investment. You can suck up the pain for a while, learn from the experience, and move on, wiser and more cautious.

But married-with-kids-house-careers-and-assets paints a different picture — and posits a different set of choices. Suddenly the idea of “rebuilding” is equally weighted on both sides of the scale. Surviving infidelity and recovering from the pain is no more and no less promising than cutting the cord and walking away.

Surviving affairs and infidelity, even with the most fervent and mutual effort, takes time.

Rebuilding trust takes time. The betrayed spouse will have a very difficult time learning to discern what is real and trustworthy again. And the cheating spouse will be largely responsible for making trust possible in the face of that doubt and insecurity.

The first thing that has to happen is that the cheating has to stop. Period. Unequivocally. No being “just friends,” sending Christmas cards, or checking in on social media.

For people whose affairs have gone beyond the purely sexual to affairs of the heart, that’s a tall order. Severing all ties from the affair partner can be like a divorce in itself.

In situations like this, the cheating spouse really is between a rock and a hard place. He or she may feel completely paralyzed by the imperative decision at hand and may not be able to make it. And that indecisiveness can become the decision in itself, often leaving everyone involved alone to pick up the pieces of their own lives.

For couples committed to surviving infidelity, uncompromising honesty is essential. That means the betrayed spouse gets to ask seemingly endless questions during the slow crawl back to trust. And it means the cheating spouse has to answer.

Imagine the humility, shame, and utter discomfort of having to answer questions you once did everything in your power to hide from. And imagine the yearning and need to know what you really don’t want to know. It’s easy to see how couples often don’t survive being at such odds.

Couples also have to deal with the underlying issues that made their relationship or marriage vulnerable in the first place. That means both partners must own their individual contributions to the weakness of the relationship.

Easier said than done when you’re the one whose spouse has violated the most essential ingredient of marriage. Surely all fault and blame belong with that partner.

But here is where splitting hairs is not only warranted but imperative.

There is never an excuse for cheating. And responsibility for the choice — even if it didn’t “feel” like a choice — to cheat belongs to the person who cheated. Plain and simple.

But responsibility for the relationship or marriage belongs to both partners. Plain and simple.

That means that, in the midst of shouldering the insult of being betrayed, the slighted partner has to step up and look within.

In the context of a struggling marriage in which spouses are going to couples therapy to work on their issues, that may not seem unusual.

But, when you’re the one who trusted a traitor, being thrust into the fire of self-inspection hardly seems fair.

This component of surviving affairs and infidelity is about each partner owning his or her own stuff. Nothing more, nothing less. It is an exercise that, in a healthy marriage, is ongoing. It maintains humility, compassion, self-accountability, and even self-empowerment in a relationship.

It also keeps the relationship honest so its issues can’t hide behind denial, blame, and distractions.

The importance of mutual self-examination while working to survive infidelity is that it reminds both partners that they are mutually vested in the marriage. The good. The bad. All of it. And it is precisely the courage to acknowledge these issues that empowers the relationship to take necessary steps to heal itself.

Finally, the couples that make it decide they are going to make it. They know things will never be the same. But they also know that’s not necessarily a bad prognosis.

They realize they got to this place through the accumulation of little things — little omissions, little offenses, little denials. And they realize they have an opportunity to learn and grow — if they’re willing to take it.

They are also have the opportunity to create something that is a testament to the commitment they should have made but didn’t…until now.

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