On my Facebook post from February 20, 2012, I wrote:
"Ultimately, I believe that people survive infidelity because they recognize that the unfaithful person is more complicated than the act he or she committed. I often hear the person who carried out an affair described as 'a good human being,' 'a great father/mother,' or 'very attentive spouse.' The one moniker that no longer applies, however, is 'faithful.' But short of that, there might be a long list of good qualities."
I got a response that got me thinking. Gail wrote: "It's WAY more complicated than that... And even acknowledging the good attributes of the person who has been unfaithful does not necessarily mean they should be trusted again."
That made me realize that when I share a thought midstream (as Facebook forces you to do) that it can be easily misinterpreted.
Here's a more complete (but not entirely complete) thought that got triggered by many journalists that interview me in the wake of some of the more noteworthy affairs among men in power and in the public eye: Why do their women stay with them. I remind the reporters that even though there are many such public examples there are many private examples also of people who choose to stay in the marriage even after their mate has cheated. This is true of many men and women.
So it begs the question, why stay? I think there are many things that keep someone with a partner who has cheated. It depends, in part, on the nature of the unfaithful act(s). Many of my clients have dealt with partners who have cheated on them with one person, and who reentered the marriage asking for forgiveness and commit themselves to staying away from the infidelity trap in the future. Other people, though, have been victimized over and over again by a partner who cheats, or a partner who has had continuous affairs over years. In these cases, the cheating partner's behavior may outweigh the factors that weigh in favor of the other spouse staying.
Not everyone does stay. And it takes a long time to build trust even if you do decide to try to work on the marriage. Sometimes it's just not possible to get that trust back. But when a person does continue in a marital relationship after an affair, it's usually a combination of factors: fear, shame, obligation, love for a partner, or the lack of other options. And, when all things are weighed against the affair itself, when someone decides to try to work things out, ultimately…[see the quote that begins this blog]