If you’re the victim of an unfaithful spouse and have rooted around the internet in search of information, chances are you are reading a lot of conflicting and unhelpful information. For example, can anyone definitively say how long the typical extramarital affair lasts? Can they tell you what you should do if you suspect adultery to be at play, or what you should do if you discover it? Can they lay out for you the best way to move beyond this heinous act and to begin to heal?
While there are a few helpful websites with good information out there (Marriage Sherpa comes to mind), much of what you’re likely to read is hearsay at best and harmful at worst. Don’t take my word for it, just go and visit some of the many infidelity “support” forums out there, and you will find a bunch of really hurt and angry people, many of whom are on an accelerated track to end their marriages. I’ll get to why this is a problem later in this post.
For me, the single biggest problem with the overwhelming majority of “authority” sites on adultery is that most of them deal with the affair as if it were a thing of the past. That is, you would only find any of their information relevant if your spouse’s affair had already ended. But what if it hasn’t? I mean, is it really possible that the majority of people have no idea their spouses are committing adultery? Are they really that disconnected from their spouses that they don’t suspect something’s up? Are those wayward spouses so wily and cunning that they can totally hide their affairs for months if not years on end? Somehow I doubt it.
The truth be told, there are many people out there right now who are struggling with their spouses’ infidelity. Some live with their spouses and know that there is an active affair. Others, myself included, have spouses that decided to separate, because they mistakenly believe that the affair is the Best Thing Ever. Some of these people have confronted their spouses with their knowledge of the affair, but still the affair did not end. Others have made the (in my view, wiser) choice not to confront their spouse with that knowledge. Some of these wish to remain willfully ignorant (not a good idea), others refuse to allow their spouses even to bring it up (very good idea); of these, the latter are in a much stronger place, since the endless lies that need to be told will help to end the affair once and for all.
If you are struggling with an affair, you may likely have seen web pages that tell you that an average affair lasts for two years. Others will say that they last five years or more. I’ve just chosen a couple of websites at random here for the aforementioned time frames, but, as you can see, a lot of the information out there appears to be hearsay. However, some experts who deal with adultery on a regular basis claim that the trajectory is much different, giving time lines of just a few months to a year or so, with the obstinate remainder virtually all ending before two years has elapsed. I do think that the betrayed spouse has a lot of power in ending affairs, but that power does not come in the humiliation and pain that one might inflict by outing the affair to the entire world. Instead, if one were to engage the wayward spouse consistently over time with compassion and unconditional love, this will in virtually every case overpower the utter vapidity of the affair. But it takes time, dedication, and emotional stability; this latter is in pretty short supply for people riding the emotional roller coaster that the wayward spouse provides. Nevertheless, I do think this is the smartest choice.
However, as I mentioned earlier, many people become very angry at the revelation of their spouse’s affair, and rightfuly so. I did, too. Their first reaction is often to kick the offending spouse out and file for divorce. Believe me, I was there as well. Here’s why I think this is a bad idea. Let’s say your spouse is having an affair, and you discover it. You go through the horrible feelings of betrayal, and all of the pain, heartbreak, anguish, and anger that ensue. Then, you decide to end your marriage, for you feel that you can no longer trust your spouse. It could even be that your spouse has become hurtful to you in return, and so you feel the best thing you could possibly do is to get this person out of your life. So you go ahead and take that course of action, and perhaps you feel vindicated.
It seems fairly common that, while the betrayed spouse is attempting to end the marriage, that the wayward spouse’s affair ends. The timing of this can be uncanny; while this is hearsay, I personally have heard of cases in which the affair ended within days of the divorce going final. In many other cases, and this does come from an authority source which I wouldn’t consider hearsay, the majority of wayward spouses end their affairs within 12-18 months, and attempt to return to the betrayed spouse. And, for those very few wayward spouses who are so obstinate as to actually marry their affair partners, the success rate seems to be very poor. In fact, from the most reputable sources I’ve found, it appears that an affair has at best about a 0.75% likelihood of becoming a successful marriage. That’s right, three-quarters of one percent. So, if you’re thinking that ending your marriage is a good way to deal with an affair, think again. In due course, both your marriage and the affair will have ended, and where will you both be then?
Well, here’s where you’ll be. You’ll be unmarried, and you will almost certainly not have any better relationship skills than you did while you were married. Your spouse will be unmarried, will have the shame and remorse of the affair on his or her conscience, and will certainly not have any better relationship skills than before the affair happened. This means that, for both of you, you would be highly unlikely to enter into another successful, long-term relationship. Such a relationship would almost certainly end up in a similar place of disconnect that caused your wayward spouse to become wayward in the first place. But, this is what you see if you visit these so-called infidelity support forums: dozens of betrayed spouses, venting their anger, feeling vindictive. It’s not a good place to be.
So what should you do? Consult a reputable expert. Do not go to a typical marriage counselor, as most of these have, at best, a neutral standpoint when it comes to marriage. Find a marriage-friendly therapist if you can, although, truth be told, these appear to be few and far between. At an absolute bare minimum, get yourself on a healthy marriage coaching program that has a proven track record of success; reconciliation rates of 85% or higher are what you’re looking for. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’ll know that I recommend Marriage Fitness with Mort Fertel. I do think it is the best and most ethical program out there. Mort has extensive experience dealing with adultery, and support for this situation — especially cases that are ongoing, which, if you were to poke around the internet as I have, would appear not to happen — is a major part of the program.
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