My husband cheated on me last summer and we’ve never been the same. He just expects me to pretend the whole thing never happened. Can a couple ever truly recover after someone’s cheated or am I just wasting my time?
Thank you for writing. I’m sympathetic to how painful it would have been when you learned of your husband’s infidelity. At that moment what he could potentially be changed in your mind and that’s always a shocking sensation when it’s someone very close to us. Still, it’s not like the other aspects of him are erased in that process, so he’s still who he was, but now there’s this other new aspect to him stored in your brain, and your brain associates that aspect with a lot of pain. That makes it a sensitive issue. You can think about some things and not get much of a reaction. But if you’re thinking about being cheated on then that’s very likely to be painful.
To answer your question specifically: yes. Yes, you can recover and be extremely happy even after someone’s cheated. I’ve known many couples who’ve been through it and I had to myself a couple of times. But you can’t really deal with cheating. The simple fact is that it’s happened. It cannot be taken away. And as much as we might want certainty about whether or not it will happen again—such certainty simply does not exist. Even if our partner promises the most sincere promise ever, there is nothing saying that they couldn’t cheat again in a different moment. They can be entirely sincere when they make the promise and they can still end up not fulfilling it. So there’s no way to “deal with it” that guarantees anything. There just isn’t and we have to accept that.
But just because you don’t have a guarantee doesn’t mean the relationship isn’t worth having. Only you know the value your partner brings into your life. But if you end the relationship, you not only rid yourself of the fear of being cheated on, but you also rid yourself of all of the wonderful parts of being with that person. And all you can really do then is be single. Because everyone has the ability and capacity to cheat. So it’s not like we can find some magical person that isn’t fully human and has no hormones or drives. People are people. Everyone’s capable of everything under the right circumstances. So it becomes a value judgment. Risk vs. Reward. How much does the person’s existence cost you versus what does it bring into your life spiritually, intellectually, creatively, socially, financially, domestically etc. etc?
If you decide that you really do want to be with your partner then what to do becomes easy. As much as possible do not think about the cheating. The past is the past and your present moment is the only thing that is real. That is the only place life can be lived. So if you’re continuing to bring the cheating up months or years later, then it isn’t the cheating that’s ruining your relationship, it’s you always thinking about it. Because it’s not happening Now. It happened Then, and the only way to get Then into Now is if someone chooses to volunteer to go back and grab some Then and start dragging it into Now by talking about it. That is entirely unproductive and it’s allowing the past to affect the present and it does not have to.
Your ship may have travelled through some tough waters. But because you travelled through stormy seas does not mean there’s something wrong with your boat or your course. You simply travelled through a storm in the past, and now you are Here, Now. And what happens In-The-Now is entirely up to you. You can painfully recreate the past in your thoughts, or you can leave it alone and you can focus your attentions on today instead. Because today is when you are alive and it won’t be what happened a year ago that dictates how happy your marriage is today. That will be dictated by how you talk and act and Be in these moments, Now.
Our decisions to be with people should not be complicated. Either you still want to be with them or you don’t. If they’ve caused so much pain that they balance out as negative to your life then leave and accept that pain. But if they’re a positive in your life and you truly want to stay, then the accept that you will occasionally have worried thoughts, but that those are not your partner’s fault. They should be gracious about dealing with them because they incited them, but remember that your past does not have to be any barrier to happiness today. You simply have to leave the past alone so that you can focus your energies on today, and on making the most productive choices you can for your marriage in these moments.
If you want to be together after this has happened you have to stop thinking about it as much as possible. If you don’t want to be together, then leave and go build another life. It’s not like the happiness is all one direction and the sadness all the other. Your enjoyment of either route will not depend on the route, but rather on the perspectives you choose to take while you’re sailing them. So you’d might as well get good at consciously shaping your perspectives now. Because no matter who you’re with that will be what leads you to happiness.
I wish you every good fortune.