Ask Beatty: Surviving Infidelity, Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Infidelity doesn't have to end all marriages
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Dear Beatty,

I recently discovered that my husband Jon, the love of my life for the past 20 years, has been secretly having an ongoing affair with his business partner Suzanne. Suzanne is also married. She and I have been close friends for years — or so I thought. The four of us frequently socialize and travel together. I am devastated. I can barely get out of bed. One moment I’m in tears — the next I have feelings of rage that I have never experienced before. I am beating myself up for not having recognized the signs. Although in retrospect, there were no obvious signs or red flags, or, at least, I didn’t see any. Although our sex life is not what it used to be, Jon and I still do have sex every couple of weeks. I really thought we were happy. Our three children know that something is wrong, since I’m clearly not my usual happy self. I’ve yet to confront my husband. What should I do? What should I say? How best to handle this nightmare? I still love Jon and will do anything to save my marriage.

Sabrina, Southampton

Dear Sabrina,

There’s nothing more devastating than discovering that your spouse is having an affair. Your world has been understandably turned upside down. All of your feelings are absolutely normal. Expect to be on an emotional roller coaster ride for some time. It’s not your fault that your husband made a conscious decision to have an affair and betray you. You do need to confront him as soon as possible and tell him that you know about his affair and find out whether he is willing to end it and try to mend your marriage. You deserve to know the truth! It’s important that you have someone to talk to as you try to deal with this crisis. You don’t need to do this on your own. Do you have friends and family who you can trust to support you? If you don’t, give yourself permission to reach out to a qualified therapist who can help you not ony deal with your feelings of betrayal, but at the same time, support you in figuring out what will be in your best interest moving forward.

Infidelity Statistics in the U.S.

Did you know that in the United States, studies show that between 25%–60% of Americans cheat on their spouses. Male respondents in the 51–59 age group have the highest infidelity rate at 31%, and 16% of women in their ’60s reported infidelity; the highest rate among female respondents. It is estimated that 10% of affairs start online, and 40% of online affairs turn into real-life affairs. Although cheating was once considered primarily a male activity, the incidence of women cheating has continued to climb.

As a psychotherapist and sex therapist with over 35 years of clinical experience, I have treated thousands of men and women both individually and in couples therapy and have discovered the primary reasons why people choose to engage in extramarital affairs.

Reasons Why People
Have Affairs

  1. Marital dissatisfaction.
  2. Sexual dissatisfaction.
  3. A desire for variety. I love my spouse but …
  4. A surprise unanticipated encounter that turns into an affair.
  5. Do I still have it? A need for validation from someone other than my spouse.
  6. My spouse has a chronic illness, and I need some emotional and physical intimacy.
  7. Retaliation: I want to punish my spouse for having an affair.
  8. Plain and simple — sexual chemistry.
  9. Consciously or unconsciously — affairs are wake-up calls that something is amiss in the marriage.

After the Affair: Should I Stay or Should I Go? It Depends

Virtually every couple I see contact me for therapy because of infidelity. And, by the way, more and more women are engaging in extramarital affairs than in previous generations. Once the affair is discovered (and it usually is, sooner or later), both spouses will need to figure out what to do. What will the next steps be? Do we still love each other? Will I ever be able to forgive? Should we get a divorce? Should we try and mend our marriage? Do I want to leave my marriage for my lover?

Whether couples choose to stay together or divorce, expect there to be lots of ups and downs. People can learn over time to forgive. However, they will never forget!

The couples I work with are often able to acknowledge that their marriages have been coasting along for many years. I have encouraged people who listen to my Ask Beatty Show on the Progressive Radio Network and who see me on television and who attend my lectures to remember to keep their marriages at the top of their priority lists. However, the reality is that the children, careers, financial concerns, coupled with the pressures of day-to-day living, almost always occupy the number one spot in people’s lives. And herein lies the lethal mistake that couples continue to make. Plants and flowers will die if they are not watered and tended to. The same goes for marriage.

Points to Ponder

  1. Is the couple sincerely interested in mending the marriage? If the answer is yes …
  2. Is the couple willing to work with a competent marital therapist who can help them to fully understand what happened and aid them in moving forward? (Buyer Beware: All therapists are not the same! Do your homework and get a referral from someone who you trust.)
  3. Mending a broken heart and a broken marriage takes time. Are you willing to participate in a painful process with the hope that your marriage can potentially be better and stronger than ever before?
  4. On the other hand, you may find yourself in a situation where either you or your spouse wants a divorce. If that is the case, you need to find yourself a competent divorce attorney who will help you protect your interests in terms of finances, custody, visitation, alimony, child support and even hidden monies that you may be unaware of.

In over 35 years, the vast majority of couples who have worked with me chose not to divorce. Rather, they put their time and energies into trying to resurrect their marriages. And the good news is that most were successful. In fact, many couples have told me that their marriages were happier and stronger and more sexually and emotionally satisfying after the affair.

Lessons to Be Learned

  1. Prioritize your marriage.
  2. If you find that your own individual issues — be they emotional, psychological, psychiatric, physical or sexual — are getting in the way of your life and relationship, give yourself permission to seek help.
  3. A good marriage is dependent on two emotionally healthy individuals.
  4. When problems arise, as they do in all marriages, don’t bury them or deny and avoid tackling the various issues head-on, pretending that they will disappear on their own. That’s magical thinking!
  5. If you and your spouse are unable to successfully acknowledge, address and resolve your problems on your own, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask for professional help.

Beatty would love to hear from you and welcomes your questions and comments. You can email her at [email protected].

Beatty Cohan, MSW, LCSW, AASECT is a nationally recognized psychotherapist, sex therapist, author of For Better for Worse Forever: Discover the Path to Lasting Love, columnist, national speaker, national radio and television expert guest and host of The Ask Beatty Show on the Progressive Radio Network. She has a private practice in New York City and East Hampton.

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