The Unfair Affair: Part 3

The Decision
By: Kirsten Fowler

Part 3 of the series “The Unfair Affair.”  In Part 2, I discussed the aftermath, or what to do after the affair. This article, Part 3, will be focused on choosing whether to divorce or stay together.

When deciding to divorce or stay together, it is important to make a conscious decision.  When the offender leaves the marriage it can feel as if the victim has lost their option to make a choice, but even in this scenario the victim can decide to accept the divorce and move forward cordially. In the following I discuss research that may be helpful in deciding to wait to make a decision, decide to stay together, or decide to divorce.

Should I hold off on making a decision?

No, you do not have to make the decision right now.  Actually, taking time to work through your emotions and understand the situation can be very beneficial for you and your children.  One option is to commit to working on the relationship for a specified time period.  This method reduces the potential for negative outcomes that may arise from making a spontaneous emotional decision. The Couples on the Brink Project, which focuses on discernment counseling, provides the following tasks to focus on during this time of decision:

  • Gain clarity and confidence about what steps to take next with your marriage
  • Understand what has happened to your marriage
  • Look at both sides of problems – yours and your spouse’s
  • Determine whether past counseling has been helpful or not so helpful
  • Evaluate the possibility of solving your problems and staying married

In discernment counseling, the focus is on helping couples decide whether to divorce, stay together, or decide later and not on fixing the marital problem.  Discernment counseling can be done individually or with your partner. If you are interested in discernment counseling this site offers a national list of available counselors in your area.  Even if a licensed counselor hasn’t been trained in discernment counseling, they should be able to help you make a decision to divorce, stay together, or decide later rather than resolving specific problems.

Tamara Fackrell, co-author of “Should I Try To Work It Out?: A Guidebook for Individuals and Couples at the Crossroads of Divorce,” described in her dissertation that making the decision to divorce or stay together is “chaotic and confusing.” She described the process as a wilderness “and yet this vast wilderness is a process that must be endured before moving forward.” In her study, Fackrell discovered that there are seven things people are thinking about when deciding to divorce:

  1. Emotional and physical impact
  2. Children
  3. Friendship and positive memories with spouse
  4. Religion, prayer, and hope
  5. Commitment to marriage
  6. Social impact and support of family and friends
  7. Finances

There are so many aspects in making a decision to divorce or stay together it can be healthy to wait to make a decision.  If you do chose to wait, it is important establish a flexible date for a decision or may end up prolonging the process longer then you should.

Should We Stay Together?

Dr. Douglas Snyder reported that 60-70% of couples who go through an affair work through the trauma and some couples even have a stronger marriage then before the affair. Other research has reported a lower figure, closer to around 30%. I suspect that Snyder’s percentage concentrates on couples who work through the infidelity with a marital counselor and other resources. The bottom line here is this: if both partners are newly committed and take the necessary steps, the likelihood of staying together happily in a renewed and healthy marriage is better than you think.

Things to Consider

  • If there are children involved, you may want to try your best to work things out.
  • Everything may be extremely difficult now (leading you to consider divorce), but it may become better later if you take the proper steps.
  • Remember the answers to the questions discussed in Part 2. The answers may lead you in the right direction as to what choice may be best for you.

Signs It Can Work

Here are some signs based on Snyder’s findings that can help you better judge if your marriage can effectively move forward.

The partner who had the affair is:

  • Showing change.
  • Restructuring life or work schedule, if necessary.
  • Stopped interaction with the outside affair person.
  • Improving issues that caused the affair, such as too much time away.
  • Discloses any information about other contact with outside affair person, however trivial.

The partner who did not have the affair:

  • Accepting of apologies.
  • Beginning to show trust in the relationship again.
  • Not continually barraging with questions to know intimate details of the affair.
  • Fewer false accusations based on past affair.

It is important to evaluate your partner, yourself, and the marriage as a whole. At this point you should understand what you personally may have contributed to problems (see Part 1) and work on making changes.

You Decided to Stay Together

So, you have decided to stay together? Consider what Snyder says about this. He brings up a valid point in stating that you can stay together, but the relationship may be either unhealthy or healthy. Let’s take a look at what that means.

Unhealthy Together: If there are continual arguments with your partner you will doing more harm than good, for both you and your children. Continual hurt and accusations will prevent healing and can escalate the problems. The point in making a decision is to move on in a healthy way. Constant emotional or psychological damage has no place in a happy, thriving marriage.

Healthy Together: If there is forgiveness, healing, and good communication then it is highly possible you can move forward in a healthy way. The affair is still a reality of the past, but healthy couples can use it as a reminder to improve and strengthen the marriage relationship.

Is It Time For Divorce?

Research suggest that approximately 20% of divorces are due to an affair.  Interestingly,  70% of marriages that evolve from an affair (cheating spouses marries the affair partner afterward) will also end in divorce. Douglas Snyder offers hope, however, when he says that those who get divorced are often able to move on to a new relationship with a deeper understanding of themselves and what they want in a partner. There are also times when divorce is necessary or inevitable. This happens if the relationship has become abusive in anyway, whether physical or emotional, or if the guilty partner is not willing to end the affair.

Possible Signs a Divorce is Your Best Option

The partner who had the affair:

  • Shows no signs of remorse.
  • Desires to stay with outside affair person.
  • Continually contacts outside affair person.
  • Does not change/unwilling to change.
  • Makes no effort in the current marriage.
  • Continues to keep secrets.
  • Defends affair choices by blaming spouse.
  • Pessimistic about working things out.

The partner who did not have the affair is:

  • Unwilling to forgive.
  • Finds fault in partner and thinks of him or her as cruel.
  • Does not accept heartfelt apologies.
  • Unwilling to change to help marriage relationship grow.
  • Accusatory, fault-finding, contentious.
  • Pessimistic about working things out.

You Decided to Divorce

So you decided to move forward with a divorce? It is important to take Snyder’s insight into consideration. Even though you are apart, it does not mean divorce will be easy. There is still work to be done if you want to healing and move forward in your new life in peace.

Unhealthy Divorce: A unhealthy divorce consist of fighting, even after separation. Arguments continue to bring contention and legal battles continue. This may result in damage not only to each other but to children and extended family members.

Healthy Divorce:   In a healthy divorce you try to work through your problems separately and never intentionally hurt each other or other family members.  A couple moving forward with a healthy divorce does not put children in the middle of any adult disagreements.

Whatever you choose, continue forward. Making the choice will help so that you don’t get stuck somewhere you don’t want to be. Don’t forget to give yourself a buffering time before making a final decision when necessary, but be sure that in the end you are where you want to be. If you don’t make a decision to divorce, you could be stuck in the marriage even though you want out. If you don’t make the decision to stay together, you may not be able to take the necessary steps in making the marriage successful.

                Check out Part 4 of 4 in “The Unfair Affair” series to find out what you can do to buffer your marriage against another affair.

Research for this blog was primarily obtained from “Getting Past The Affair: A Program to help you cope, heal, and move on- together or apart,” by Douglas K. Snyder and associates and “Not Just Friends: Rebuilding trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity,” by Shirley Glass. All other research based on peer-reviewed journal articles as stated or linked.