Dear Suzie, Is it possible for a marriage to survive infidelity? After everything that has happened, I’m just not sure if it’s even possible for us to get past this.
I understand your concern. Infidelity shakes the foundations of a marriage like an earthquake. And like an earthquake, it leaves a trail of destruction in its wake — the loss of trust, the loss of innocence, the loss of respect, and (perhaps the most painful) the devastation of our dreams.
Here’s what I mean:
In the beginning, every couple has a dream. We all go into marriage with our own ideas, dreams, and scripts about what happiness in a relationship should look like, feel like, and be like. (Maybe this is why honeymoon destinations are some of the happiest places on earth. The guests are high on romantic possibilities!)
Here’s the thing: as long as life and your partner cooperate and follow your script, then you feel certain you’re moving toward the fulfillment of your dreams. However, if life throws curve balls and if there are unexpected complications, detours, or delays, it sends you into panic mode because you fear these things are taking away your dreams.
In the grand scheme of things, infidelity is not a minor detour or delay. It’s more like a head-on collision. Very few things can rip a hole in the fabric of your fantasies like the discovery of betrayal.
This sets off a chain reaction.
Once the dream no longer seems within reach, this undermines your confidence, leaving you riddled with doubt, uncertainty, and insecurity. Now, you’re questioning the dream. Is enduring happiness in relationships even possible at all?
The technical term for this experience is “disillusionment”. There are no words that can properly describe how much it hurts, except to say that it’s a kind of psychological pain that can only be described as devastating.
When dreams fall apart, fear sets in.
Now you begin to doubt that what you had was real. Now you begin to question whether or not your choices were right. And now, you begin to despair, you may never have your deepest desires fulfilled. This causes a thin cloud of anxiety to undermine everything you do.
Anxiety takes shape like this:
- Obsessions: Not being able to move past the images of them
- Worry: Fear that you’ll be trapped in this dark place forever
- Insecurity: Fear that you’ll be blindsided again and have to relive this nightmare
- Entrapment: Feeling that you are doomed to spend the rest of your life paying for your (or your partner’s) mistakes
- Mistrust: Fear of being lied to, manipulated, or taken advantage of again
- Victimization: Feeling broken in so many pieces or places that you will never be whole again
- Helplessness: Fear that there doesn’t seem to be anything you can do to make this right
- FUBAR: Fear that things are fouled up beyond all repair
Back to the question that brought you here.
Can a marriage survive infidelity?
The answer is YES!
However, a better question might be: “Can your marriage survive infidelity?”
The answer to that is, I don’t know. This is because when it comes to a marriage surviving infidelity, the answer is always in your hands.
Let’s take a look at the stone-cold statistics about marriage and infidelity. (Let me give you a heads-up: It’s not good.)
According to the latest research on marital infidelity, less than 1/3 of marriages survive. And according to the Matrimonial Lawyers Association, of all the divorce decrees handed out each year in the United States, more than half will have some type of infidelity as a contributing factor. Pretty scary, right? The question is, why?
Why only about 1/3 of marriages survive infidelity?
Could it be that betrayal is such a treacherous act that it causes people to stop loving each other? Is it because extramarital affairs affect the intimacy between the primary couple so drastically that they have a hard time reconnecting? Or maybe it’s because once trust is lost, people find it next to impossible to restore it. Maybe it’s because people just find being deceived so contemptible that it’s impossible to forgive.
I believe all these reasons play a part. However, I also believe there are two major contributing factors missing from that list, both of which I consider to be so lethal to a marriage challenged by infidelity, that they cannot (and should not) be ignored.
Now before I share with you what they are, I must warn you. At first glance, they both appear to be harmless and even insignificant. Don’t be fooled! They’re no more harmless than a surgeon failing to wash his hands before operating.