Staying with cheating husband

My Spouse Cheated. Here’s Why I Didn’t Leave.

You’ve probably wondered before, “If my husband cheated on me, what would I do?” Throw him out? Bankrupt him? Never let him see our kids again? Sure, that’s what we think we’d do. But that’s all just hypothetical.

Rare is the woman who says, “If my husband cheated on me, I’d take him back.” Of course not. Who stays with a cheater? Well, statistically, a lot of women do—most, in fact, including me. Yes, I’m one of the 81 percent of women who stayed with their husbands after they were unfaithful (at least, according to a 2018 study from Trustify).

But let me tell you something: I’m just as surprised by that as anyone.

I’d been married for 10 years when my husband confessed he’d been having an affair with his assistant. I was a 42-year-old mom to three young kids. I was finishing up my 12th book. Life was busy. Life was good—until it wasn’t.

I’d had my doubts about the amount of time my husband was spending with his female assistant. But with a big project at their office, it made sense—or so I told myself. My friends agreed. “With her?” they scoffed when I shared my niggling concern. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

Then, one night, when my husband was away on a business trip with his assistant, I tried to reach him and I couldn’t. Suddenly, I just knew. There’s no other way to describe it. I tried to convince myself that I was being paranoid.

But the next day, when he finally answered his phone, I demanded the truth. And he gave it to me—partly. They kissed once. Well, more than once, he reneged.

I insisted he come home immediately if he had even the tiniest bit of hope of salvaging our marriage. He did. While he drove the few hours back, I walked around our house wringing my shaking hands like Lady Macbeth. I was in shock. “What was I going to do?” I moaned out loud.

Over the next few days, the full story eventually trickled out. My husband confessed that he had been having an on-again, off-again affair for four years. Four. Years.

Like so many who discover a partner’s betrayal, my emotions were all over the place. I would shake my husband awake at 3 a.m., demanding to know “Why? Why did you do it? Weren’t we happy?”

My fury shook the house. “How dare he?” I would fume. “What was wrong with him?”

I’d vacillate between rage and exhaustion. Every day, I was trying to be the best mom I could, while also trying to finish the last chapter of my book, which my editor was getting increasingly impatient over. So I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. “Later,” I figured. “Later, I’d decide whether to stay or go.”

Because here’s what no one tells you about infidelity: It’s so bring-you-to-your-knees devastating that kicking him out is the last thing you have the energy to do. It takes everything you’ve got to just breathe, to stem the bleeding, to tuck your kids into bed at night without curling up beside them weeping.

But I couldn’t let them see me like that. Because we didn’t tell our children. They were too young. I figured they would find out eventually when our marriage fell apart, though I couldn’t imagine telling them the whole story.

Kick him out? Maybe later. But right now? Right now, you just need to figure out how to get dressed for work, and make lunch for your preschoolers, and cancel the dentist appointment that you can’t imagine going to with an affair-sized boulder in your gut.

That was me. That’s a whole lot of us.

“Then you’ll fight for your marriage,” she said. But I didn’t have the energy to fight for my marriage. I felt like I was fighting for my life.

I lost weight, enough that people who’d previously said I looked “great” began to ask if I was OK. I didn’t tell them what was going on. I couldn’t bear the pity or the scorn.

That’s another part of cheating that we don’t talk about enough. Often times, people assume that if a man cheats, that means his wife was a shrew, a nag. She let herself go. The other woman was sexy and interesting. He was trading up. Which is why it’s so shocking to so many of us that our husbands cheated with someone who looked… well, ordinary.

Because here’s yet another thing nobody tells you about infidelity: He didn’t cheat because there was something wrong with you, or even your marriage. He cheated because there was something wrong with him. And he thought he could find the answer in the fantasy of an affair.

I went to a therapist who urged me to give myself as long as I needed to sort this out, and to learn to trust myself. Trust myself? It took me four years to realize that my husband was having an affair. How could I ever trust myself?

Six months after he admitted to the affair, my husband made an off-hand remark about visiting a strip club with a colleague several years prior. Huh? I wondered. My husband didn’t visit strip clubs. Or did he?

I took off my wedding ring. “You,” I insisted, “are going to tell me everything.”

And he did.

It turned out, it wasn’t just his assistant. There were others. Dozens. He’d had this problem long before he’d even met me. He was in therapy for sex addiction, he told me, curled up in the fetal position. His hands were covering his face as if to both contain his shame, and to protect himself from my anger, my shock, my disgust.

Suddenly, I looked at this man–my children’s father–and felt… pity. He was in pieces. My children needed a whole father. I told him that I could only promise him that I would be his friend as he sought help for this. I figured that—once he was fully recovered—I would leave. Or he would. Either way, our marriage couldn’t survive this. I was sure of it.

Life continued to be a roller coaster of crazy highs and numbing lows. We had a few months of what is euphemistically called “hysterical bonding,” which is frequent, intense, and wild lovemaking. It’s surprisingly common in couples dealing with infidelity, though it can generate some shame. After all, this guy just broke your heart and now you can’t get enough of him?

Eventually, our sex life stopped altogether. The intimacy felt like too much. I swung wildly between knowing it was over and hoping it wasn’t. And I tried to become comfortable with that uncertainty.

As I tried to heal, I watched my husband do the painful work of excavating decades of grief, facing down long-repressed abuse, and repeatedly showing up to support me in my own pain. I began to feel things for him I hadn’t imagined I ever could again: respect, compassion, love.

It took a long time, which is another thing nobody tells you about infidelity: It can take years to get through. Two to five, the experts say, though two is overly optimistic, in my opinion.

So here I am. More than a decade later, in a “second marriage with my first husband,” as psychotherapist Esther Perel quaintly puts it. We’re happy. Our marriage feels rich and deep and fun, for the most part. Like any longtime married couple, we have our problems. My husband, for instance, still tends to compartmentalize difficult feelings, while I prefer to put them under a microscope. We’re a work in progress.

But what I’ve learned is, there are many more responses to infidelity than we’re led to believe. Women who leave aren’t necessarily any stronger than women who stay. Simply remaining upright when dealing with such betrayal is a hero’s work. End of story.

There’s a saying on Betrayed Wives Club, the website I created to help me heal from my husband’s infidelity: “My heartbreak, my rules.” I rebuilt my marriage based on my rules, which are honesty, transparency, and mutual respect. You get to make your own choices based on yours.

And for the other side of an affair, here is I Cheated on My Spouse. Here’s What I Wish I Had Known Beforehand.

This essay has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Elle Grant is the pseudonym of a journalist and author of Encyclopedia for the Betrayed, and creator of Betrayed Wives Club.


I have witnessed infidelity in real life which resulted in both divorce and reconciliation. I have watched physical and emotional affairs play out on television, almost to the point of desensitization. I have had long talks with girlfriends about what we would do if our partner strayed, and about men who cheat and women who stay. Never, I thought. That will never be me. Not only would I never marry a man with wandering eyes, I would also never stay with a cheater — not in a relationship and especially not in a marriage.

When I met my husband 20 years ago, he felt like home. I was his first serious girlfriend, the first woman he introduced to his mother. He had never cheated. He adored me, and everyone could tell. I felt safe, maybe too safe.

We got married and had kids right away, three of them in three short years, and I grew tired. We both stopped investing in each other and put so much time and attention toward our kids and his career that our marriage sank to the bottom of our priority list. Dates nights never happened. We would tuck the kids in bed and spend the rest of the evening in separate corners because we were too drained to function. I denied him again and again. We didn’t kiss or touch for over six months. I just couldn’t stand the thought of it after being alone with the kids for hours and hours while he worked. I was too exhausted and had enough hands all over me all day.

We were a cliché.

He came home one day with a few paintings and hung them in his office — paintings that I would later smash all over his pool table after he told me about the woman he was having an affair with.

I knew we were broken, but I never thought he would step outside of our marriage. In fact, I would have bet money my husband would never fuck another woman, but he did. And he told me about it one October evening as he sobbed next to me on the sofa.

I threw up, and then called my best friend even though it was midnight. She lives five hours away and told me to hang tight, that she would be there the next day, and she was. I made my husband leave, and she was there to help me keep it together in front of my kids.

He was a wreck but I didn’t care. He said it was a very short fling. He had no feelings for her. He just liked feeling needed. There was nothing he could have said to make it right. Nothing. I didn’t care about her. I have never been curious about the woman who fucked my husband while knowing full well he had a wife and kids at home. He is the one who broke his vows to me. I had so much anger and hurt because of what he did, I couldn’t register those feeling towards another woman. I have never Googled her or asked what she looks like. She is not worth my energy. I only had the energy to be sad for our marriage. I only had the energy to care for my children. I only had the energy to worry about myself and how I was going to move forward.

Some days, that looked like me hardly speaking and barely functioning. I would mutter small words to my children who were 4, 5, and 7 at the time, but that was all I had. I was doing my best.

Some days, I had the energy to really dig in and be a fantastic mother, but it was just a distraction. My feelings of anger and resentment of my husband and his infidelity would always resurface. I would find myself getting angry at him for forgetting to pick up paper towels, and before I knew it, I was telling him to go fuck somebody else again since he didn’t know how to be a good husband.

And he let me. He would hang his head in shame, never yell back at me. He scheduled date nights, took me to my favorite restaurants, and never said anything about the amount of money I started to spend on myself to try and fill the deep hole. A void had replaced our happy life.

I told him to go, to walk out that door and be with her. I would be fine. I would make it. I would rather be alone than with someone who felt they had to stay. I deserve more, and so does he. Those were the moments he seemed most hurt, when he seemed the most shocked at himself for what he had done. He said he felt haunted, and I was glad

Very slowly I was able to get behind it, and be all in for our marriage, but honestly, that feeling comes and goes, even now.

Our children have no idea about my husband’s infidelity. We never spoke of it when they were around. Their opinion of their father is sacred to me. They adore him, and I never want them to know. It does not define him and it does not define our marriage. Some days, when I feel sliced open by his infidelity, I take it out on him by picking fights about petty stuff in from of them — because I am a human being who is still trying to deal with the hurt. They always side with him and tell me I am being mean to Daddy. It takes all my strength not to say, “If you only knew! I am not the bad guy here. He hurt me. Daddy hurt me.” But I won’t. And that’s not because I think it is a horrible decision, but because I can’t see it helping anything for our family right now.

It is such a delicate situation and every family unit is different, and whether you decide to tell your kids, your mother, or your friends about your marriage problems, it is all up to you.

I decided to tell my best friend and sisters. That is it. Not because I didn’t want anyone to know, but because I knew I couldn’t deal with some people’s reactions about what my husband did. I needed clarity and energy to rebuild my family. I knew I would be clouded and swayed by the opinions of others.

I have thought I was going to leave, then I knew I was going to stay forever, then I wanted to get as far away from him as possible. It ebbs and flows and it doesn’t go away.

And here I am — five years later, still married, still in the dark about my husband’s mistress.

I stayed because my family is worth fighting for. I stayed because I love the man I exchanged vows with, even though we have both broken some vows. I stayed because my husband loves me. I stayed because the thought of him walking out that door or meeting him at the local McDonald’s to pass off the kids every weekend brings me to my knees. I stayed because I believe in my marriage. I stayed because I now understand what it means to accept the choice he made, forgive him, and love him anyway. That’s something I was unable to do before it actually happened.

That’s something I was unable to do before it actually happened to me, back when I would sit in judgment of the women who did stay. It is very easy to sit alongside someone and judge the way they handle things

My husband’s affair does not define our marriage. Even more importantly, it does not define me. I know that I could live a happy life being a single mother. (I didn’t say “easy.” I said “happy.”) I know I could choose to end our marriage anytime I want. And right now, I still want to be his wife. I had to decide to put my energy into this new relationship of ours, because we can never really go back to the way things were. It is different now. I can’t lie and tell you that it’s okay. It stings, sometimes so badly I can’t breathe. But this doesn’t hurt as much as it would hurt to end our relationship.

I stayed because it is my choice, my life, and my marriage. I chose to do what was best for me — not what was best for my kids and not what was best for my husband but what was best for me.

And I have decided to write about it, because if you can relate (God, I hope you can’t relate), I want to you know it’s your business, your life, your choice to stay or go, or to go and then come back. It’s your choice to tell the kids, the neighbors, or your friends. It is yours and yours alone. You can take control, handle it, and still have a happy ending, no matter what decision you make.

Related: How To Save A Marriage Worth Salvaging, According To Experts

How Do I Stay With a Cheating Spouse?

“Hi Celes, how do I stay with a dishonest and cheating spouse?” – Arti

Hi Arti, if your spouse has cheated / is cheating on you, I don’t think the question is how to stay with him/her – it’s about what to do with the relationship.

Now I’m not married and I’ve never been married before (I’ll only marry when I find the right person for me, and even then I don’t see marriage to be of extremely high importance in life – at least not the level that society tends to assign to it. I think it’s more important to be with the right person than to marry for the sake of marrying), so perhaps I’m not the best person to comment in this area.


But it figures that if someone is cheating, the person has already breached the trust in the relationship. The original confines of the relationship, whatever they were, no longer hold true. This includes staying on in the relationship for the other party.

The question comes to – Is he/she repentant for his/her actions? Is he/she going to change his/her ways?

If so, then it’s up to you on whether you are willing to remain with him/her, in spite of the infidelity. Since trust has been breached, it’s a delicate situation to be in. Your partner has to understand that (a) things are not going to be the same as before, at least not for now (b) he/she needs to take the necessary steps to rebuild your trust in him/her and the relationship, before anything else can happen.

If he/she is not repentant for his/her actions, and/or he/she is still committing the infidelity, then it’s clear where he/she stands. He/she obviously does not respect you as an individual, nor the relationship itself. It’s then a matter of what you can do to exit the relationship, vis-a-vis remaining in it, because otherwise you’re just doing yourself a disfavor. You don’t need such treatment from someone else. You deserve better.

How about kids, if you have them? Many people stay on in relationships, for the sake of their children – even though they are no longer in love with each other, or even though the other partner has committed infidelity.

I don’t think there’s a one set answer for such a situation, because it’s honestly up to both individuals and what they deem as the best arrangement.

For me personally, I don’t think one should remain in a relationship where there is no love (or even trust), in the name of giving their kids a proper upbringing. Because I think it’s more detrimental than positive for both parents and children in the long run.


Where two people remain in a relationship despite not loving each other anymore, it stifles both parties and makes them miserable. As much as either of them try to suppress their unhappiness, such negative energy will ripple out toward everything they do – be it their careers, their health, their friendships, their family – as well as their relationships with their children.

When the children grow up in such a stifling household, it’ll inadvertently affect them too. For these children, not only are they surrounded by negativity, they don’t have the best role models to refer to. Someone who lives by oppressing his/her desires isn’t connected with his/her source, and as such isn’t living the best life he/she can live.

I know people who grew up in families where their parents remained in the relationship despite not wanting to be together anymore, and it resulted in a lot of unhappiness and conflicts growing up. Many of these incidences became embedded as subconscious issues, which affect them even today, be it in terms of issues of trust with others or skepticism of relationships as a whole.

Whether or not kids or other people are involved, it’s about working out an optimal solution that benefits everyone – both the parents and the children – at the end of the day.

For those who have related experience in this area, feel free to share your views in the comments area below.

Related articles for your reading:

  • Top 12 Signs It’s Time To Move On From a Relationship
  • How to Deal with Dishonest People
  • 10 Steps to Move On From a Relationship

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Ask Ammanda: My husband keeps cheating

I’ve been with my partner for over ten years and married a couple of years ago, we have two children. About 10 years ago while he slept he was getting repeated text messages. I thought it might be an emergency so I checked and found that it was another woman. I woke him and confronted him, he dismissed it as banter – they had got talking on a sports website.

Although I was distraught and we nearly broke up, I forgave him and we moved on. However, this has been a repeated pattern.

A few years later he’d been on Facebook using my iPad, when I picked it up he was still logged in. I don’t know why but I checked his messages and he’d been messaging a woman from where we lived before who worked in the local shop. The messages were flirting with sexual content. Same as before I confronted him and he said it was all just banter — nothing serious.

Since then I have found him using chat sites, dating sites and other social media sites with the same sort of content. More recently, I found an escort agency number on his phone. He says it was from before, but I don’t believe him.

So now I’m really stuck. I really don’t know what to do. I love this man with every piece of me and I thought he felt the same way, so why is he doing this to me? Whenever I confront him he gets angry and says it’s nothing. My head tells me to kick him out. I can’t bring myself to completely end this relationship, but I can’t keep feeling like this. I feel like I’ve said the same things over and over and I get the same response.

Ammanda says…

That’s the curious thing about saying the same thing over and over again. The people we’re talking to usually stop listening because they’ve heard it all before and think we don’t really mean business.

We tell partners how we feel in all sorts of ways. Some of us store things up and then let rip, some of us say nothing because we’re worried about the answer we might get and some of us are calm and reasonable and really try to understand a partner’s point of view — choosing carefully considered the words we use so we don’t get accused of making mountains out of molehills.

What we quite often don’t do, is spell out what will happen unless a certain behaviour stops. Now, there are reasons for this. Sometimes it’s just not safe to. Domestic abuse for instance often means that if a partner speaks out, they risk violence or further violence. Relationships where one partner is coercively controlling means that often the other person is likely to come off much worse if they speak out to their abuser. These are very serious situations and require additional support to help whoever is being abused to be safe.

From what you describe, it sounds as if your relationship has got into a pattern that really is an emotionally abusive one. You suspect something is wrong, you look for proof, you feel you find it, you confront him and then he either denies it or says it won’t happen again. You tell me that when he does actually agree he’s been in touch with other women, he also tells you that it meant nothing. But, I suspect it means everything to you because he repeatedly breaks the trust that you’re entitled to expect from a committed relationship. There’s nothing wrong with open partnerships but to make those work, each person has to be in full agreement that they want to run things this way. For you though, it sounds like you didn’t sign up to that and are constantly on the alert, and as so often happens, ending up almost playing detective, trying to second guess every word and action. That’s exhausting.

You tell me this has gone on for a long time and I wonder if this is because at some level you feel you can change your husband’s behaviour. Sometimes we almost make ourselves responsible for a partner and start to believe that if only we can find the right words then they’ll change.

Although talking together is nearly always helpful, in this case, I think you have to decide what the long-term effects of all this are likely to be if things don’t take a turn for the better. I’m not for a moment suggesting that this is an easy thing to contemplate. Finance, children and fears of being lonely make it entirely understandable that people stay in relationships that are upsetting in one way or another.

Sometimes it’s just not possible to make the move away from something that causes emotional pain. We might even think we don’t deserve anything better. Some people grow up believing that they should carry on regardless of their own emotional wellbeing and consistently prioritise another’s welfare to the detriment of their own. I wonder if that’s what’s happening here. You’re telling me that you love this man but his behaviour is destroying you and you just want him to stop. At the risk of being very challenging, I don’t think that’s likely to happen. I don’t know why he carries on as you describe — some people develop addictive behaviours, others find it difficult to hear how much of what they do distresses their partner.

But from what you tell me, I think you now have to be very clear in your own mind how much longer you can go on with this situation. Although he’s entirely responsible for the choices he’s making, every time you in effect, have him back, you may well be adding to his misguided belief that what he’s doing isn’t really all that much of a problem. Seeing a counsellor and having some time for yourself may help you decide how you want to take things forward. Friends are great and as you say, they always seem to have the answer but the important part of all this is that you find the answer that’s right for you.

Counselling may help you to have a different conversation with him, and if you go together this could be helpful, but I doubt he’ll be keen. Either way, hopefully you will be supported to work out what you actually want to do to keep yourself emotionally safe and decide on a way to communicate that to him and mean it, because what’s happening now is not OK.

I have a dilemma. A friend is having an affair. Her (wonderful) husband is blissfully unaware.

I asked her once, my friend with the roving eye, in the way we ask girlfriends these questions after too much wine, “If your husband were having an affair, would you want to know?” Yes, she said. An emphatic yes. She would want to know.

She isn’t alone: I ask other girlfriends, “Would you want to know?” Almost without exception, they say yes. I wonder why. To mete out some kind of punishment? To save themselves from the humiliation of everybody talking about them behind their backs? Because, anyway, why should he get away with it?

You see, I would once have agreed. Yes, I’d have said, confidently, “I’d want to know, absolutely.” Except, when it happened to me – when I was told, “Your husband’s had a thing” – I found I didn’t want to know. Not at all.

I remember so clearly the delivery of that gut-punching news. A friend told me on a walk. I felt winded. I stopped dead. I couldn’t catch my breath, I couldn’t speak. A thing? She couldn’t stop telling me all the details: “It started at a party, somebody noticed they’d slipped away, I’m not sure where you were… ” as if my absence had been the catalyst, as if I ought to have been standing guard, as if it were my fault.

I confronted my husband, of course I did – tearfully. He denied having been unfaithful. He told me I was silly – “You’re being ridiculous” – and stalked off. But if I hadn’t seen the fire, I could taste the smoke; its sourness lingered for ages, tainting everything. His dismissive rebuttal smacked much more of an indignant “How could I have been found out?” than an outraged “How could anybody say such a thing?”

He never confronted the woman who accused him, and I always wondered why not: I would have done exactly that – and immediately. “How dare you make such suggestions?” I’d have demanded. He kept firmly quiet. His silence was deafening and incriminating all at the same time.

Once you’ve been evicted from your comfortable, married-with-children shell of complacency, it’s difficult to get comfortable again. Once a seed of doubt has been sown, it quickly becomes a jungle of qualms, fed by every cold shoulder, every turn of the head. I began to dissect and minutely analyse everything he did, everything he’d ever done. I excavated events from years ago: I thought I remembered how he’d flirted on various occasions, abandoned me for more interesting company. I remembered overhearing him tell an attractive woman whom he met at a party that he wasn’t married. “Pffft, me, married?” he snorted and laughed at the very notion. I was standing behind him, seven months pregnant.

For years after the accusation, I viewed every woman with a brittle, green-eyed gaze, “Why are you looking at her?” I’d demand as he looked into the middle distance, probably perfectly innocently. I was bitter, I made caustic comments about other women – such an unattractive trait in a woman. I stopped being spontaneous, I was a lot less fun. It unspooled my confidence. I unravelled from robust to needy: what was he missing in me that had drawn him to her?

Hearing that he had been unfaithful once infected all our preceding years together and left me sore, raw and smarting until a long time later.

So no. It turned out I didn’t want to know, didn’t have to know. Knowing didn’t add enough to make up for all the things it took away. In fact, knowing added precisely nothing.

Infidelity isn’t rampant. But nor is it uncommon: a gazillion surveys suggest it happens in a third of committed relationships. But it takes so many shapes now – and many of those shapes are of the flaky, you’d-be-better-off-ignoring sort.

And is it worth throwing five, 10, 15 years away when infidelity may amount to a momentary lapse in concentration? Delusion? Distraction? All balls, no brains? Is it worth abandoning something of substance for something that may mean nothing, that is a frivolous, transient massaging of ego?

Later, much later, when I was able to rationalise all of this, when I realised that a brief lapse did not amount to him falling out of love with me, did not mean there was anything wrong with me, I was able to compute it all: to consider the numbers. A night, or two, of foolishness versus the significance of shared years, the partnership of parenthood, the joys, the grief through which we had supported each other, good times and sad that were privately ours. The ballast.

But back to my friend with the unfaithful wife. “Ought I to tell him?” I ask the same girlfriends who insist they’d want to know in the same position. The response to a specific instance is very different. Oooh, they don’t know. Best not get involved, says one. Are you absolutely certain, asks another. How well do you know them both, says a third. The wisest one acknowledges it’s a tricky question: “You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

So, my question still unanswered, I put my quandary to more friends. Men and women bat the dilemma back and forth. They all agree that it’s a tricky predicament. But nobody knows for sure. Except my husband. He shakes his head: “Don’t,” he says quietly. “Don’t tell. Telling can wreck good marriages.”

It turns out that what they say is true: a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. My husband’s insight confirms what I think I know is the right answer from my own miserable experience.

The friend who told me about my husband is still a friend. But she is not nearly as good a friend as she was once. And I don’t want to damage a precious relationship of many years with my cuckolded friend in the same way she spoiled ours; I’ll keep my mouth shut.

The woman with whom my husband was meant to have had a dalliance pinched someone else’s husband in the end; he was easier quarry than mine. They have a baby daughter. She nags him a little too often, isn’t as pretty as she was once, seems a bit miserable.

As revenge goes, that’s not bad.

• Alice James is a pseudonym.

There are only two types of cheating, claims relationship expert

Experiences of illicit relationships vary from person to person depending on the circumstances, however, one sex therapist claims that there are only really two types of cheating.

According to Tammy Nelson, resident relationship expert at Ashley Madison, a website for married people seeking affairs, adultery falls into one of two categories.

Speaking to Business Insider, Nelson explains the concept of “can-opener” affairs, whereby one partner cheats as a way of ending a relationship as opposed to confronting any issues directly.

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This kind of cheating is more common among women than men, she adds.

As for why there might be a parity in terms of how different genders cheat, dating coach James Preece explains that women are more likely to cheat as a way of making a statement than men.

“They know that if they get caught doing so then it’s going to bring about a quick end to the relationship,” he tells The Independent.

This ultimately saves them time, he adds, and easily leads to a swift ending as the partner who has been cheated on will feel that their pride has been damaged, making forgiveness – and any chances of mending the relationship – difficult.

The second type of cheating – more commonly committed by men – is the kind that acts as “a way of filling that one part of their life that their marriage doesn’t,” says Nelson.

In other words, one partner may feel like something is missing – either sexually or emotionally – and therefore looks to fulfil that absence via an illicit relationship because they are afraid of addressing it with their partner.

This person might not necessarily want to end their existing relationship, but is more likely to be looking to quell some sort of insatiable desire they feel can’t be satisfied by their current partner.

This fits in with research carried out by Ashley Madison which revealed that the most common reason people sign up to its site is because people feel their marriage has “lost its spark”.

However, Preece explains that cheating can also be a case of being tempted by third-party flirtations, something he says is also more common among men.

“Men need much more validation than women,” he explains, “so they will cheat if they get attention from someone else.

Salma Hayek thought her husband was cheating on her

“It makes them feel younger, more virile and wanted.”

This can be particularly prevalent when a couple has children, he adds.

“Quite often they feel their wife has lost interest in them, especially when kids become the new priority.

“It can be a massive ego boost to know they are still desirable.”

Despite the generally negative repercussions – as dramatised in endless films and TV shows – affairs are actually surprisingly common, with a YouGov study from 2015 revealing that one in five British adults have had an affair.

The poll also revealed gender discrepancies in terms of motivations for cheating, reporting that men are more likely to have affairs due to sexual dissatisfaction whereas women mostly cheat out of emotional deprivation.

The Independent’s Millennial Love group is the best place to discuss to the highs and lows of modern dating and relationships. Join the conversation here.​

Peter’s couple therapy blog

Smart of course has to be defined, but one thing we know from research is that rejection drops a person’s IQ by about 25% and increases their hostility.

Intimate betrayal is a profound rejection that continues beyond the discovery of the affair into the core of trust and integrity of the marriage. In a way, the sense of rejection continues for years after, coming back to haunt the person in unexpected ways. One of my smart women clients who had thought she had dealt with her partner’s affair 20 years before and stayed in the marriage, found it coming back to haunt her as they both approached retirement. Both smart women and smart men stay in relationships both straight and gay, where one has cheated on another for many reasons. Usually because the affair has ended and the cheater has sworn to repair the damage and make amends.

Progress in healing is slow, takes time and usually two steps forward and one back – sensing the truth of this smart people endure the hardships of humiliation and repair. One can’t discount the obvious – that looking around at the market place of partners, the devil you know may be better than the one you don’t know. Becoming a single parent is not a better solution than staying and mending with a cheating heart.

When the affair continues and where this is known to a smart partner, there are all kinds of compromises being made by the one who is being cheated. The one who has the least control in a relationship is also the one most likely to compromise no matter how smart they are. This is a manifestation of power in the relationship and one that has social, cultural, gender and economic influences that smart women are not better equipped at navigating than the not so smart.

More than all of that one can’t discount the possibility that the cheating is not or not yet an unforgivable event in their marriage. What defines the unforgivable for one person is often quite unexpected and unrelated to public persona of the individual.

When it continues without the partner’s knowledge, any smart person one would think, should have figured out that it would keep going. So why do they stay? Denial or willful ignorance is a powerful psychological defense against knowing the obvious. It is likely they could only manage the real world distress of betrayal by using denial in one form or other – denial that it matters, denial that it is anything more than f–k buddies, denial that it will harm the marriage, denial that as long as I don’t know it won’t hurt me etc.

What kinds of affects does infidelity have on a smart woman in relation to her career?

People lose confidence in their ability to trust their own judgments especially about a person’s character and their values, and as well to know what is going on around them even right under their noses. This inevitably impacts on their belief in the validity of data coming from their own senses and in the accuracy of their perceptions. It damages their self esteem and their ability to make decisions – since the basis of those decisions (especially within an intimate relationship) are now subject to a depth and breadth of self-doubt never before encountered. On top of that is the impact of emotions they may never have felt so intensely for so long at any time in the past. Typically these are humiliated rage, revenge, despair and depression and the other traumatic effects of intimate betrayal – flash backs and intrusive thoughts, hyper-vigilance and hyper-arousal.

Does being smart or well educated make a difference in how a woman reacts when she finds out her husband/partner has been unfaithful?

Not one difference in the way a person reacts that I have observed in 45 years of work in this area. Betrayal is betrayal is betrayal – it hurts like hell, it shatters safety, trust and the core belief system that navigates our world, and we all react very badly to it no matter how well resourced we are. Marriage counselors and divorce lawyers react in much the same way as plumbers and cleaners. Culture, however, does make a big difference and whether the cheating was unforgivable or not and whether the person cheated has a prior history of loss or trauma. Women whose father’s cheated their mother’s tend to be more tolerant of a husband cheating, that may increase tolerance. Men whose mother’s cheated tend to be more on edge after a discovered affair.

Is it a common occurrence in your line of work to have patients that are smart women who are staying with unfaithful men?

Given that the majority of cheating goes undetected you’d have to say there are a lot of people living with a cheater who don’t know it. In my clinical experience smart people stay in those relationships for many of the reasons I gave above.

portrait of unhappy young heterosexual couple in bedroom (iStock)

Trust is one of the main tenets of a strong partnership. When cheating happens, that value is shattered — and for many couples, saving a marriage can seem difficult, if not impossible. But according a March 2014 study published in the journal Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, many married couples who face infidelity do bounce back and make the active choice to stay together. And it’s not just for financial reasons or parental responsibilities.

Infidelity does not have to be the end of the relationship, Dr. Tammy Nelson, a couples therapist and author of “The New Monogamy: Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity,” told Fox News.

“Sometimes, an affair is a result of an opportunity that comes at a moment of resentment, of instability in the marriage, or at a time when the cheating partner is feeling like they need an ego boost,” Nelson said. “However, afterwards, the cheater realizes they feel worse because they have violated their own implicit vow to be faithful, and the guilt usually forces them to confess.”


Experts like Nelson agree the only reason to stay with a cheating spouse is if he or she is deeply and genuinely sorry for the betrayal and willing to work for your forgiveness.

This means they show they understand the pain you went through after learning about the affair, Dr. Sheri Meyers, a marriage and family therapist and author of “Chatting or Cheating: How to Detect Infidelity, Rebuild Love and Affair-Proof Your Relationship,” told Fox News.

“They can’t just put what they did away in the vault, talk about it once, and move on,” Meyers said. “They must take responsibility for their actions and prove their commitment to the relationship every day.”


Blaming outside factors, including you, does not count as taking responsibility.

“If they blame their partner or lack insight into their actions, chances are, they’ll do it again,” Meyers said.

Why stay with a cheating spouse? Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, a licensed marriage and couples therapist, told Fox News that couples who stay together after infidelity have compelling reasons to do so.

“They are invested in the relationship and don’t want to throw away a history of success,” Hokemeyer said. “The cheating event is either a one off occurrence or based on an implied understanding between partners.” In other words, you were both taking a break and agreed to date others at that time.


When a cheating spouse admits to being unfaithful, realizes the pain they’ve caused you, and is willing to prove their commitment to the relationship every day, it is possible for a couple to heal and move past infidelity.

The relationship will, no doubt, feel different. It can find a new equilibrium, but it will never go back to the way it was before the cheating occurred.

“This is because our brain is wired to retain strong emotional experiences,” Hokemeyer said. “The partners have to find a new normal. One that doesn’t ignore that the betrayal occurred while simultaneously finding a place for it in the narrative of the relationship.”


Nelson said the majority of people will know if their relationship is built to last through a breach of trust.

“Most people ultimately know when their relationship has a solid foundation and a loving connection — they know if the relationship can survive an affair.” In those cases, she said, “Sometimes a relationship is stronger than ever afterwards.”

There is a particular look we give the woman who has chosen to stay with the man who cheated on her.

And it isn’t a very nice one.

Our eyebrows raise a little, and we cock our head to the side. We project onto her a sort of disingenuous sorrow coupled with a hint of condescending pity.

‘Was she the woman who ‘chose’ to stay?’ we ask ourselves. ‘Or was she just the woman who wasn’t strong enough to leave?’

Psychotherapist and expert on sex and relationships Esther Perel, says that a few decades ago the decision to file for divorce was loaded with shame. But in the modern moment, when ending a marriage or relationship is no longer taboo, the ‘new shame’ is to stay when you have the option to walk away.

We evoke language like ‘self-respect’. ‘Strength’. ‘Bravery’.

The woman who knows her worth, leaves. That is the one and only correct response to infidelity. You have been insulted, made to look stupid, and the trust has been irreparably broken.

It is the worst crime that can befall a relationship – and, in fairness, it’s not hard to see why.

“Why would they do that?”

“Why?” is the question you’re always left with.

Following, of course, the “who?” the “when?” and the “how?”

“Why would they do that?”

There is a special brand of shame you feel when someone cheats on you. It’s humiliating. The person who is meant to love you most, and knows all your flaws, couldn’t help but ‘stray’ – the word itself implying that they tried very hard to stay in their lane, but in the end, they just couldn’t help it.

Listen: Mia Freedman interviews expert Esther Perel on why people cheat. Post continues below.

It feels like a rejection of your whole being, from the way you laugh to the shape of your nose. And the answer to the ‘why’ descends on you, like a lone brick falling from the sky, at 3am on a Monday night.

“Because I wasn’t enough.”

There was something The Other Woman or The Other Man has, that you don’t. They weren’t satisfied. “Cheating is a symptom,” we rationalise. “And I was the problem.”

We’ve been led to believe, from pop psychology, music, movies and relationship columns, that someone cheating always has something – at least a little bit – to do with the person being cheated on.

You didn’t have enough sex. You were neglectful. You were too jealous. You weren’t putting enough effort into your appearance. You didn’t go on enough date nights. You demanded too much. The relationship had already died, and they were just too afraid to break your heart.

There is enormous shame in telling your friends and family that the man or woman you’ve devoted yourself to, wanted, even if only for a moment, someone else.

And in the midst of a tidal wave of emotions, one is expected to make a decision. And fast.

“If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband, what makes her think she can satisfy America?”

Several women in the public eye have been marred by their husband’s affairs.

Let’s start with Hillary Clinton.

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