The percentage of people impacted by infidelity is somewhere between 30 and 60% of all married couples, depending on the study cited.
More interesting than the differences between men and women are the different patterns of infidelity for each gender. Cheating men are more likely than cheating women to have an affair with someone younger than their spouse. On the other hand, cheating women are more likely than cheating men to have an affair with someone better educated than their current spouse. Additionally, marked sex differences exist in the age patterns of infidelity. Women are far more likely to commit infidelity in their 20s and early in their relationship, whereas men’s affairs happen later in their relationship and predominantly after the age of 40.
The good news is that more and more couples are deciding to try and make their relationships work, even after infidelity. They are deciding that the grass is not always greener on the other side. And they’re accepting that it’s not always the best solution to think that you can trade your partner in for another model or that this new love will last longer and be better.
Here are three steps to ending an affair and really making your marriage work. For all the great advice your friends, family and even well-meaning therapists will give you, these are the three things you need to know to move on and help your marriage survive.
1. Let yourself grieve
Know that it’s not easy. Cheating is based on lies and deceit and there are usually feelings involved, even if the feelings are guilt and fear. You may have had a vision of how things might have been different with your affair partner. You are grieving that right now.
Just like a death, ending the affair means you have to feel all the feelings that an ending brings. And endings can be complicated. Most people don’t come back from an affair saying “That was awful!” Instead, they come out of an affair feeling like they had a wonderful experience of passion, aliveness, intensity and fun. It can hurt to let that go.
The guilt and remorse over hurting your partner or family are real, too. Your partner has a heart and a whole story to grieve as well.
2. Confront what happened
Don’t underestimate the impact you have made on your partner’s life.
Clean up your mess
Treat your partner with dignity and make amends if necessary. Let them know you are empathetic to their feelings and that you take responsibility for all of the consequences that have happened as a result of your actions.
Make it clear the affair has ended.
Your partner will never believe that you are really done with the affair until you end it with true remorse. Ignoring it and hoping it will go away just drives the feelings underground. Most likely they will pop back up someday and cause more hurt and anger.
3. Accept that you became a different person in the affair
When you were with the affair partner, a new part of you was created. Perhaps you were more charming, sexy, engaging, and maybe you really liked that part of you. Your affair partner may have brought out qualities in you that you never knew you had or that have been dormant for a long time. If you try and cut yourself off from the good feelings that new part brought you, it will only force you to hide those parts from your partner or push you back into the affair to allow you to be that person again.
You have to acknowledge that this new part of you exists and find a way to integrate it into your relationship. This will take work with your partner and you may need the help of a therapist as well.
Moving Forward Together
These three things – grieving the affair, confronting what happened with integrity, and integrating your new self into your relationship – are the best ways to move forward. If you want to save your relationship and make things work, sit down and talk about these three things and how you each feel about them as you work them through.
Share what it is like for each of you on either side of the experience. You may gain some insight and understanding of your own behavior and feelings through this process.
If you are ready to put as much energy into your married life as you put into your affair, you may find that can have a new marriage.