You say your “I dos,” you excitedly build a life together, you have children, you buy a house, you go to work, and then the unimaginable happens. You find out that your spouse has cheated on you.
The life you built comes crashing down. You feel shattered, broken, and betrayed. Sometimes it even feels like there’s such a weight on your chest that you can’t breathe. You wonder, What is wrong with me?
Marriage is supposed to be forever. In front of God, your family, and your friends, that is what you promised. You ask yourself if you can get past this, if you can ever trust your spouse again. You wonder, Do I even want to? It all feels unbearably hard and overwhelming.
Who Cheats and Why?
The Institute for Family Studies reports, “In general, men are more likely than women to cheat: 20% of men and 13% of women reported that they’ve had sex with someone other than their spouse while married.”
It also claims:
“A person’s political identity, family background, and religious activity are also related to whether or not they cheat. Overall, Democrats, adults who didn’t grow up in intact families, and those who rarely or never attend religious services are more likely than others to have cheated on their spouse. For example, 15% of adults who grew up with both biological parents have cheated on their spouse before, compared with 18% of those who didn’t grow up in intact families.”
These statistics paint a sad picture. Studies done over the last decade report that infidelity affects roughly 20-25% of marriages. The reasons both men and women give for cheating are as varied and numerous as there are people on this Earth. Some cheat because they couldn’t resist the temptation. Others cheat because they have an addiction to sex. Some cheat because they’re angry at their spouse. Some cheat because they don’t feel valued or wanted at home. The list goes on and on.
Though the reasons are important to understand if you decide to rebuild your marriage, there is one thing that you must remember. Ultimately, cheating is a choice. It is never an accident. And while the spouse who was cheated on may spend time anguishing over what he or she could have done differently in the marriage, it’s important to realize that the responsibility for the infidelity lies in the cheating spouse.
What Percentage of Marriages Survive Infidelity?
Statistics vary regarding the percentage of couples who stay together after the heartbreak of infidelity. MSN reported on a small survey conducted by Health Testing Centers, saying:
The survey polled 441 people who admitted to cheating while in a committed relationship, and found that more than half (54.5%) broke up immediately after the truth came out. Another 30% tried to stay together but broke up eventually, and only 15.6% survived this break of trust.
Divorce magazine reports that 60-75% of couples who experience infidelity remained together.
Other people make it, you think. It’s possible. But do I want to?
Though statistics are interesting, they are also impersonal. When you look into the eyes of a spouse who has just broken your heart, you find that statistics don’t really matter. You want to know how and if you can pick up the pieces and move on and if that’s really possible for your marriage.
Gregory Popcak, the Catholic founder and executive director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute, says that, yes, it is possible, but it takes a lot of hard work for both of the parties involved. Yet, when couples do this hard work and actually move past the infidelity, many claim that their marriage is stronger. But you both have to put in significant effort. And not just some of the time. All of the time.
We Still Want to Make it Work, Now What?
Anyone who has ever faced infidelity knows the pain. You feel ashamed, embarrassed, helpless, sick to your stomach, empty, and cold. It’s like you’ve suddenly woken up next to a stranger. If your spouse leaves you for this other person, all you can do is work on healing yourself. But if your spouse wants to stay, and if you want to rebuild your marriage, you both need to work on healing yourselves and your marriage.
In all marriages, communication and putting your Catholic faith at the center is key. Now more than ever, communication is a vital component of the healing process. From this point on, you must learn to have meaningful and deep conversations with your spouse about your feelings. Not only must you listen to the reasons for why your spouse cheated, but your spouse must listen to your insecurities and your feelings of anger, resentment, and betrayal. You should consider faith-based marriage counseling (more on that below). But first, go to Confession. Infidelity is a mortal sin; make things right with God and the rest will be a lot easier because of the graces you receive. Meet with your parish priest or minister or someone in the Church you trust who can help you with even a blessings and resources for your journey. Remember too that if you married in the Catholic Church, the Sacrament has endowed you with extra graces to meet with marital challenges, so embrace what God and the Church offer.
Seeking the advice and counsel of a Catholic therapist—someone who understands the sacramental nature of marriage—is vital. A counselor will guide you in ways to begin these difficult conversations and will help you learn the skills to continue them on your own. A healing retreat weekend called Retrouvaille is also a wonderful way to reconnect with your spouse and to talk about the affair with the help of others who have shared experiences. As its website says, “There is always hope of reviving your relationship.”
It’s going to get harder before it gets easier. Your spouse must begin with full disclosure about the affair. He (or she) must answer all of your questions truthfully and patiently. You have the right to demand that your spouse be tested for STDs. You must talk about the reasons the cheating happened. And you must work on fixing these problems together. In addition, your spouse must take the blame for his actions rather than putting the blame on you. Your spouse was the one who made the choice and has to own it.
You know that Christ and the Church teach that we must forgive those who hurt us, but you’ll find that this is a tall order when the person who you thought loved you the most has betrayed you. Forgiveness takes time and prayer. You may have to pray every day, several times a day, for God’s grace and mercy to wash over you. And just when you think you have forgiven your spouse, you may wake up one morning to realize that your feelings of anger and hatred have all come flooding back. It’s okay. Keep praying. Keep moving forward. Be truthful to your spouse about any setbacks. Don’t hide your feelings.
Remember that Christ is vital to your marriage. If your marriage didn’t involve Him before, it is imperative that it involves Him now. Begin to pray as a couple. Ask Him for grace, guidance, and mercy. Go to daily and weekly Mass together. Read the Bible together. Spend time with other Godly couples from your parish. Keep going regularly to confession. Encourage your spouse to go as well.
Infidelity is devastating. Infidelity is heartbreaking. And infidelity is crushing. When you take your wedding vows, you vow to love your new spouse for “better or worse.” Infidelity definitely falls into the “worse” category, but it doesn’t have to mean the end of your marriage. With communication, healing, love, patience, effort, and renewed trust, you can build a new—and better—marriage with the same partner and create a new life together.