Why Getting Divorced After Infidelity Isn’t Always the Answer
Beyond Breath TV: Is Getting Divorced a BAD idea?
There’s a certain word that sends shivers down my spine. It’s a word that may be taboo or even unheard of in your family or religion, but it’ll be on the tip of your tongue and in the back of every thought after you find out about your husband's infidelity.
Are you ready for it?
According to a survey done by the American Psychological Association, anywhere between 20-40% of divorces are linked to infidelity. Isn't that terrible? I'm sure that on the day you said “I do,” you never thought you might get divorced because your husband decided to be unfaithful.
Now your greatest nightmare has come true. You fret about the children and how this will confuse them and even break their hearts. Who they will be with for each holiday? You hate the idea of another woman being brought into their lives and taking over, even in the smallest way, your role as a mother. You don't want to divide your things. They're your things, the things you share together. You fear the extreme responsibility of having to support yourself and your children on your own. How will you ever do that? Where will you live?
You also start wondering what others will think about you if you don't leave. Will they look down on you? On the same brainwave, you panic at the idea that your family and friends might find out that your husband has been unfaithful. What they will think about him? Or about you? Will they conclude that it's somehow your fault, that you did something that led him to that decision?
Divorce. There is no way you could ever do this to your children. This is your family and you will do anything to not break it up.
Which Shoe is Next?
This chaos will swing you back and forth for…weeks? Years? Decades? I’ve lived on the emotional rollercoaster of ‘Should I stay or should I go?’ Sometimes you consider life to be good. Your husband is following through with your requests from your last conversation. Yet there's a weariness there, a caution that keeps you from fully enjoying the moment because, well, when is the next shoe going to drop?
Eventually, he’ll do something to upset you. Maybe he won’t want to have sex one night, and your confidence takes a heavy hit. Your heart aches and you feel like you need to back off. You’ll think that you are a fool for thinking this is going to work and that you should have left years ago. Then he’ll apologize and you’ll have another conversation.
This time, you’ll have really high hopes that he heard you, that you finally got through to him. This time, he'll change. You both recommit and cross your fingers that it works. Then one night, he fails to tell you that he’ll be home late from work. As the minutes pass, your mind starts filling in all the blanks about where he is, who he's with, and what he's doing. By the time he gets home, all trust is lost. All the energy you have been putting into every single day for the last X amount of years seems like a waste because he is still the same person you think you should have divorced years ago.
The Change in Patty
My client, Patty, rode on the emotional rollercoaster of her marriage for years. She would get to a point where she was ready to pull the plug. She would decide that she couldn't take it anymore. She had been unconsciously making a list of things that her husband had and had not been doing, keeping a tally of his every move and pointing a finger at his every flaw. She would explain to him that she was done and wanted a divorce, but during the conversation, she would settle down as he would apologize, beg her to try again, and come up with a new plan that was bound to work.
Following the conversations, her emotions would be confused. She would be excited, having high hopes that maybe this would be the time their marriage would make a huge shift. Maybe he would actually change. She also felt fear. Did she just let him walk all over her again? She felt powerless. Why didn't she have the strength to follow through with what she thought she wanted? She rode the ups and downs of this pattern for years.
Then one day during a group coaching session, Patty shared with us a new shift in her understanding. She had been putting in the deep internal work of clearing her emotional trauma.
She had intentionally been creating the skills within herself to build a solid foundation of self-trust. She was seeing things clearly, and she had been applying tangible tools to connect with her husband in a way that honored the truth of her reality.
She expressed to us that she had come to the realization that her marriage was over. She told us that she was so proud of herself because she wasn't questioning this decision. She wasn't frantic about the decision, and she wasn't coming to this decision because he had done or hadn't done any one thing. She told the group that she was ready for a change because she had changed.
Decisions Made in Fear
I know the ending of this story may feel a little disheartening to you. The last thing you want is for your marriage to end. You are still fighting for it. So let me clarify something for you. Most women end up getting divorced after infidelity because their husbands haven't changed despite the passing of years. These women have exerted effort into their marriages because they believed the hoax that their husbands would and should be the ones to make all of the changes. If a man manages to change, then the wife will consider the marriage saved. If he doesn't, then the ending of their marriage is all his fault.
It's simply not that easy.
Divorce is not the answer after infidelity if you have come to that decision because your husband hasn’t changed. Once you leave, you will be taking your anger and all your pointed fingers with you. You’ll be packing your disheartenment, disappointment, and that familiar feeling of not being good enough. You take the what-ifs, all the worry that maybe you called it quits too soon. You’ll wonder if maybe he'll change for someone else.
If divorce is going to be your final answer after infidelity, I would encourage you to come to that conclusion from a place of peace. One of the things I live by is this: if a decision is made in fear, fear will be waiting on the other side. If a decision is made in peace, peace will be on the other side of that decision.
How do you get to the point where you can make a serious decision like whether or not to get divorced from a place of peace like Patty did? First, you have to clear your emotional trauma.
Clear. Create. Connect.
Emotional trauma is the result of events that leave you feeling unsafe and helpless. Its physical symptoms can include lethargy, poor concentration, panic attacks, insomnia, and nightmares. You may be unable to cope in certain situations. Emotionally, you may experience a persistent feeling of danger. You may experience mental exhaustion, confusion, sadness, dissociation, and high anxiety.
By clearing your emotional trauma, the energy you are using to merely make it through your day is restored. Because of your renewed ability to sleep, you also receive the gift of clarity, discernment, and comprehension. These are essential abilities for you to be able to reasonably come to the conclusion that divorce is the right step.
Once your emotional trauma is cleared, you will need to create sustainable skills that allow you to maintain composure of your thoughts, feelings, and reactions. These skills will allow you to rebuild trust in yourself and others. After spending a significant amount of time living in a state of hyper-vigilance, depression, and rage, in which overthinking, overreacting, and clinging to security became the norm, your body’s motor skills have been strongly programmed. When you’re ready to build a new way of thinking, feeling, and responding, you have to create a new set of fine motor skills that are strengthened by balance and equilibrium. These new skills will turn the unending alarm off, reset the high levels of energy in your body, and allow you to trust yourself again.
Finally, only when you are connected to yourself in this new way can you begin to connect to your husband. This last piece is vital. No matter how unsure you are as to whether you want to continue with the marriage, wouldn’t you rather be facing that decision as a peaceful, self-possessed version of yourself, capable of leaving the prison that was once your own mind in order to fully engage with another being? If you are going to give your marriage a fighting chance, you can't bring all of your fears, ruminations, and overreactions with you. Even if your husband isn't on board or you aren't sure if he's still talking to her, by practicing connecting in your relationship, you gain more clarity and understanding so that you can come to one of these conclusions:
“Yes, our marriage will work. We are building something new. I am not the same, and he is not the same.”
“No, our marriage will not work, and I know that because I have changed. I have intentionally stepped into my marriage, our wholeness and connection on a brand new level, honoring myself and the relationship I want, and I have now outgrown this marriage.”
By doing the work in this way, your heart stays open. You do not take with you the anger, resentment, and blame. You do not take with you the hurt, disappointment, and the feeling of not being good enough. You don't take with you the what-ifs. The change has come from you, and now that you know what to do, you will feel so much freedom.
Can you sense the peace that comes with decisions made this way? Such decisions may still bring heartache, hard times and challenges, but they will leave you feeling powerful and confident in the decision that you made to move forward in your life. You will have YOU back, and if that is what you are taking with you, that's everything. Divorce isn't always the answer after infidelity, but when it is, it can be a peaceful, expanding decision.
Now I want to hear from you. Have you wrestled with the idea of whether or not divorce is the right decision for you after your husband's infidelity? If your answer is yes, tell me in the comments. Also, do you feel stuck with one foot in and one foot out of your marriage, and confused about how to move forward?
If your answer is yes,