If your spouse has been chronically unfaithful, and you’ve disclosed it to family or friends, you’ve probably been asked this question.
You likely had one of two internal responses: shame or shame + confusion.
Shame because the question implies that there must be something wrong with YOU. The person posing the question may think that if the same thing happened to them, they would leave. Or maybe they assumed you would “think more highly of yourself” if you found out your spouse was unfaithful.
If you feel shame + confusion about the question, it’s likely because you’re also wondering why you’re still in your relationship.
These responses are perfectly normal. But the question “Why are you still with him?” is not.
First, it is your business, and no one else’s, whether you choose to be in—or out—of any relationship. Second, because the question implies that there is something wrong with you, it is shaming, demeaning, and hurtful.
There are many reasons betrayed partners stay with an unfaithful spouse. Here are just a few:
Many of the betrayed partners I’ve worked with over the past decade have been with their unfaithful spouse for two decades or more. Some have been married over 30 years and have grown children, as well as grandchildren.
When you have a 10, 20, or 30+ year history with another person, you are unlikely to walk away as soon as you learn about your spouse’s infidelity—even when the infidelity is chronic or rises to the level of a sex addiction.
If you have minor children still living at home, you are probably reluctant to leave your marriage due to infidelity—at least initially. Divorce is a major, painful live event and has a profound impact on children. While there are times that divorce is best for one or both members of the couple, as well as their children, it is not a decision to be made without careful thought and consideration.
If the betrayed partner has delayed her (or his) career to be a stay-at-home parent and has been out of the workforce for some time, she is more likely to want to stay in her relationship to find out whether her unfaithful spouse will do the necessary work to heal and restore the relationship. Even if she knows she wants to leave, she will probably delay making any major decisions until she knows how she will support herself financially.
In addition, it is a well-established fact that most women are financially worse off after divorce, even when they are the primary caregivers or custodians of the couple’s children. In fact, research has shown that “the average woman’s income falls by more than a fifth” after divorce.
Belief in Your Spouse
Especially in long-term relationships, a betrayed partner has had the experience of seeing her unfaithful spouse weather many difficult life events.
Perhaps he was there for you when you had a major illness, surgery, or when there was a death in the family that was particularly painful for you. Or maybe he is an involved and loving father to your children. You know he is not an inherently “bad” person, and you want to give him an opportunity to repair and restore your relationship.
For all of these reasons, I recommend that betrayed partners not make any major decisions about their relationship for the first year post-discovery. While there are some situations where the partner is clear that staying with her unfaithful spouse is not an option for her or her children, the majority of partners are not only uncertain, they hope their relationship can be salvaged.
Giving yourself some time to process and begin healing from the discovery, as well as finding out whether your spouse is willing to do the necessary recovery and repair work is often the best course of action.
And if you’re a family member or friend of the betrayed partner, don’t ask them, “Why are you still with him?” Listen, validate, empathize, and ask if there is anything you can do to support her/him.
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© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2017)
All submitted comments are subject to editing to protect confidentiality and maintain anonymity. Submitted comments containing profanity, offensive language, or otherwise objectionable material will not be published.
How long is to long to wait. It appears the SA is doing what he should BUT, he also appeared to be a loving and faithful husband for 36 years. I was told not to believe his words but to watch. I watched for 36 years and he appeared faithful and engaged. He did all his cheating during the day while he was suppose to be at work and I was at work. How will I ever know if he is faithful? It has been 3 years of hell (in my life) he keeps saying things will get better and there is a great future for us. I won’t to wack him with a bat. I was told by a therapist that I would feel peace with a decision. I do not feel peace here and when I start planning to leave I feel sick not peace. How long can this go on?
Vicki Tidwell Palmer says
Carol, I hear your pain and frustration. The simple answer is that you get to decide if your situation is tolerable for you, and how long you want to stay in your relationship. Here is a related article I recommend for you: When Do You Know Enough is Enough?
If you need some support to help you sort out your options and a path forward, you can find qualified help at the International Institute for Trauma & Addiction Professionals or the Association of Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists websites.
Take good care.
My husband of 30 years of marriage shares that he doesn’t want to stop after I discovered his addiction few months ago!
He indicates that it is fun and wants me to join him with chats, sending photos, sexting etc.
I’m ready to quit just wants minimum drama and advise since all this is a shock to me …. yes, I’m getting sick; high blood pressure and ptsd
Erin Cronin says
Thank you for your comment. Vicki is out of the office until January 8th and will reply to your comment when she returns.
Vicki Tidwell Palmer says
Brenda, I’m so sorry to hear about your situation.
If you want to join him, then there is no problem. But since you describe it as a “shock” and you are getting sick, I highly recommend spending some time getting clear about your own needs and wants, and then doing what’s in your power to get them met. If you haven’t already, please get a copy of Moving Beyond Betrayal. It will teach you everything you need to know about getting clear—and setting boundaries—in your relationship.
Take good care, and don’t give up! You’re worth it.
Carol, your words could be mine. :(
This is all such a mind fxxk.
Still awaiting my full disclosure, now 7 months in.
Will read the article above
Christene Lozano says
Validating post, Vicki. I validate those reasons to stay with my therapy clients, too. In the past, it seems as though there was more shame for divorcing. More recently, it seems as though there is more shame for betrayed partners to stay. There are many understandable and complex layers as to why someone stays, and judging that person for staying only adds to their shame and could make it more difficult for them to share about their internal conflict to stay or go.
Christene Lozano, LMFT CSAT
Vicki Tidwell Palmer says
Thanks Christene, I firmly believe that no one can truly know what’s best for another person. They have their own story to walk through and live out, and ultimately it’s no one else’s business as long as they’re not violating someone’s boundaries!
In June 2017 I staged an intervention with my husband, after observing strange and disturbing behavior which lead to the discovery that he is a Sex Addict. We both sought counseling, he with a CSAT and me with a specialist in working with SA partners. We conducted a Formal Therapeutic Disclosure, where I learned of all of his acting out behaviors during our 17-year marriage. Also during therapy I learned about my “family of origin”, it explained so many things about myself and the decisions I made all of my life, including why I chose my husband. Bottom line is that we both chose each other for the wrong reasons. He suffered from childhood trauma and lack of familial connection/bonding and I suffered from low self-esteem caused by my own childhood issues. We discovered that we had/have nothing to build-on nor rebuild. We are currently separated, since November, and are moving forward with divorce. I am finally able to move on and move forward with my own life. I highly recommend that you seek out professional help. Vickie’s articles, blog and classes helped me tremendously!
Vicki Tidwell Palmer says
Hi Cindy, I’m so sorry to hear about your divorce. As you described, many partners discover along their healing journey the ways in which their family of origin trauma played a role in who they were attracted to or partnered with. Sending healing wishes to you.
Thank you Vicki, without your articles and webinars I would have been lost. I continue to read and learn from your posts.
It’s been 11 months since discovery of his 7-year long affair at work with his right hand person at work. Her daughter and her were like part of our family.
My husband refuses to let go of his affair partner from work since she is too integral to the growth plan of his work.
I have been to a partners intensive, done couples therapy where he denied there even was an affair, he finally admitted after I saw an incriminating email on his phone. He went to 5 sessions of individual therapy. He said the therapist said there is nothing wrong with him, he is not a sex addict.
Our fights were volatile and became more physical as I saw he wouldn’t keep any of my boundaries.
He said we should go to couples therapy. I felt hopeful. After much run around, we just had our 3rd session yesterday.
He refused a therapeutic separation, refused to cut down his workload to focus on working toward our marriage, refused to do polygraph if he did formal disclosure.
He has videos of me being volatile and says he will use it against me if I don’t let him see our kids everyday (ages 10,8.)
He says therapeutic separation is like divorce. He left the house today. I said I don’t feel comfortable with him seeing the kids everyday unless he continues individual therapy . He wants to start the divorce proceedings tomorrow if he doesn’t see the kids.
What is the best way to protect myself and the children? How should I handle him seeing the kids?
I feel like he is just going to get everything he wants and leave me in ruins.
Vicki Tidwell Palmer says
Hi Rains, this is a serious matter that deserves more guidance and support than can be offered here on the blog.
Since you are a member of Survive & Thrive Online Community, please ask your question inside the Community so that I and the other members can support you and give you feedback.