There's no getting around it: Infidelity can destroy a marriage. Not only does cheating bring on feelings of pain and betrayal, it undermines the trust upon which the relationship is built—and many couples have a hard time coming back from that. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), relationship therapists agree that extramarital affairs are one of the most damaging problems couples face, as well as one of the most difficult to treat. This same study from the APA states that 42 percent of all divorcees reported more than one extramarital sexual contact during the course of their marriages.
If you've experienced infidelity in your marriage, these statistics probably don't resonate with you as much as the negative emotions you endured on account of your partner's unfaithfulness. It’s this pain that often leads to divorce after infidelity—but it's not the only reason. Below, find five reasons infidelity can lead to divorce, plus tips to help you heal after an affair.
5 Reasons Infidelity Leads to Divorce
You're unable to trust your partner again: In an instant, the revelation of an affair turns your spouse—your most trusted confidant and partner—into a stranger. Who is this person who lied, deceived, and betrayed you? How can you believe anything they say? How can you be sure they won't have another affair? Trust is often the first casualty of infidelity, but it's also the cornerstone of any successful relationship. Unless the trust can be rebuilt, the marriage has no future.
The cheating reveals underlying issues within the marriage: When the affair is revealed and the relationship's issues become more pronounced, a chicken-and-egg dilemma often arises: Was the cheating the cause of the marital problems, or was it a manifestation of existing problems within the relationship? In either situation, the infidelity brings any and all issues to the surface—and they have to be addressed before the marriage can heal. For some couples, the problems are too deep-rooted or numerous to overcome. But for others, performing an honest evaluation of the marriage allows the partners to regroup and move forward with a clean slate.
You're in denial: To the faithful spouse, the affair may come as a total shock or surprise—so much so that they have a hard time accepting that it happened. Others may put blinders on and stay with the unhappy marriage because it's a more comfortable, secure option than confronting the cheating spouse and possibly getting a divorce. Even if both parties resign themselves to the arrangement, the dynamic is unlikely to be sustainable: Eventually, one spouse will decide to leave the marriage.
One spouse refuses to get help: If one partner has disengaged from the marriage, the other spouse's attempts at reconciliation are futile. The healing process is next to impossible unless both partners are equally willing to put in the necessary legwork to rehabilitate the marriage, whether that means attending couples' therapy or taking ownership of their missteps.
You let anger get the best of you. An affair attacks the very foundation of our day-to-day life, robbing us of our security and violating the vows we took when we married. It's natural to feel anger toward your spouse and the person with whom they cheated. Nevertheless, anger is one of the more destructive emotions you'll be working through, so it's important to try to keep it under control. Whether you want to save your marriage or move on after divorce, anger expressed in a negative manner will keep you from doing either.
Learn how to use the anger you feel in a constructive manner. It's a powerful emotion, but that vulnerable power can be re-focused on helping you heal.
You feel rejected: It's nearly impossible not to feel inadequate when you find that your spouse has chosen to fulfill their sexual and emotional needs via another person. Your self-esteem will probably hit an all-time low before you recover. Turn to your friends and family for strength, and don't define your desirability based on the fact your spouse cheated.
How to Heal After Infidelity
Everyone will react to the unfaithfulness of a spouse in an individual way. But it’s important to know that your feelings are normal and to understand that you may experience different emotions at different times. Try to surround yourself with people you love and trust, and find strength in their support. Understand that your spouse took the actions they did because they're struggling to solve their own personal problems. It's not necessarily your fault, and you're no less desirable or worthy of love because your spouse committed adultery.
If you've found yourself in this situation, have faith that time will eventually heal your wounds. If divorcing your partner is necessary for that to happen, then expect the range of emotions you feel to become wider and more nuanced. It's important that you develop solid coping skills to get you through not only the infidelity but also the divorce process.
Marin RA, Christensen A, Atkins DC. Infidelity and Behavioral Couple Therapy: Relationship Outcomes Over 5 Years Following Therapy. Couple Family Psychol Res Pract. 2014;3(1):1-12. doi:10.1037/cfp0000012