How Cheating on Your Spouse Can Affect a Divorce

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Whether there was one event that ruptured your relationship or you've had many years of unhappiness, contemplating divorce can be overwhelming. As a legal procedure, the process delves lives with a fine-tooth comb, looking at finances, belongings, and even emotions in order to determine who deserves what in the split. When one of you has an affair, the entire process becomes that much more heated. There are many negative consequences of cheating on a spouse, including how it can impact an already contentious divorce.

Types of Divorce

There are different types of divorce, and each one has its own emotional and psychological ramifications. A bilateral agreement divorce is the ideal scenario, and the couple is often able to come to a mutual agreement and settle affairs amicably. A unilateral divorce, which usually results when a party is having an affair, is filled with more upheaval. The one choosing to leave has had time to think about, reflect upon and weigh the options, and emotionally divorce themselves from the marriage. The spouse who is caught by surprise may feel abandoned. There is an imbalance of power, with the one leaving being the one in control of most aspects of whether or not the marriage will continue. 

In a bilateral agreement divorce, both spouses are unhappy and conclude that they will be happier being apart. In a unilateral divorce, only one spouse makes the decision to divorce.

How an Affair Affects Divorce

Add an affair to an already complicated divorce and the emotional intensity is compounded. When a third party enters a marriage, the cheating spouse may attempt to justify their behavior. Denial of any wrongdoing means shifting the blame, and it can sometimes get dumped onto the faithful spouse.

A spouse who engages in an affair may be dealing with feelings of guilt which then motivates them to demonize the faithful spouse in an attempt to justify their affair. "Quite often, the men say it's because their partner has lost interest in them, sexually. Women most often blame a lack of emotional intimacy for why they suddenly became erotically entangled with another man," says Sheri Meyers, author of Chatting or Cheating.

The cheater may accuse their spouse of negative and unforgivable traits and behaviors; the faithful spouse is portrayed as an inadequate partner, which left the cheating spouse no choice but to find an adequate replacement. They may say things such as, "I was forced into marrying you" or "You've never loved me the way I needed to be loved" or, "I have lived in hell for years." They will say anything as long as it will enable them to come across as the victim of the marriage and be fully justified in abandoning their spouse.

An affair complicates a divorce if the cheating spouse or the betrayed spouse chooses to punish the other by financial withholding, or worse, fighting over child custody. One of you may begin to believe that the other is not entitled to receive any future benefits from them, sometimes not even those allowed by law.

Though you're both likely to blame each other for an affair, it's likely you both share some culpability. "Since a relationship is the creation of what two people put into it, when cheating happens, both partners must take a serious look at their own responsibility and contribution to the downfall of their closeness," Meyers says.

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