With Love and Gratitude

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Deciding to Go or Stay When Infidelity Tarnishes Marriage

Try to maintain positive illusions about your spouse during good times and bad.

We all know the couple with the fairy-tale marriage. He is adorning of her in public. She often sports new sparkles. He is also a good father. Their marriage is so perfect you that often asked yourself if it was too good to be true. Then one day you realize -- it was. When someone is deceptive, just a glance and women’s intuition can turn a world upside down.

For many couples it happens unpredictably—the way he looks at another woman, the hushed phone call. Once reality sets in, there are many scenarios as to how women deal with the decision to go or stay.  Here are 3 thoughts, plus a longer creative approach—the risks and benefits list.

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Three thoughts with regard to infidelity

  • Talk quietly, rationally, and thoughtfully with a husband or lover.  Explain that you feel as if there is a problem and ask what the two of you might do to work together towards a solution.
  • Seek the counsel of a professional with expertise in saving marriages.  I have often interviewed Michele Weiner-Davis, who is sensible, compassionate, and her work is award winning. Divorce Busting®
  • Forgive—so that you can either stay in the marriage with integrity of leave with dignity.

A thought-through solution

In the wake of the Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes divorce—which she kept secret until the denouement—I began reviewing creative alternatives women had discussed with me regarding divorce.  This particular story reminds me of the work of researchers who suggest maintaining positive illusions.

An attorney who had taken time off to follow the Mommy-track realized that she had put on a bit too much weight to fit into her pencil skirted suits, and she had let her gray strands multiply. Nonetheless she didn’t want to feel like the suspicious, rejected wife and so she took control by:

  • Reading her old journals to remind herself of their happy times together.
  • Deciding that in the past she had been more sensitive, less critical, and had a better sense of humor.
  • Turning herself into a new person by starting with her appearance – she cut her black tresses to became a short-haired curly blond.
  • Compiling a risks and benefits list to help her decide if she should go or stay.

Benefits of staying in the marriage

  • He makes me feel special both at home and in public.
  • Our daughter adores him.
  • He is generous and handles all of our financial issues.
  • Unlike my father, he speaks kindly to me, and makes me laugh.

The risks of leaving him

  • He can be very rigid, and we could end up with a very messy divorce.
  • He spends a lot of working time cross country and if I leave him, he will want our daughter with him on long holidays.
  • He is very attractive and despite a divorce decree, he might expose our daughter to too many different women.
  • Because I’m a lawyer, a judge may decide that I can and should go back to work and hire a nanny to care for our 2 year-old.

Her decision because she loved him

The most significant factor—she loved him and wanted to save their marriage. As such, she scheduled dinner for them at a favorite restaurant and before the evening ended she gave him two choices and one ultimatum.

She explained that she believed he was having an affair, but she loved him very much – and without letting him interrupt she said:

  • "We can go into counseling together."
  • "Or we can decide that we will never again discuss the situation and go on with our lives living in a fairy tale bubble."
  • The ultimatum, which he rather admired, "If I ever discover you cheating again, I will unlease the full fury of my law firm on you and make certain this divorce is handled in a very public way."

Her story is unusual, but in fact 10 years later the marriage is still intact and she never again discussed that moment of infidelity—even with me.  

Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., in a recent column here talked of the 12 ties that bind. Not surprisingly this is number one.

Thinking positively about your partner. Having positive thoughts about your partner means that you focus on the good, not the bad, in your partner’s personal qualities and character. Ruminating about the things that bother you can only lead you to magnify the small foibles which will make your partner even more irritating to you than you would otherwise feel.  People in good relationships engage in “sentiment override,” meaning that they remember more of the favorable than the unfavorable experiences they’ve shared together. The 12 Ties that Bind Long-Term Relationships

Maintain  positive illusions about a spouse.  

From the research of Marcel Zentner, Ph.D., of the University of Geneva: "Men and women who continue to maintain that their partner is attractive, funny, kind, and ideal for them in just about every way remain content with each other." How to make love last.  

Also it is important to be mindful of your partner's unique, genuine qualities and stay in touch with these during happy as well as difficult times.

Copyright 2012 Rita Watson/  All Rights Reserved

Rita Watson, MPH, is an Associate Fellow at Yale's Ezra Stiles College and a columnist for The Providence Journal.

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