When Snow White Cheats
Fatal mistakes a husband makes after his wife’s affair—and how to avoid them.
Posted November 5, 2012 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader
Mirror, mirror on the wall: What gender is the most faithful of them all? Is it a fairytale that women—at least good ones—don’t cheat?
Like many of you, I was surprised to read that Snow White star Kristen Stewart was involved in a cheating scandal. As a marital therapist, I typically don’t put infidelity past anyone. However, Snow White was a great movie, and I bought into Kristen and enjoyed the way her character became an action hero or shero.
In retrospect, despite her character’s gladiator femme persona, I projected my fantasies about the purity of Snow White onto Stewart. I truly expected Stewart to be as pure as, well, Snow.
Not so much, we discovered!
Kristen Stewart has since issued a contrite apology in People Magazine, stating the following: "This momentary indiscretion has jeopardized the most important thing in my life, the person I love and respect the most, Rob. I love him, I love him, I'm so sorry.” They have also since made several appearances in public together, hand-in-hand.
However, this quick "kiss and make up" solution sounds all too familiar, and I know their relationship problems are far from over.
You just found out your girl—or worse, your wife—cheated. Ouch! "That cheating #@&%^ #%$@," you say. But much to your surprise, you still love her. What now? Leave, stay, forgive, forget—your heart was just ripped out, your sense of trust is long gone, and you are outraged. So, why do you find yourself unable to leave? It’s like Superman just discovered that glowing matter in the corner room is kryptonite. Why do I find myself so unexpectedly weak, you wonder? You always thought, “I’m a strong man and this could never happen to me; and if it did, I'd be out of there.”
There really isn’t a manual for how men deal with their wife or girlfriend’s infidelity. Typically, relationship advice is written for women; and, therefore, of limited use to men when it comes to infidelity as we process our pain differently–and have far poorer coping mechanisms, weaker support systems and are much less likely to be accepted by society as a “victim."
Fatal Mistakes Husbands Make After Their Wife’s Affair–and How to Avoid Them
Mistake #1: Feeling like her infidelity is a reflection of your manhood or lack thereof.
Traumatized, betrayed, emasculated and conflicted—your first instinct is to find a silver bullet that will end your pain and give you closure, and your short-comings are the best place to start. You think, “Maybe if I had been a better lover, not worked so hard, not given her the freedom to go out with the girls, made more money or purchased a bigger house, this wouldn’t have happened. I mean, why else would she cheat? Women, especially the good girls we love and put on a pedestal, don’t normally cheat—so it has to be my fault. Right?"
While your ability to look within is admirable, you are better served by asking what was going on in the relationship at the time of the affair. If you were both happy, you might simply want to accept you got a bad apple and leave. On the other hand, if you or both of you were unhappy, and unable to resolve your conflicts in a “win/win” fashion, then don’t make a hasty decision the apple of your eye may be salvageable. Be still! (Don’t get me wrong, you were betrayed and rightfully feel devastated and disillusioned.) I’m simply saying all isn’t lost. Her infidelity may be a symptom of a greater problem, and not the problem itself.
Now comes the hard part: Ask yourself if the problem can be fixed and if it's worth the effort to you.
You need to answer this question before you can decide whether you should you stay or go. Recognize that if you truly love(d) her, there will be a civil war between your heart and your head. Weakness isn’t why you can’t leave. You can’t leave because she isn’t just a cheater, she also has many traits you adore and love, or you wouldn’t have fallen for her. That’s the confusing part, and it will take time to resolve this conflict, despite your pride.
Mistake #2: Feeling like you are alone. It is estimated that roughly 30-60 percent of all married spouses will engage in infidelity at some point during their marriage—and those stats include women, too!
You are not alone! As the legendary comedian Richard Pryor once said, “You aren’t a man until you get your heart broken.” While I dismissed those comments in my youth, they came to mean much more to me as I began to experience life firsthand.
So, what is the truth about deception? A study conducted in 2011 at Indiana University suggests women may have closed the infidelity gender gap as 23 percent of men and 19 percent of women reported having had an affair. These findings contradict the long-held belief that men are significantly more likely to cheat than women, and are even more striking when you consider researchers have long noted a gender reporting bias whereby men generally add to their real number of affairs; women subtract.
Mistake #3: Rushing back into a relationship out of fear instead of taking time apart to figure out how you really feel.
Taking time to clear your head and get in touch with your feelings is wise. Yet most men rush back into a relationship prematurely out of fear that she will cheat again if they aren’t there to stop her. This usually backfires. Instead of preventing her from desiring someone else, you typically make a bad situation worse by becoming an undesirable jealous manic, or an unbearable detective–a persona you no doubt took on to avoid being hurt and deceived again.
While your pain is justified, it’s driving her further away. Even worse, it could increase the likelihood of her having yet another affair. People have an amazing tendency over time to rationalize the situation they put others in, while vividly recalling their angry reaction to it.
That said, take some time and see if she is even worth it to you. Both you and her need to really think about the causes and long-term consequences of her affair–namely the reason underlying the betrayal and disrespect, and the deceit associated with the affair and the cover-up. You and she may deserve better.
Mistake #4: ”Bottling up” or denying your feelings. Be real! You are deeply hurt, betrayed, disillusioned and likely devastated. Find someone to share and process those feelings.
Face it, men definitely have what Bishop T.D. Jakes calls "he-motions." When our spouses or girlfriends step out, our whole psyche takes a huge hit and we can be much more emotional than women. Women have a leg up on us when it comes to infidelity, as they start out with more realistic expectations about the likelihood of a man betraying them. They have seen it happen to girlfriends, sisters or aunts and maybe even their own mother far too many times to be shocked.
On the other hand, men tend to feel embarrassed and are far more likely to hide the pain of being cheated on by a woman they loved out of a sense of pride. Put another way, when men cheat it’s because we are flawed; when women cheat it’s also because the man is flawed. As such, we are far more likely to get blindsided and find ourselves completely isolated and unprepared to cope.
Men are much less likely to have a good support system. Your boys will likely say, “let’s have a drink”; “just leave her”; or ask, “were you handling yours?” or better yet, “what’s wrong with you for dealing with that crap?” All of those are valid questions, however, just because she cheated doesn’t mean your love instantly died. As Sade once sang, “Love is stronger than pride.”
Ironically, female friends—assuming you even have any—aren’t always the best in these situations either. As supportive and patient as they may be when their sister needs help with her cheating man, they are much more likely to demand you “man up” before long and either put your foot down or leave. Both genders will definitely make it clear before long that you should quit being a victim. Men just aren’t given a pass when it comes to anything that resembles emotional weakness—at least not for long.
Mistake #5: Don’t forgive her—but stay. (Her cheating was painful. Not forgiving it could be excruciating. The heart you save will be your own.)
I recognize it may seem unfair, but it is almost impossible to love or reignite the flame when someone is angry at you. Despite her feelings of guilt and regret, she won’t be turned on by your prolonged rage and outbursts. Eventually, you will have to choose between your anger and your love, marriage or family.
Anger and love are conflicting, irrational, and even deceptive emotions. They will convince you she is so happy you stayed that she will wait patiently forever for you to make peace with your pain. That’s not completely true.
As a rule, men don’t handle emotional pain very well. Rather, we are much more likely to “check out” or “act out." If you “check out," she will likely grow increasingly insecure about the prospect of your forgiving her. While you this may initially give you the upper hand, the tables could eventually turn. Like it or not, insecure people make insecure decisions, and that could invite more of the very thing you are trying to avoid— pain .
Alternatively, if, like some men, you try to be strong and may act like it’s no big deal, you are much more likely to “act out." Your anger is still lurking beneath the surface, and one day it could resurface and explode when you least expect it. Yes, you are justifiably angry. No, you won’t repeatedly be forgiven for doing irreparable damage during those outbursts, including verbal or even physical abuse.
Angry sex can be a real deal-breaker, too, as intimacy becomes paired with negative feelings. Talk about a turn-off. Now she’s rejecting you because intimacy with you equals pain instead of joy. You are doing more damage to your relationship than another man ever could, and you may be leading her back into another man’s arms in the process.
Mistake #6: Not getting professional help. It is imperative that you accept your limitations.
Bottom line: If you decide to stay in the relationship, you can’t handle this one by yourself. To forgive (and be forgiven) and hear (and be heard by) her, you will likely need the help of a skilled professional. Things will only get worse if staying in the marriage or relationship becomes signing up for another painful, unfulfilled tour of duty. You will need to answer some important questions, and develop new skills to identify and meet each other’s needs, and resolve conflicts in a “win/win” versus “win/lose” fashion to develop a truly healthy, fulfilling marriage or relationship.
You will also have to recognize while painful, the affair was most likely the symptom that brought you into therapy and not the problem itself. Face it: When a woman cheats, it’s almost always a result of “something else." Either you got a bad apple, or you weren’t making her a priority, there was a lack of intimacy, you neglected her needs and the signals saying they were unmet, you took her for granted, she got revenge for your affair or inappropriateness (real or imagined) ... something went way wrong, and it needs to be addressed.
To truly work through these challenges, you are going to have to see and accept that you played at least some role in the infidelity. (Please understand that I am not saying she was right to cheat; she was wrong and shouldn’t have resorted to infidelity.) But if you decide to stay, you are going to have to figure out why things got so bad that she cheated. If you truly think everything was perfect and she stepped out, then leave because either you are right and she is just a bad apple, or you aren’t in touch with her enough for it to work. Either way, your relationship won’t have a chance to succeed.
You played some role in your problem ... even if it was merely not recognizing there was a problem, becoming defensive or being in denial about that problem. That said, it’s been my experience that both partners have played a major role in the deterioration of the relationship when it gets to the point that infidelity is involved. Simply blaming her for not being happy or lacking a moral compass is a recipe for disaster. To succeed you both will have to change the behaviors that alienated each other in the first place. Additionally, you will need to know she has no contact with the person she had an affair with (or any other threat), and is committed to fidelity and talking through your problems; she will need to know that you will remain committed to forgiving her, and making changes so that you hear and meet her needs.
Finally, I have frequently seen affairs make marriages and relationships stronger, as therapy helps them to have some adult conversations and develop the skills to resolve the problems that would otherwise undermine them. I hope you are able to work through your challenges and get the love you both deserve. While Snow White now has a wart or two, life still has fairytale endings and “it’s never too late to live happily ever after."