What Happens after the Affair?
Infidelity: What Happens after the Affair? Many Cheating Spouses Lose Interest
For many in the initial stages of an affair, the romance is enticing, but once the the roses die, many cheating spouses become disenchanted by the reality. This reality is often a hard wake-up call that leaves all parties — the cheater, the betrayed spouse, and the new love interest — heartbroken.
“The weak person wants both the stability of their spouse, plus the excitement of the affair,” says Laurie Puhn, a private practice divorce law and mediation attorney from Manhattan as well as the author of Instant Persuasion: How to Change Your Words to Change Your Life. According to Puhn, this weakness can carry into the new relationship if not dealt with after the split.
Puhn has seen many divorces and of the ones that end, few spouses are sorry for cheating. When people start to feel hopeless in their marriage or in their relationship, they start to believe that the rules don’t apply to them. ” Certainly,” she says, “this is true of cheating spouses. It shows a lack of courage. The most courageous things a person can do in a marriage is say ‘we have a problem.'”
As someone who works with divorcing couples, Puhn says it is possible, but difficult, for a marriage to stay together once a betrayal is revealed. “To most people, a marriage with a betrayer is not a marriage,” she says. “Some people stake everything on loyalty and honesty and it is not repairable.”
Puhn says a relationship, even a marriage, can rise from the ashes of divorce — and people can fall in love with their lover, but that kind of relationship is already starting behind. “When someone is willing to cheat, you automatically know one character trait of theirs: a lack of emotional courage.”
Tess Stimson, author of the Infidelity Chain and Adultery Club, two novels that deal with infidelity, knows all too well the pain of ending up with a cheater. At 23, she fell in love with a 40-year-old married man. “He was technically still married, but they were living separately,” she says.
She fell in love. But soon after, his wife broke up with her boyfriend and wanted to start anew. “He was obviously still very much entangled,” she says. “The right thing to do would have been to walk away and let them sort things out.”
Because she was young, Stimson decided to stay. When he finally untangled himself from his wife, the damage to his new relationship was already done. “We did get married,” she says. “But we did so with this shadow hanging over us.”
The first years of Stimson’s marriage were consumed by his divorce from his previous wife. “We spent so much time sorting out the details of the divorce,” she says. The divorce was his second; something Stimson says should have tipped her off in the first place. But it did not and she supported him through the years of battling his ex-wife while trying to raise the family she and her new husband had in the interim.
‘When you marry someone with a past, it takes the gloss off everything,” Stimson says. “There were no firsts in our marriage.” Her babies, her wedding, their home, none of them were new for him, she says, likening it to living in a home that someone else has decorated entirely. “There was a whole history I had to fit in with there. Being a second — or third “— wife is not easy.”
It was in the midst of so many of these issues that Stimson discovered that her husband had a new woman on the side. “My brother overheard a suspicious phone call,” says Stimson, who sat on the news for a year without revealing that she knew. But once she met someone new herself, she told her husband the truth.
Although initially very painful, the lessons from her ex-husband’s extremely messy second divorce were not ignored. “We knew how bad it could be,” she says. “We did not want that for our children. He did have an affair, but time heals an awful lot. At the end of the day, we now have a very cordial relationship.” Stimson says she does not regret marrying her husband. “I got a lot of wonderful things out of it,” she says. But she does regret some of the circumstances.
“I made a choice to trust him. You can’t make someone be faithful so you just have to take a leap of faith and trust,” she says. Still, Stimson is not sure that she believes men can change. “A man who cheats with you will cheat on you. I think that is very true.”
Stimson understands mistresses who choose to marry like herself and like the one her ex-husband had during their marriage. But that understanding does not mean that she believes it is the correct choice. “One has to ask oneself, ‘Do I really want someone who has proven themselves to be a liar and a cheat?'”
“In most cases, affairs are something we fall into,” says Stimson, who wrote her novels with the idea that affairs are genuine tragedy. “Having been in both positions, I can now understand all the points.”
For Matt Titus, a relationship expert and dating coach in New York City as well as the author of Why Hasn’t He Called?, his serial cheating in his first marriage was not indicative of the person he has ultimately become. “I married my college sweetheart, never having slept with her,” Titus says.
On their wedding night, he knew that their sex life was never going to be what he wanted so he became a serial adulterer. When he finally told his wife the truth, it was in order to be with his mistress. Within months, he had realized his mistake. “Once the illicitness of the affair was gone, so was the passion,” he says. “I ended up begging my wife to come back to me. But it was too late.”
Now, he is relieved it was too late because he says it was only through his alone time that he was able to change. Had Titus stayed and married his former mistress or his ex-wife had taken him back, he says he never would have learned the lessons he needed to make future relationships work.
Now happily married, Titus says it took a lot of searching to find what he was looking for in a mate. Now that he has, he has no intention of cheating ever again. “It’s just not worth it. I have learned the necessary ingredients to making a marriage work,” says Titus, who says he finds his wife as physically attractive as she is mentally — a key component to monogamy. According to Titus, people can change and the saying “once a cheater, always a cheater” is not always the truth.
Paul Davis, a love coach and minister as well as the author of 14 books, including Adultery 101, also says it is possible for people to change and even for an affair to turn into a good marriage. “We all learn in life from suffering,” Davis says. “We do evolve and it takes time as we go through different seasons in our lives.”
Davis says, like Titus, that many marriages happen for the wrong reasons, such as familial pressure, pregnancy, or desperation. “There can be neglect or any other innumerable issues that could push someone into cheating,” Davis says. “We all have needs.” Although Davis believes that people are capable of the change it takes to embark on a new marriage with their lover after an affair, he is not sure that is a likely scenario. “The person on the other side has usually enjoyed their fling,” says Davis, who has seen this situation play out in many people he has counseled. “But the last things these people would want to do is get married to someone who has just cheated on their spouse.”
According to Davis, an affair could never be an accurate representation of what an eventual long-term relationship would look like. “It is an illusion many times,” Davis says. “Everyone projects their best image when they are not committed and once you go through the day to day things — the laundry, the bills — things change. A lot of people marry a frame, but not the picture inside. Romance is simply infatuation, but something in us always longs for more.”
This article was contributed by Sasha Brown-Worsham, a freelance writer in Boston, Massachusetts. Susan has written for the Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, Technology Review, Babble.com, and many other publications.