Although not the norm, marriage can survive infidelity

Can a marriage survive an affair?

My husband and I moved here a year ago, after my husband had an affair with a co-worker, in hopes of repairing our relationship. My husband's father cheated on his wife, as did his grandfather cheat on his grandmother, and the list goes on from there. My husband was a witness to this behavior when his father would take him on a father and son camping trip and his dad would pick up girls there instead.

Do men inherit this type of behavior? Is it genetic? Our marriage was having a tough time, and both of us accept responsibility for it, and he says he's very sorry for all the hurt he has caused me and is willing to do whatever he can to make it up to me and this family.

He now claims to realize what he has. I have never at any time, good or bad, wanted my marriage to end. But now he is in charge of about 50 women and I am quite honestly fearful that this is just too much temptation! I have no friends, do not work, and have way too much time on my hands to think of how bad things could go. What, if any, advice could you offer?

-- L.C.


Yes, a marriage can survive an affair. Is it the normative outcome of an affair? No -- not in my experience. Affairs are devastating, exhausting events. Betrayal is unique among marital injuries. Covenant bonds, once severed, can be reconnected, but never restored to their previous state of innocence.

In most cases, the blow to the ego is mortal. Even when every fiber of our being desires preserving the marriage, many people find it impossible to ever again open their hearts to the offending partner.

Some couples separate more or less immediately. Others agonize and rail for a few months, then separate. For me, the most tragic outcome are those couples who don't divorce; rather, they walk one another to the grave in bitterness, guilt and recrimination. I'm saying that, if surviving an affair means merely not divorcing, this is not an outcome I'd wish upon anyone.

But surviving, truly healing, and then thriving? Thriving at a level of trust, passion, authenticity and integrity heretofore unknown in the marriage? Yes, it's possible.

There are couples out there living that very story. These couples have done the work. They have done the suffering. And they made it.

Do men inherit this behavior? I don't like the metaphor, because it softens the necessary edge of radical responsibility. Besides, it depends on what you mean. Is homosapien monogamous by biological design? I don't think so. Now, don't overreact. Neither are we peace-loving or philanthropic by biological design. The work of becoming fully human includes recognizing, containing and redirecting all manner of base instincts.

Or, by inheriting, perhaps you wonder if some men are psychologically, socially and culturally programmed in such a way as to make adultery virtually predetermined?

First, let's admit the obvious: Everyone's deck is stacked by the particular socio-cultural milieu in which our psychological formation takes place. But, having said that, I think you'll find not much usefulness or solace in the idea that your husband was doomed on your wedding day -- destined to be unable to keep his promises or manage his body parts.

Can marriage survive an affair? L.C., yours is surviving! The most present threat now, it seems, is your anxiety and fear. He's in charge of 50 women. Probably just too tempting for him.

L.C., don't you see your own temptation? You remain tempted to see him as, well, rather pathetic. As someone who just doesn't have the competence to be responsible for fidelity when in authority over 50 women.

How about 17 women? Would he be able to make consistently good decisions about not being naked around folks he's not married to, then? How about nine women? Four?

Do you see my point? Your temptation is to think that your marriage can only survive if you take some large share of responsibility for your husband's fidelity. Makes sense, especially if you're committed to the idea that men are hapless doofwads when it comes to managing their sexual instincts.

There is nothing you can do to make your spouse faithful.

Take all that energy, L.C., and invest it in becoming the sort of mate that only a complete moron would ever again risk losing. Stop focusing on his promises to you, and begin making (and keeping) some radical promises to yourself.

In the meantime, here are two good resources:

Originally published in View News, June 16, 2009.