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‘We chose not to blow up our life’: readers on surviving infidelity

What counts as infidelity varies from couple to couple and how they choose to handle it is also unique. A drunken kiss on the dancefloor might be innocuous to some; for others, a relationship-ending catastrophe.

How readers chose to approach their straying partners varied dramatically depending on the length and nature of their relationship and what shape the outside encounter took. If families and mutual assets were involved – and other relationship factors were stable – readers tended to double down on commitments, opting to frame such transgressions as an opportunity for growth and refreshment. And the further down the road couples had travelled together, the more likely they would stay together post-infidelity.

Regardless of the specifics, readers agreed that responding to the sexual wanderings of a partner is highly personal. While kneejerk reactions are often driven by ego and social expectations, a little bit of perspective (and counselling) goes a long way.

‘Despite it all, I’ve never doubted my husband’s love’

I didn’t discover my husband’s affair until 15 years after it started way back during what I suppose was his “40s crisis”. He denies it was a “double life” since the relationship never included dinners, or weekends or evenings together, but it’s still very difficult to come to terms with.

A few months after I found out, I met a man myself. It didn’t last, but that helped a lot: I came to understand the classic positive side effects of an affair (boosting libido between the couple, for instance). And now my husband is jealous of my affair; despite his previous stand that there should be no cause for it, he now wears the shoe on the other foot.

Despite it all, I’ve never doubted my husband’s love and neither of us want to split up. I think talking about it is good, but not too much. We have separate therapists for that. We couldn’t have got through it without them.

‘I’m a better person coming out the other side of this’

A few years into my marriage, my wife was suddenly protective over her phone and spending a lot more time on it. She was not freely sharing details of where she’d been or where she was going, and was withdrawing from our relationship and closing herself off physically and emotionally. To be honest, I’d displayed some of these signs in past relationships. I knew what was happening, but it took a long time (and an ultimatum) for her to admit it.

When she finally came clean I could have simply played the victim, but I just felt that this wasn’t frivolity or my wife being inconsiderate. I knew this behaviour was out of character, so there had to be things causing it. I wanted to understand what they were – even if some of those things were about me and my behaviour.

To be fair, I wasn’t the best husband after we were married. I had a habit of becoming comfortable, stubborn and probably a bit dull. Although we both agree that perhaps it would have been less painful for all this to come out through talking or therapy, it is what it is.

It’s very strange to say, but I’m a better person coming out the other side of this. We both are. As painful as infidelity can be, there are opportunities to learn and grow, but only if both partners are completely committed to it.

‘Move through the pain. And have a few secrets of your own’

After more than a decade of marriage I found out my husband – who I trusted implicitly – had been having multiple emotional affairs, some of which had become physical.

There were many sleepless nights, hours of talking and counselling. He said he chose to have affairs because there were things missing in our relationship. Given the chaos of our blended family and the amount of time I spent working away from home, I can understand why he felt that way.

While my husband’s behaviour was certainly less than ideal, we chose not to blow up our life because of infidelity. We were at a stage in our life where if we deconstructed our family and family home, we would have to start all over again. We have a strong friendship and brilliant communication, and we worked hard to save our relationship. Throughout it all he never made me feel bad, even when my behaviour was not as mature or even-keeled as it could have been.

I was extremely angry for a very long time. But eventually the pain passes and the hurtful details become mundane facts. It’s human nature to desire others, have work wives or work husbands, crushes, but relationship success lies in having strong boundaries and choosing not to cross the line.

Even though those lines were blurred for a time, being great friends is what helped us move forward together. Monogamy is hard. Honesty is hard. Esther Perel’s The State of Affairs, Conscious Uncoupling by Katherine Woodward Thomas, and When Men Behave Badly and The Evolution of Desire saved our marriage.

We read those together and were able to be literally on the same page, even if we don’t necessarily agree with everything on said pages. Growing together is crucial. Feel the pain. Move through the pain. And have a few secrets of your own too.

‘Work it out gently for yourselves’

I think the language commonly used around “cheating” and “betrayal” makes it much harder for people to deal with than it should be. If people could start from the premise that an occasional sexual wander seems to be in the range of human nature and that a good relationship is so much more than sexual possessiveness, people might stand a better chance of sustaining what really matters.

I’ve been in a long-term gay relationship for nearly 40 years and we have both, albeit rarely, become involved with others. Neither of us wants to know the details.

For my partner and I, sex isn’t the main focus of our relationship, so why would we afford a rare fling the power to ruin the rich life of shared interests, social groups and family that we share?

It’s so important not to let the way others frame these things corner you into a state of obligatory hysteria. If a partner strays I’d advise working it out gently for yourselves. It helps if you don’t run about telling people you know. If you need to talk things through, use a confidential independent counsellor. It’s nobody’s business but your own.

Quotes have been edited for structure, clarity and length.