When a woman’s partner is unfaithful to her, it can very well be the most painful experience of her life. Emotionally and mentally she is reduced to rubble. Her entire reality is ripped out from beneath her feet and her life is changed forever. What she believed about love, about truth, about her partner, and sometimes even what she thought she knew about the substance of life itself, is brought into question.
Aside from the pain of betrayal, being cheated on finds a woman in a very isolated place.
Embarrassed, she doesn’t share with just anyone about what happened to her. After all, how could she not have known that her partner was being dishonest? She must have known. What was she doing or not doing that drove her man to ‘stray’?
Protective of a partner she may still love, she continues to keep quiet. It’s nobody’s business after all.
On one hand, some support would be nice. But when a woman shares with her friend that her partner has cheated, the first reaction is the question, asked with incredulity, “Are you gonna stay?”
The decision to leave is immediately understood. “Once a cheater, always a cheater.” That phrase is thrown around a lot. And leaving a relationship after infidelity is a truly valid choice.
But so is deciding to stay.
Sometimes a man makes a mistake. Sometimes a person can be so filled with self-loathing that they make self-destructive decisions that cause damage not only to themselves, but collaterally to their partner. And sometimes that man is remorseful and does what it takes to save his relationship. So his partner forgives him, and they work together to rebuild their relationship and move on. There is a lot to be said about forgiveness. But it is not easy.
Here is the crux of rebuilding after infidelity: the wounded partner has to do their own inner work to heal from what happened. In order to do this completely, the offending partner has to give her space and time to do so. Both people need to handle the other with grace and patience.
Esther Perel, a renowned marriage therapist summed it up really well when she said (I’m paraphrasing) that when a partner is unfaithful, that marriage is now over. And the choice is either to leave and start a new life apart, or to rebuild the marriage together from the ground up.
When a couple decides to rebuild, if they are willing to be honest, and walk through the fire together, their new relationship can be better than the one that was destroyed.
Here’s the thing. Women in this situation need support, not judgement. It’s a lonely enough place to be already. As a friend, if you find a woman you know in this situation, listen to her, encourage her. But please don’t berate or judge her. We all need to move away from this patriarchal idea that women are just overgrown little girls who are too naïve to know what is best for themselves. I guarantee you that whatever a woman decides for herself and her relationship, she has her reasons.
If a woman has been cheated on and she decides to leave, help her move. Be supportive company when she needs to vent. Take her out sometimes and keep her mind off of the situation.
In the same way, if she decides to stay, listen to her, encourage her to heal where she needs to.
Be a friend and not an enemy (or worse, a frenemy), because right now, she has enough to deal with.
To the women who leave. I see you. I support you. I’ll never judge you. I hope your new life is beautiful and hopeful and true to yourself.
To the women who stay. I see you. I support you. I’ll never judge you. I hope the relationship you rebuild is rooted in honesty, grace, and integrity. I hope that your new life with your partner is safe and real and so very much better than the one that has been laid to rest.