Written by: Caitlin Edwards
I see this frequently: one member of a couple has broken an agreement in the relationship and now one (or both) members of the couple are uncertain as to whether they should stay in the relationship or leave. This can be agonizing—you may struggle with what seems like moment by moment indecision regarding what you desire your future of your relationship to be. Although ambivalence can be difficult, ambivalence also indicates that there is a part of you that is still invested in the relationship. Ambivalence occurs in two stages and leads to two distinct questions. One, are you still invested in working on the relationship? Two, do you want to stay in a relationship with your partner?
Some therapists recommend waiting six to twelve weeks after learning about infidelity to decide whether you want to leave or to stay in the relationship. In that time, counseling can be helpful in exploring your thoughts and feelings regarding your ambivalence about your relationship. If both partners are feeling ambivalent about working on the relationship, both individual counseling and couples counseling may be appropriate.
With your counselor, or by yourself, it is worthwhile considering several aspects of your life and your relationship to work through your ambivalence. One exercise is to envision your future without your partner. How would your life be different five years from now, ten years from now? If you have a family, how would their lives be different? How would leaving impact your current friendships?
It is also important to reflect upon the past. This may be difficult to do through an objective lens, but the objective evaluation of your relationship is important. In your past, what were the good times? If you left, what would you miss about your partner? What have the two of your overcome in your past? Do you love your partner? (It is important to distinguish that you may not like your partner currently).
When contemplating whether you want to work on the relationship, it is important to determine if you are ready, willing, and capable of bravely looking at how the two of you got here. Can you ask and answer the question of what was happening in your relationship that set the stage for infidelity? In my experience, simply moving on and attempting to forget the infidelity occurred does not allow the two of you to fundamentally understand what was occurring in your relationship prior to the affair. Once these dynamics are understood, then it is possible for partners to move through the pain to a place of forgiveness and healing.
For partners learning of the affair, it is important to honestly ask yourself if infidelity is a larger pattern of cheating and lying. It is also conducive to notice if your partner is willing to be accountable and willing to deeply understand your hurt.
For partners committing the infidelity, it is important to ask yourself what a relationship would look like with both your partner and your affair partner. The purpose is not to compare, but to honestly ask yourself what it would be like to be in a relationship with each person five years from now. If you have children, what would it be like to raise your children with your affair partner? What will the relationship with your affair be like if the relationship is no longer forbidden and secret? What are the qualities that attracted you to your affair partner? Are those qualities that you want in a long-term partner?
All these questions are worth exploring. It is important to allow the ambivalence to be worked through, and both individual and couples counseling can be helpful in exploring what it means to stay or go.
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