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When to Walk Away After Infidelity: 7 Signs It Might Be Time To Leave

About Brette Sember, JD | Divorce.com

By Brette Sember, JD Updated Mar 06, 2023

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This article covers signs that it might be time to leave your unfaithful spouse.

Cheating is undeniably one of the most difficult things you and your spouse could ever face. If your marriage has been through it, you’re all too familiar with the anxiety, anger, and devastation that often follow.

This whirlwind of negative emotions isn’t helped by the fact that it’s sometimes really hard to figure out when to walk away after infidelity.

In fact, that’s a difficult call to make in all kinds of marital betrayals. After all, infidelity doesn’t always look like a plain old adulterous affair. Maybe your spouse had an emotional affair, or you’ve been a victim of financial infidelity.

Whatever you’re going through, there are big decisions to be made. Divorce is a scary prospect, but sometimes it’s just the right thing to do. In fact, you may even still have love for your spouse, but is love enough?

Let’s talk about seven specific signs that you might be better off moving on from a cheater instead of sticking it out.

Most Common Signs to Walk Away After Infidelity

These are seven signs that it might be time to walk away from your relationship if infidelity has occurred:

  1. Your partner doesn’t apologize
  2. Your partner won’t agree to counseling
  3. Your partner doesn’t show a desire to put in work on your relationship
  4. Your partner is still in contact with the object of their infidelity
  5. Your partner doesn’t seem to commit to your relationship
  6. Your partner frequently lies
  7. Your partner won’t take responsibility and instead blames other people

1. Your Partner Doesn't Apologize

If your spouse or partner betrays you this way and then refuses to express remorse, they’re basically telling you that the marriage is over.

Even if they don’t think cheating is such a grave relationship sin, your spouse should still be concerned enough about your feelings to apologize.

Words are free, and if they can’t find the will to say they’re sorry, you have no reason to believe that your relationship will get any better in the future.

In this situation, you have to protect yourself and if they aren’t sorry for cheating in the past, the behavior is likely to continue.

2. Your Spouse Won’t Agree to Counseling

When it comes to saving your relationship, marriage counseling is your single greatest resource. If your partner refuses to try it, you have a big problem on your hands.

It’s important to keep in mind that there are reasons that cheaters avoid couples therapy besides just apathy. Many people (especially men) aren’t used to talking about their feelings, but there may be other issues at stake.

For instance, if your cheating spouse is religious and believes that adultery goes against God’s word, they might feel it’s trivial to talk to a therapist before they get right with God.

In that situation, your partner may need to seek spiritual counseling as well as marital counseling.

If you’ve gotten to the bottom of it, but your unfaithful spouse still won’t budge, then your hope of getting through this rough patch is greatly diminished.

We encourage you to look into individual counseling for yourself regardless of whether or not your spouse will attend. Betrayal is a huge deal to most people, and it’s crucial that you take care of yourself whether or not your marriage ends.

3. Your Partner Doesn’t Show a Desire to Put in Work on Your Relationship

Maybe your spouse agreed to attend therapy with you, but you can tell that they’re only giving it lip service. Even the best therapist can’t help a couple recover from cheating if neither party is willing to open up.

If you’re stuck with a spouse who has been going through the motions since their affair came to light, then it’s probably time to get unstuck. Divorce is often the only option in this case.

4. Your Partner is Still in Contact With The Object of Their Infidelity

This scenario is the epitome of adding insult to injury. Your partner owns up to an affair, insists it’s over, and then thinks that their (supposedly) former lover is an appropriate friend.

Even if the affair really is over, this behavior demonstrates an incredible lack of respect for you and your feelings, and you shouldn’t stand for it. You’ve been traumatized by this affair, and you shouldn’t have to be reminded of it constantly.

Calling it quits with your spouse because they maintain contact with the person they cheated with doesn’t make you jealous; it makes you sane.

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5. Your Partner Doesn’t Seem Committed to the Relationship

Since their infidelity came to light, your partner may be responsive to all your suggestions for repairing your marriage. However, they don’t necessarily engage or follow through. Additionally, they begin to show cracks in their willpower to change.

Someone who wants to work through things should seem engaged with the healing process; passively going along isn’t enough. If your partner is white-knuckling an attempt to appease you rather than repair your relationship, odds are it won’t work.

If you find yourself pulling all of the relationship weight, it’s time to unburden yourself and find someone who thinks you’re worth the effort.

6. Your Partner Frequently Lies

We all know the cliche that comes up whenever a married person cheats on their spouse: “Once a cheater, always a cheater.”

In truth, that isn’t really always the case, but if there is a pattern of dishonesty and deceit in your marriage, you probably won’t ever be able to trust your spouse, and it might be time to save yourself the angst.

This holds true even if your partner doesn’t seem to be lying about anything that important anymore. Once your trust is eroded by an affair, even small lies can be really triggering because they remind you of the betrayal you experienced.

This doesn’t give you any opportunity to rebuild trust and move on together. That’s why repeated dishonesty might be a reason to get divorced.

7. Your Partner Won’t Take Responsibility and Instead Blames Others

Cheating is usually a symptom of other problems. Everyone has their own trauma, childhood programming, and family patterns to overcome. And cheating is often a sign of other problems in your relationship.

However, your relationship might not be worth saving if your spouse points to other people to justify why they cheated.

This behavior is particularly despicable if you’re the person that your spouse is blaming for their infidelity. They put you through one of the most painful experiences of your life, and now they’re telling you that it was your fault?!

If that’s the message that you’re receiving, then your spouse is treating you with a level of hostility that precludes reconciliation.

However, this might be a dealbreaker no matter who they say is to blame. If your partner insists that it wasn’t their fault that they cheated, they’re telling you that there isn’t anything they can do to prevent it from happening again.

Until they take responsibility, you’ll never get the peace of mind you need to move on with your life.

Now that you’ve thought about whether your relationship can or should survive infidelity, let's address some of the facts. The collective wisdom of those who have been in your position before can give you insight into possible next steps.

Maybe you’ll even understand where you and your spouse fit into the bigger picture.

Can a Marriage Survive After Infidelity?

The American Psychological Association estimates that 20% to 40% of divorces are due to infidelity. When a spouse’s partner cheats on them, it can cause a lot of heartache and grief, and some couples don’t know how to move past the affair.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean the marriage is doomed or will lead to a divorce.

Above we discussed seven reasons why some partners might walk away from their spouse after infidelity has occurred. The reasons above should not be taken lightly; partners who have been cheated on should really hone in on their wants and needs in the marriage and see if it is salvageable.

If both partners are genuinely willing to commit to the healing process and work on communicating and fixing things in the relationship, then ultimately, their marriage can become more robust and possibly lead to a deeper level of intimacy than they had before.

Reasons Not to Divorce After Infidelity

1. Quality of Life

If your spouse is apologetic and truly wants to work on the marriage with you, examining your quality of life might be one reason not to divorce after the affair.

Things to consider include how the divorce will impact other aspects of the relationship, such as money, possessions, travel, retirement, and more. If you divorce, you will each face a change in your economic situation.

Are there things in your relationship that will drastically change if you split up?

These things could be hobbies you both enjoy doing together or social groups you participate in. Friends tend to take sides in a divorce so you may lose some.

Although your quality of life together is something to consider, this is under the assumption that your partner is genuinely sorry and really does want to work with you on fixing the marriage.

2. Impact Divorce Could Have on the Children

Not every married couple may have kids, but if you do, the divorce will impact them and how they view reality and relationships going forward. Depending on the situation, sometimes divorce is the healthiest option for children, but sometimes it is not.

While we would always recommend consulting with your children’s pediatrician or mental health provider, we offer some reflections regarding what changes almost always occur.

When you end a marriage, in most situations, you have to share time with your children with your spouse (or a soon-to-be ex-spouse). Your children will have two homes instead of one and will have to adjust to a new schedule.

You may need to give up holidays and change family traditions. And, frequently, the children will need to move from their current home.

Coping with a divorce is challenging for kids, but so is living in a house with an unhappy marriage. Children adjust and most are able to handle the changes, but it is still essential to consider the impact on your children, as well as how you and your spouse will co-parent.

3. Impact on Your Happiness

Getting divorced or separating from your spouse is not easy, but neither is repairing the broken trust that comes with infidelity.

It’s important to consider what will make you thrive and flourish moving forward - remaining married or divorcing. Often a coach or therapist or religious leader can be very valuable in helping sort out these emotions.

How to Save a Marriage After Infidelity and Lies?

Before you make a decision whether to get divorced after your partner has cheated, take time to process what happened and what was behind the affair.

If you were the unfaithful person in the marriage and want to salvage the marriage, take ownership of your actions, end the affair, and seek help from mental health professionals to understand why the affair occurred and what you can do to keep your marriage together.

It’s also important to try to restore the trust between you and your partner.

Regardless of who had the affair, there needs to be trust in the relationship going forward, or the marriage won’t work.

Try to seek forgiveness from your partner if you were the one who cheated, or try to find healthy ways to forgive your partner and learn how to trust them again if you were cheated on.

Just because a spouse cheated doesn’t mean the marriage is doomed.

There are always ways to get your marriage back on track if both parties are willing to accept and forgive what happened.

Trust-Building Exercises for Couples After Infidelity:

1. Give Your Partner Tasks to Complete

One way to rebuild trust is to give your partner small tasks to complete. This is a great way to earn back trust because they’ll show you they are reliable and capable of doing things you ask based on whether they complete the tasks.

Obviously, this is a slow process, and you’ll need to start small, but it is something that could help the relationship. Having expectations gives your partner a chance to prove to you that they are willing to commit to the relationship.

However, this is not about manipulating or testing your partner; this is about setting expectations and trusting your partner to see them through.

2. Plan Date Nights

Another good exercise to rebuild trust is to plan date nights. Give up the control and let your partner thoroughly plan a date.

It’s an excellent way for you and your partner to spend quality time together and shows you that you can trust them to take the lead on certain occasions.

If you’re used to always planning quality time together, give your partner a chance to take over date night fully. You’ll be able to assess how reliable they are based on their willingness to plan a date night and the quality of the date they planned.

3. Talk About Your Fears

Another exercise to practice with your spouse is addressing fears or anxieties you both may have in the marriage. A good form of intimacy can only indeed happen when both partners are vulnerable and willing to open up to each other.

Talking about fears within the marriage is essential to do without shame and will help couples leave the past in the past and move forward.

Speak with a counselor or therapist about how you both can communicate openly and honestly without feeling you’re being judged or your feelings are being rejected.

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FAQs

What are the divorce statistics after infidelity?

After an affair, trust in a marriage is eroded, but that doesn’t always mean immediate divorce. A study conducted by the American Psychological Association showed that among married couples who experienced infidelity but then underwent couples therapy, 53% were divorced after five years.

By comparison, only 23% of couples who did not experience infidelity were divorced after five years, which is a vast disparity. Still, these numbers show that marital infidelity is not a relationship death sentence.

Interestingly, in heterosexual partnerships, whether it’s the man or the woman who does the cheating seems to have a significant impact. In the iFidelity Survey, 20% of cheating women and 10% of cheating men reported that they were still in the relationship after infidelity.

Thus, it’s possible that you’re more likely to reconcile if it’s the husband’s affair instead of the wife’s. The survey results don’t indicate the reasons for this, however, and it’s hard to know if this is statistically even significant.

Unfortunately, the statistics also show that a husband is much more likely to cheat than a wife. While only 13% of women surveyed by the Institute for Family Studies reported cheating on their spouse, 20% of men admitted that they had been unfaithful. This leaves a lot of marriages at risk.

It’s important to remember that you are not a statistic, and your results may vary. Ultimately, it is up to you and your husband or wife to decide whether you can survive this betrayal, find forgiveness, and preserve your marriage.

How long does a marriage last after infidelity?

Actually, the answer depends primarily on whether or not the extramarital affair comes to light. Remember the APA study we talked about in the last question? While overall, 53% of the couples who experienced infidelity had filed for divorce by the five-year mark, the breakdown between secret and revealed infidelity was stark.

Five years after undergoing therapy, only 43% of couples who revealed and worked through their past indiscretions had opted for divorce, while a whopping 80% of couples whose marriages contained secret affairs were no longer together.

On the surface, these numbers seem a little bit surprising. After all, if the betrayed partner doesn’t know about their spouse’s infidelity, it can’t hurt them, right? Wrong. As it turns out, lies and deceit don’t make for a healthy relationship.

Furthermore, when a cheating spouse admits to an affair, it usually means that the affair is over. By confessing to infidelity, the unfaithful partner often indicates that they are ready to live their life in a committed relationship once again.

If their spouse can find forgiveness and move on, then there might be hope for the relationship.

What are the stages of healing after infidelity?

Every betrayed spouse has experienced some level of grief after learning of their partner’s infidelity. Luckily, there is a path forward for your relationship, for feeling better, forgiving your partner, and moving on with your life.

Currently, the Gottman Institute (founded by relationship expert Dr. John Gottman) is beginning a randomized clinical trial to test the effectiveness of what they call the Trust Revival Method, in which the stages of healing from an affair are described as Atonement, Attunement, and Attachment.

In the Atonement stage, the betrayed partner has an opportunity to express their feelings and ask questions about the affair, and the cheating partner is encouraged to really hear them, answer honestly, and express remorse.

In the Attunement stage, both members of the relationship work together to analyze what went wrong and outline better ways of dealing with each other. Finally, in the Attachment stage, the parties work on bonding and rebuilding their relationship.

No two couples are the same, so your road to recovery is very individual to you. However, this strategy can go a long way toward healing and moving on with your life.

Should you stay married after infidelity?

If this article has taught you anything, it’s that only you can decide when to walk away after infidelity. If you think a little extra wisdom from the experts will help, then check out these great TED Talks that we recommend for anyone considering divorce.

Then, look deeply into your own feelings, talk openly with your partner, and decide whether you’re already living in a broken marriage or the love is still alive.

What are the stages of anger after infidelity?

There are five possible stages of anger after a spouse has an affair:

  • Denial – The emotion you feel when you finally understand that you’ve been cheated on is shocking. It might be hard to accept the fact that your spouse has cheated, and you might be thinking of excuses or justifications for their actions.
  • Anger – After denial fades, the realization that you were cheated on suddenly begins to make one angry. Anger is normal and is an emotion that is healthy to feel and express after being cheated on. However, you should never act on revenge urges because you will only hurt yourself and others in the long run. Find healthy ways to cope with feeling angry.
  • Bargaining – It’s very common for the partner who was cheated on to start bargaining in the marriage to salvage it. It’s an attempt to avoid an unwanted future, and the cheating partner might bargain in an attempt to save the relationship. If you’ve been cheated on, be sure to exercise full caution when your partner tries to bargain or downplay the affair. Use your judgment and feel out if they’re being genuine or not.
  • Depression – It’s natural for the party who got cheated on to fall into a depression after finding out. Different people have different ways of coping with their emotions, but it would be wise to seek professional help if this is the case.
  • Acceptance – The final stage of grief after infidelity is acceptance. Accept the fact that you’ve been cheated on so you can either walk away from an unfaithful partner or try to find solutions to save the marriage. Visiting a marriage counselor could help you grow in the relationship if it is something both parties are willing to do.
  • And importantly – these stages are not linear. Most people will cycle in and out of them and fluctuate between them. That’s okay. Healing takes many paths and the important thing to know is that you have the possibility of a thriving future with or without your spouse!

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