Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Should I Leave or Stay?

On discovery day of my wife's affair, I contacted my priest before confronting my wife. His first question was, "Do you want a divorce?"

I'd honestly not thought about it. I knew, for the first time in our marriage, it was a possible outcome, but I had no intentions of jumping to that conclusion until I knew what my wife would do.

Yet this is often one of the first questions a hurt spouse will ask themselves. It can resurface again if rebuilding takes some hard hits. Do I rebuild the marriage or "cut my losses" and move on? Many hurt spouses will bounce back and forth between these options, unsure which way to go. Surprisingly, what I've frequently heard is a hurt spouse will say, before discovering the affair, that if he found that his spouse was cheating, the marriage would be over. But after finding out, his tune changes.

There are actually a lot of variables as to whether one might decide to leave or not, and many of them are subjective. So it is difficult for me to tell you what is best in your situation. What I can do is give you some concepts to think about so you can arrive at your own decision.

First, keep in mind you don't need to be in a hurry to divorce.

Shirley Glass in Not Just Friends recommends waiting at least three months after discovering an affair before making any "life-changing" decisions. Others have suggested waiting six months.

Point being, the weeks right after discovering an affair are so emotionally charged, it will be difficult to evaluate what directions to head. It is usually smart to allow the emotional roller coaster to slow down before trying to hop out of the cart.

The truth is you are free to consider divorce if things don't work out, but you may never know if they will work out or not until you try. Once you start the divorce proceedings, your mind will tend to go into give-up mode, not committed-to-rebuild mode.

An exception to that advice is if you are in an emotionally and/or physically abusive relationship. I would highly recommend separating immediately, and potentially considering divorce unless they submit themselves to intensive therapy and treatment. Contact your local social services office to help you, but do whatever it takes to leave that situation, especially if you have children involved.

Second, I would encourage giving rebuilding a chance.

This may be difficult. At first, your heart may not be in it. It may take you a while to get out of intensive care to move forward in healing. The unfaithful partner may not be cooperative, or either of you may start out sweeping issues under the rug to fester.

Within that first six month period, you'll get a feel whether your spouse and you can invest enough commitment to give rebuilding a chance. Some haven't seen any real growth or movement in the first year, and then things change. It can vary a lot depending on the circumstances and persons. In most cases, an attempt at rebuilding is warranted.

Third, if rebuilding isn't a viable option, start with separation.

Some people won't change until it is evident you are headed out the door. Many unfaithful spouses think you won't leave, that there are not any serious consequences to fooling around other than your displeasure when they are caught. After three to six months of separation without any real change, perhaps you'll have your answer on whether they are ready to invest in honest rebuilding or it is time to divorce.

Fourth, if the unfaithful partner still isn't responsive to real rebuilding, it is healthier to let them loose than to keep them in the marriage.

Sometimes the last resort we have for their awakening and return is to let them go.

Some Christians don't believe in divorce. I was one of them. I still don't think it is the ideal. But Jesus did say that due to the hardness of your hearts, Moses allowed a certificate of divorce to be given. He was acknowledging the fact that we live in a fallen world. If one's spouse is hard of heart and won't do the things to heal the marriage, it would be for his best interest to cut him off. Like the father released the prodigal son not because he wanted his son to waste his inheritance on wonton living, but in hopes of his ultimate redemption when he came to his senses, so one might divorce their spouse out of love for them, not hate.

Fifth, some hurt spouses stay because of financial reasons or the children.

On the financial front, there are groups that can help. Check with your local social services office. You can also plan and prepare during your six month wait, in case. Get your financial ducks in a row, lay out your plan, meet with a lawyer to find out what to expect, etc. Then after six months or a year, if you have determined it just isn't going to work and you want out, you'll be ready.

With children, there will rarely be a good time. I would consider the home atmosphere. Are the children picking up that something is wrong? They can be more perceptive than you think. Such stress can be as much, if not more, of a problem for them than separating. If the marriage is miserable, the children will feel that and be insecure in the family. Some may even feel they must be doing something wrong that is causing the difficulty between you and him.

Staying for the children is often not what is best for the children. Especially when you consider what your example is teaching them about marital relationships.

Six, you know your own marriage better than anyone.

If your marriage was hanging on by a thread before learning of the affair, you may feel it is over on discovery day and want nothing more to do with him. Or you may not be ready to give up on your spouse even though everyone is telling you to. Everyone's "I've had enough" line is drawn in different places.

One member of our support group, known affectionately as "L", puts it this way: you'll know when you're done. Until then, keep working on rebuilding. If you have to ask yourself, "Should I leave?" Then you're not there yet.

One caveat to this advice. Some people are in co-dependent relationships and never hear the "I'm done" message. Co-dependency is when you feel responsible for fixing someone, especially if it is perceived they cannot function without your help.

This method of maintaining control, attempting to fix the unfaithful spouse yourself, leaves him free of responsibility. A mother-son relationship is primary, instead of a husband-wife. Such a person will tend to stick with the unfaithful spouse no matter how many times he has affairs and crosses boundaries.

If you find yourself unable to leave a spouse who often shows no progress in healing themselves for months or years, you are in essence enabling their destructive relationship dynamic. For your sake and the sake of the spouse you are hoping to fix, seek counseling to help you let go and move toward a more productive mode of relationships.

Hopefully the above guides will give you some principles to apply to your situation in making this decision. Remember, however, this is your life. Take responsibility for it and do your best not to jump into divorce before you are ready, nor stay in a marriage that will not allow a healthy relationship. Each situation is unique, and no one—not I nor an Internet advice forum/blog—can tell you when you should pull the divorce trigger.

For those who have pulled that trigger, how did you make that decision? For those contemplating it, what is keeping you from pulling that trigger?

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