Tuesday, October 21, 2014

When Should I decide to Leave?

In my book, I wrote a chapter titled, "Should I Leave or Stay?" Many hurt spouses are faced with that question and I wanted to offer some points for them to consider in making that decision.

While what I wrote there I still believe and support, I've become more aware of additional issues that I failed to address. This post will be an additional list of considerations, keeping in mind what I said in the original article: you know your situation and you are the only one who can decide when you're done.

The "Default" Position

One poster on the forum we frequent made the statement that divorce should be the default position a hurt spouse should have upon discovering infidelity in their spouse, and reconciliation only a viable option if the unfaithful spouse does all they should do.

In reality, there is some truth to that. When a spouse has sex outside the marriage, they've committed adultery. If you're a Christian, Jesus made it clear that committing adultery in effect meant the offending spouse had divorced you and remarried the affair partner. (Mark 10:11-12) Biologically, having sex with someone else, no matter what protections may have been used, is saying you're committing yourself to having a family with that person, as that is the natural outcome of sex if not otherwise hindered. Those whose affairs have inadvertently produced a child know this all too well. Sex does create a marital bond.

"But my spouse didn't have sex." Or so he says, anyway, which may or may not be true. You can't know for sure he didn't. But assuming he's telling the truth, did he divorce you? In many cases, yes. If he fantasized about it, if he found himself wishing he could, he committed adultery as if he'd actually done it. (Mat 5:28)

So upon discovering an affair, generally a biological divorce has already happened, along with a spiritual divorce, and frequently an emotional one as well if romantic love was involved. Only the outward social and legal aspects of marriage remain intact.

The question then is more along the lines of should we bring the social and legal into line with the reality, or hope that the reality can be healed to match the social and legal statuses?

One woman on our forum decided to divorce her husband on discovery day. She didn't want to lose him, but wanted to reflect that reality and see if he could in effect win her back. Not sure how that went, but is one option that makes some sense, if you can afford it and doesn't negatively affect one's kids' lives

The reality is, however, that on discovery day a hurt spouse may not know whether their unfaithful spouse will do what is necessary to heal. The only real way to know is give them a chance to try. Not everyone is ready to give up on their marriage as a default option. If by "default" one means to start divorce proceedings on discovery day before considering the situation, I don't think that is a good route in most cases.

The hurt spouse has time on their side. Rather I'd suggest that the default option is to keep divorce as a viable option on the table. Plan for that possibility financially and legally. Be ready to pull the plug should the situation warrant it. But I don't think for most people automatically pulling that trigger on discovery day is the best option.

What is the best option in your situation, I can't say. You might should pull that trigger on discovery day. Only you can know when. I just don't think it should be the default as in immediate route to take without giving yourself time to evaluate it.

Because of that . . .

The Default Route is to Give Yourself Three Months

There are several reasons for this.

  • You can discover whether rebuilding has a chance.
  • Gives you time to get off the emotional roller coaster, avoiding a knee-jerk decision you may later regret.
  • The divorce option is always there. Waiting won't cause you to lose it.
  • You'll need about that much time, at a minimum, to plan for a graceful exit should that be the decision you make. Waiting doesn't mean not making plans for a divorce, whether you use it or not. It just means you're waiting that long to make a final decision.
  • Gives the hurt spouse time to evaluate the situation and get more objective input from therapist, spiritual leaders, and close friends.
  • Takes the pressure off to make an immediate decision.

There are a certain number of hurt spouses who don't think waiting is a good idea. Almost without exception, these tend to be people who decided to wait based on advice they received, then after two or three years they call it quits and divorce. These hurt spouses, understandably, feel like they wasted two or three years of living in a horrible relationship and wished they had divorced him on discovery day.

We might point out that we're suggesting three months, not three years. Obviously they waited too long to come to that conclusion. But hindsight is always 20/20 vision. Most hurt spouses should be able to determine if their spouse will take the right attitude and actions in three months that will give rebuilding a chance. That's why we've listed the "Healing Steps for the Unfaithful Spouse" article. Both to guide unfaithful spouses in what it takes to rebuild, and to give hurt spouses a picture of what an unfaithful spouse who stands a chance of rising to the occasion looks like.

Also, it rarely works to generalize based on an individual's experience, whether it is myself who has had a positive experience rebuilding or those who have watched rebuilding go from bad to worse until a fiery death occurred. Personalities, circumstances, and other contributing issues are too complex to suggest everyone should divorce on discovery day, don't wait.

That said, their experience does highlight a real risk in waiting even three months. Some unfaithful spouses are experts at psychological manipulation. They can gaslight with the best of them. Given the chance, they could sell ice cubes to an Eskimo. Give them three months and they can have the hurt spouse believing it was their fault, that they are the victim here, and they will never stray again without proving it by their attitudes and actions. Some hurt spouses are more susceptible to that as well.

If a hurt spouse knows this is likely to be the case, they need to factor it into their decision. If his mind control is too hard to resist, indeed, run now, not later. At a minimum, a hurt spouse in such a situation needs to not believe a single word of "I'm sorry. I won't do it again." Only focus on whether he is making the required changes. Any hiding, refusal to discuss the affair, attitude of "what you don't know won't hurt you," is evidence that your final decision will be to say "bye bye."

If you've reached three months without coming to a firm decision one way or the other, that in and of itself is an indication of a rebuilding problem. Use your judgment, but evaluate your inability to decide. Is it because the unfaithful spouse isn't following through on being transparent and honest?

I'm not talking about whether you trust him or not. If you do in three months you either deserve the Hurt Spouse of the Year Award, or you're deluding yourself. But you should be able to measure whether his actions and attitudes are making the rebuilding of trust a real possibility or not. You simply go down the list I mentioned above and check off what he is doing, then based on that make your decision. Leave emotions and promises out of it. If every hurt spouse did that, more of them would save themselves a lot of heartache.

Even with all that, it is possible to be so convinced he's on the right path, only to discover he's still at it months or years later, maybe never quit. That is a real risk to choosing to rebuild, or even waiting to divorce. Some people are that convincing and hesitation means a lost chance to exit an emotionally abusive relationship.

Even with that, in general, most will benefit from giving themselves at least three months to process a decision. Unless you are in a physically or emotionally abusive situation, waiting will not hurt. The only warning I'd give is if he's not doing what he should in three months, another year or three is not likely to change that. Don't take three years of living in Hell before you decide to leave.

Final Thoughts

Allow me to reemphasize. No one situation is going to match another. What works for one couple won't for another. You can do everything right, and still find yourself cheated on again. Rebuilding has risks. Divorce has its own risks as well. It is up to you to evaluate those and decide what risk to take. All a blog like this or any forum can do is give you general principles to consider. It is up to you to apply them.

If your marriage sucked and you see the affair as your exit, by all means call up the lawyer on discovery day and get that ball rolling. Ignore the above advice. I can't know what is best for your situation. No one can. Hopefully this and the previous article will provide some help in making that decision, however. It is not an easy one to make.

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