Surviving a partner’s infidelity can be very difficult but surviving infidelity in a toxic marriage can seem almost impossible.
A toxic marriage is one that is already fraught with all sorts of issues – contempt, fighting, silence and secrets. When you add infidelity into the mix, it is a recipe for disaster.
Fortunately, there are things that, if you are aware of them, can help you navigate surviving infidelity in a toxic marriage. The path that you will be navigating is an unfamiliar one but one that you can get to end of intact, with some awareness and action.
#1 – It’s not about you…
Many people who have been cheated on blame themselves for the infidelity.
They believe that if they had only been nicer or given their partner enough sex or dressed better or lost that 10 pounds that their partner would not have strayed. And this just isn’t the case.
Of course, infidelity doesn’t occur in a void and marriages that are already toxic are especially vulnerable to cheating, but that doesn’t mean that you are to blame for what happened.
Infidelity happens for many reasons but not usually because your partner looks at you and finds you lacking. Cheating happens because the marriage is damaged and someone else comes along who can temporarily distract one partner from the pain. Infidelity is rarely sought out – it finds us in places that we never expected.
So, first and foremost, you are not to blame for your partners infidelity. The responsibility lies squarely on their shoulders. After all, you are in this toxic relationship as well and you never strayed.
Keep this in mind and surviving infidelity in a toxic marriage is possible!
#2 – …but it is up to you.
What is your responsibility is deciding what you are going to do next after discovering your partner’s infidelity. This is a key part of getting through this and something that only you can decide.
You have a number of choices.
- You can decide to leave. Your relationship is already toxic – is it now beyond repair?
- You can decide to stay and work on your marriage.
- You can decide to accept that infidelity might be a part of your marriage going forward and just go about your own life.
Which of these things do you want? Perhaps it’s a combination of things that might work. Perhaps you might opt for therapy with the determination that if it doesn’t help you are gone. Perhaps you might walk away until your spouse gets therapy to figure out their issues. Perhaps you accept the infidelity as long as he agrees to offer you something in return.
The options are there – it is up to you to decide what course to take. If you simply sit around, obsessing about the infidelity, all you are going to do is make yourself miserable and your marriage worse.
Make the decision about how you want to move forward and make it happen.
#3 – Remorse is essential.
One thing to help you aid in your decision about what actions to take next is whether or not your partner is remorseful about their actions. Do they accept responsibility for the pain that they have caused you and are they willing and able to make amends? Are they willing to share with you the information that you need, such as where, why and when, so that you can process what happened and decide next steps? Are they willing to stay away from their cheating partner?
If your partner isn’t willing to take responsibility for their actions and be willing to communicate with you openly, there is no chance that getting help and working on your marriage will get you through this. If they blame you for what they did, telling you that it is your fault that they strayed, then you will be forever doomed to having a partner who is playing the victim and making you feel bad about yourself.
Do you want to be in a relationship like that?
#4 – Don’t seek revenge.
When our partners stray, we are often so hurt and angry that we want to act out, to hurt that person the way that they hurt us. And what do we do? We seek revenge.
Revenge comes in many forms. Revenge can be taking the children and leaving. It can be about withholding love and affection. It can be telling the whole world about the infidelity. It can be about being passively aggressive in your interactions with them so that they suffer, drip by drip. Or it can be like Lorena Bobitt, who cut off her husband’s penis (and went to jail) after discovering he had cheated.
Whatever kind of revenge that you are thinking of, DON’T DO IT. It is essential that, in this stressful time, you hold your head up high and act in a way that is irreproachable. Act in a way that won’t give your partner fuel for the fire for blaming you. Act in a way that your friends and family see you as a good person and so they will choose to support you. Act in a way that won’t cause you any remorse down the road.
You are probably feeling pretty bad about yourself right now and, while revenge might feel like the answer, it’s not.
And, actually, the best revenge will be your partner seeing you not falling apart but presenting yourself with grace and dignity in the face of what has happened!
#5 – Get help!
You are going through something that you have never gone through before – recovering from the aftermath of infidelity. While the tendency to go it alone, to heal by yourself, is strong, you have never walked this road before and getting help is essential.
I know that you might be ashamed about what has happened and you are worried that your therapist or life coach will judge you but I can promise you they won’t. Many people go through this every day and a professional will only seek to support you through this time, not judge you. I promise.
Whether its individual therapy or life coaching, marital counseling or some combination of the both, seeking assistance from a professional during these horrible times will set you up for getting through all of this and coming out the other side in a healthy way.
Even if your partner won’t agree to getting help, do it for yourself. You may or may not stay with this person but you will always be with yourself. Knowing how to like and love yourself is a key to being happy, with or without another person.
So, reach out to a therapist or a life coach (perhaps me!) today and get the help that you need processing what has happened and how to move forward.
Surviving infidelity in a toxic marriage is something that can happen, with some self-awareness and action.
No matter what you decide to do, stay or go, it is possible for you to get through this intact and come out the other side happy.
Don’t blame yourself but instead ask yourself what you want to do next. Get a sense of whether or not your partner is remorseful and don’t seek revenge, whether they are or aren’t. And get someone to help you get through these difficult times. You can’t go it alone, even if you want to.
I know it feels like life will never be okay again, but it will be. I promise!
I am a NYC based Certified Life Coach and mental health advocate. My writing has been published on The Huffington Post, Prevention, Psych Central, Pop Sugar, MSN and The Good Man Project, among others. I work with all kinds of people to help them go from depressed and overwhelmed to confident and happy in their relationships and in their world.