Overcoming Infidelity (cont.)

Calling it Quits

When taking steps toward repairing a relationship after an affair just doesn't seem to be working -- and marriage counseling has failed as well -- a couple may start to think about calling it quits.

"When you can't stop fighting, when there is an inability to partially identify with the other person, when there is too much hurt and too much anger, and you are unable to bury the hatchet, these may be warning signs that the relationship can't be saved," says Turndorf.

For Carol Corini from Maynard, Mass., who was married for 19 years when she found out her husband was having an affair, this was the case.

"We always got along pretty well and we both thought it was a good marriage," says Corini. "But he just changed: he had problems getting older, he obsessed over every wrinkle, stressed over turning 50, and he started hanging out with younger people at work. And one day he told me that he didn't think it was wrong to get divorced if people aren't happy, and I thought that was weird -- but I didn't think he was having an affair."

After Corini found out the truth, her first reaction was shock.

"At the time, I was devastated and I wanted to save our marriage," says Corini. "I would have gone to therapy and tried to fix it, but he said he didn't think there was a need for that. He was looking for something different -- a challenge, a change, someone younger. He had this girlfriend for six months to a year before he said he wanted a divorce."

George S., a salesperson from Boston who asked to remain anonymous, was married for five years before he found out his wife was having an affair.

"I noticed a couple of things: there was little to no passion on her side, which was unusual," says George. "She would jump down my throat for everything, and that was a snowball effect -- that would make me not show her affection. And in my gut, I knew -- she'd come home late at night at 3 a.m. and say she was out with her friends, and that's just not her."

George had already asked his wife to try marriage counseling, and she agreed, but then it fell apart.

"I was out one night and I saw her with another man," says George. "She was still wearing her wedding ring."

After taking some time and thinking about it, George decided against saving the marriage.

"I think the reason why the marriage couldn't be saved was that a predisposed decision was already made in her mind to not save it -- which is why she was having the affair even though we were in counseling," says George. "Finding out about the affair put things together for me and I realized I just didn't want it anymore."

For these marriages and others, there is no hard and fast rule that indicates a marriage is over.

"There is no objective criteria that says a marriage can or can't be saved," says Weiner-Davis. "A person has to decide what he can or can't live with, and what energy he is willing to invest in making things right."

After the Affair

Many couples can't get over the devastation of an affair -- like Carol Corini and George S. -- but some can.

"I'm a firm believer that the vast majority of marriages can be resurrected after infidelity," says Weiner-Davis. "And as odd as it sounds, an affair can be a blessing in disguise -- not that I would recommend one because I don't, but through the process of healing, a couple may find that they've grown closer."

Even though it may be hard for both people in a relationship to consider that their future life will feel normal again, explains Weiner-Davis, it is possible.

Both Weiner-Davis and Turndorf emphasize the importance of a good marriage counselor or therapist, the support of family and friends, and ultimately each other, in rebuilding a marriage after infidelity.

Reviewed on April 1, 2006

SOURCES: The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Jamie Turndorf, PhD, couples therapist, N.Y.; author, Till Death Do Us Part (Unless I Kill You First). Michele Weiner-Davis, MSW, marriage and family therapist, Woodstock, Ill.; author, Getting Through to the Man You Love and The Sex-Starved Marriage.

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Last Editorial Review: 4/1/2006