A fter feeling suspicious for weeks, Isabelle, 34, decided to find out for sure if her hubby had cheated on her. “I started checking his phone bill and asking questions,” she says. That’s when she uncovered the gut-wrenching truth. “When he told me he’d slept with his female colleague, my legs went from under me. I sat there in a crumpled heap, wailing like an injured animal,” she recalls.
It’s three years since Isabelle’s “D-Day”, as she refers to it on her blog (survivinganaffair.wordpress.com), on which she shares the ups and downs of moving on after infidelity. She says it was a “very simple decision” to stay with her husband. “He was willing and ready to do anything and everything to fix it,” she says. “I think people often feel pressured to leave.”
In our society it’s almost taboo to stand by someone who’s strayed. Take K-Stew’s very public indiscretion with Snow White and the Huntsman director Rupert Sanders last year. When R-Patz took back his girlfriend of four years he was branded “pathetic” by the press, and many a bystander encouraged him to “kick her to the kerb”, as The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart put it.
But even though we get out the pitchforks for cheaters who stray on our friends (or celebs), it turns out we’re not so quick to ditch those actually doing the dirty onus. According to statistics, infidelity is the reason behind a measly 11 percent of all breakups in Australia, with 34.3 per cent of people claiming that they already have, or could, forgive a partner who has cheated.
Circle of trust
If it’s a one-time occurrence it doesn’t have to mean the end, says Liz Currin, clinical psychologist and author of The Essential Guide to Surviving Infidelity. “I’ve worked with countless couples where the cheater was desperate to save his or her marriage, and was willing to do almost anything to make it happen,” she says. “Both parties need to be firmly committed to mending the relationship [to make it work].”
But here’s where it gets tricky. Just becauseyoucommit to getting past the infidelity, doesn’t mean your friends and family have, too – as Isabelle and her husband discovered. “My sister was angry, and she took a long time to be normal with him. One friend told me to kick him out, change the locks and consult a solicitor. Another removed him as a friend on Facebook and still hasn’t re-added him,” she says.
It was a similar experience for Jess, 26, who gave her boyfriend of two years a second chance after he admitted making a “terrible mistake” by kissing another girl on a weekend away.
“My friends were very hesitant to welcome him back right away,” she says. “Some of them gave him the third degree when they saw him for the first time after it happened, and another told me, ‘He’ll need to work for it.’”
It’s not too much to ask loved ones to forgive a one-off indiscretion, but don’t expect them to be cool with you dating a serial cheater. Shanae, 22, watched as her close friend forgave her boyfriend time and again. “I was there to wipe up her tears every time. But, after a while, I couldn’t accept it. I’ve now distanced myself from her.”
It takes time
It’s tricky, but keep what happened on the DL. In the emotion-fuelled hours after her husband’s confession, Isabelle did something she now regrets. “I put it on Facebook – announcing it to over 100 friends and family. I wanted to ‘out’ him, and for people to know I was the victim. I didn’t think,” she says.
Currin reassures it’s natural to turn to family and friends for support, but warns that this is what might come back to bite you if you later reconcile. “They may resent what your partner has put you through, or harbour even darker feelings,” she says. “If possible, share your story with only one or two trusted friends,” she advises.
Only after he’s again hitting the high score on your trust-o-meter should you start easing him back into your family and social circles. “Give people time to be around him – they have emotional adjustments to make too. Keep interactions brief and low-key at first,” Currin suggests.
It won’t be easy, but having your partner and pals together in the same room should become less tense.
“It’s something that takes time. Eventually, everything starts to snap back into place,” says Isabelle, adding the same goes for the bond between the two of you, if you both work at it. “We know what we have, and we protect it better now.”
Words by Rebecca Sloan