I have often said and will continue to say that no one can make the decision to stay in a relationship after one person has had an affair but the people in the relationship. The choice to stay or go is yours and yours alone. The kids; your mother-in-law; your best friend the manager of the grocery store can all have their opinions but they are meaningless. You and only you - meaning the two people in the relationship need to work this through and wholeheartedly decide what is right for you.
These choices are not simple and in fact are laden with implicit agreements that you are making when you make your choice. To look at this further I am just going to focus on the choice to stay and rebuild the relationship because I often hear from betrayed spouses “I want to keep my relationship but I can’t accept that they had an affair” or “I want to stay in this marriage but I will never accept the fact that they treated me so badly” or “I don’t want to ever believe that this happened to me.” The reality is that the choice to rebuild your relationship with the person who wronged you means that eventually you will have to accept that they did that wrong and all that wrong entailed or you will never heal from the pain that their behaviour caused.
When you stay stuck and unable to accept the reality of what has happened you continue to cause yourself pain which in the long run will affect the very thing you want – your relationship. So a choice to continue with and rebuild your relationship is actually also agreeing to accept the affair. But be clear – acceptance is not condoning. By accepting that it happened you understand that you can’t turn back the clock what is done cannot be undone and you are making a choice to not allow behaviour that happened in the past to affect your current and future happiness.
How? Here are a couple of ideas.
Understand that it is a package deal – a choice for the relationship includes a choice to accept the affair happened.
In the early days the idea of ever accepting something so horrendous may seem too overwhelming. This is totally normal and you will find that little by little as you heal you will move closer to acceptance if you open yourself up to the idea that it is even possible. To help start by softening the language. Instead of saying “never” soften it to “at the moment”; instead of saying “can’t” or “won’t” say “I am working towards”.
Make a distinction between the person and their behaviour and notice what has changed. Acceptance will be easier if you can see that the behaviour is truly in the past. Tell yourself things like “yes it happened but what I am seeing now is someone who is putting the wrongs to right again”.
If you are stuck on acceptance and it is holding you back some professional help might be worthwhile – a little nudge in the right direction can be all the difference.