The 1 Thing That Could Save Your Marriage After an Affair

couple arguingWhen it comes to relationship mistakes, there's one biggie almost guaranteed to end it all. The mother of all dealbreakers. The worst thing possible: Cheating. As some of us know, it's extremely difficult to repair the damage of infidelity. What do you do if you've made that horrible, regrettable mistake because of your own personal foolishness, not because you wanted out of your marriage? What if you actually want to save your marriage, despite this painful betrayal?


A new study on infidelity gives hope to couples grappling with the consequences of an affair. You actually might be able to save your marriage -- if you handle it the right way. The key? Don't keep the affair a secret.

The study followed 134 couples over five years, and wouldn't you know it, there were incidents of infidelity in 19 of those couples. Here's the surprising thing. Of the marriages in which the cheater tried to hide their adultery, 80 percent divorced. But when the cheater confessed, only 43 percent divorced. Fewer than half.

Obviously, revealing your big secret isn't guaranteed to save your marriage. And this is a very small sample. But I think there's still a lot we can learn from this study. I talked with family counselor Dr. Laurie Moore for her insights into what this study means for couples.

Dr. Moore says the reason why coming clean makes such a dramatic difference is because of what it communicates to your spouse. If you confess because you want to repair the relationship and your intention is to not continue the affair, "it shows you care; you have remorse and respect them enough to tell them," she says. 

But when you try to bury that regrettable fling under the carpet and hope it just goes away? First of all, good luck with that, because people almost always find out. And when that happens, your spouse gets a very different message. "That they are not important to you," Dr. Moore says. Your spouse feels "more betrayed, more lied to, and there's more damage."

Okay, so you know what you have to do. How do you do it?

Start with your intention: This is only going to work if you really, truly plan to never make that mistake ever, ever again. Dr. Moore recommends finding a time when you can talk and focus on each other. Start by saying, "I need to talk to you about something. I made a choice I regret, but because I respect and love you, I want to take time to talk about it." In your own words, of course.

After you explain what you did, you need to tell your spouse how that made you feel -- that you regret it. AND they need to hear you say you're determined not to cheat again, because your spouse is much more important to you than an affair.

That's a tough conversation to have, but you're not done yet. "Your mate is going to feel embarrassed, hurt, devastated" after hearing this news, Dr. Moore says. The more deeply in love with you, the deeper the hurt. (On the other hand, if your spouse seems to get over it quickly, that may show they weren't that invested in the relationship in the first place.)

"You have to be willing to accept the feelings your mate has," Dr. Moore says. "Be compassionate and have patience. It will take a while for your mate to get over it." But hang in there -- the most important thing is that you make your spouse feel loved and cherished, and that you've made it clear you never want to hurt them that way again.

Do you know any couples who recovered from infidelity? How did they make it work? Is this something you could ever forgive?


Image via Tomas Rodriguez/Corbis

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