WHAT IF MY SPOUSE IS A SERIAL CHEATER?
It’s one of the hardest things to handle when you find out your spouse has been cheating on you. It’s an even harder thing to find out that they’ve had a habit of it for a long time. In fact, in all my experience as a marriage counselor in Westminster, Colorado, one of the things that devastates a marriage the most is when one spouse is or has been a serial cheater. But there is hope. Below are five steps that will help you begin the process of healing after you discover your spouse has been a serial cheater.
Steps to Help You Recover After a Serial Affair
- Give yourself Time to Get Over the Shock.Many people think that as soon as they find out about an affair they have to make a decision right away about whether to stay or go. This is actually one of the worst things you can do. Quick decisions are usually bad ones, especially after such an emotionally charged discovery like an affair because you make decisions based off of pure emotions and incomplete information. Don’t force yourself to make a decision yet. Give yourself some time to work through the initial shock first. This can take anywhere from a couple weeks to a month or more.
2. Decide Whether You Want to Try to Work on Your Marriage.After the initial shock has worn off think about whether you want to try to work on your relationship They key word is try. This doesn’t mean you should make a definitive decision to stay or to go. You only need decide if you want to try to make it work. There are still a lot of things that you’ll both need to work on to determine whether your relationship is salvageable or not. You only need to decide if you want to begin trying.
- Begin A Transparency Contract.Whenever there is an affair the spouse who has been cheated on (called the injured partner) always questions how they will ever trust their cheating spouse again. The cheating spouse (called the participating partner) usually told a web of very believable lies and hid things out of the injured partners’ view. This leaves the injured partner questioning what they can or can’t believe about their spouse anymore. And they certainly don’t want to be caught with the wool over their eyes again. So for their own protection they err on the safe side and decide not to believe most of what the cheating partner says – after all, believing their spouse is what go them in trouble in the first place.
The best way that I have found for a couple to overcome this obstacle is through a transparency contract. What this means is that the participating partner opens up all their private information to the injured partner. This includes cell phone bills, credit card & bank statements, internet passwords, text messages, etc. This will help the injured partner to really believe what the cheating spouse tells them and also gives cold hard proof that the cheating behavior has really stopped and isn’t just being hid.
- Call a Marriage Counselor.While affairs aren’t necessarily uncommon, serial affairs are…and it’s a big sign of bigger issues. While some couples are able to work through an affair on their own (which I don’t recommend) I have very rarely heard of a couple who has been able to work through the discovery of serial cheating on their own. In fact, I haven’t heard of it at all. When you call the counselor, ask them if they have experience helping couples with serial affairs. See my article on how to find a good marriage counselor for more info on what to look for in a good marriage counselor.
- Call an Individual Counselor.I often recommend that the participating partner also begin their own individual counseling to help them identify their reasons for serial cheating. One affair is a slip up…maybe even two. More than that is a big sign of bigger issues that they need to sort out on their own with the help of a counselor. Ultimately, it’s not the transparency contract that’s going to save the marriage. It’s the fundamental change in the participating partner that’s going to. This will happen best with individual counseling.
Healing After Serial Cheating is a Process, Allow Yourselves Time
These five steps are just the beginning of a long road. But it can be done. There is much, much more that a couple needs to do in order to overcome such a big relationship violation as serial cheating. For example there needs to be accountability, making acts of repair, addressing any relationship vulnerabilities, recreating intimacy, and eventually forgiveness – just to name a few.
For any couple who is challenged with overcoming an affair there is I recommend a really great book called Getting Past The Affair: A Program to Help You Cope, Heal and Move on – Together or Apart. It’s really, really, good. It is a great supplement to my other recommendation to any couple stressed by serial cheating: Go see a marriage counselor.
Nothing Can Replace a Good Marriage Counselor
Ultimately, nothing can replace a good marriage counselor. A good marriage counselor can help you and your spouse overcome the many challenges you encounter on your road to healing. The best ones don’t just help you heal but they also help you and your spouse to recreate a new relationship that’s trusting, strong, passionate and vibrant.