After writing about the initial crisis period of an affair, it was clear to me that a follow-up article was necessary. I have to confess, though, that it has been a challenge to write. There’s so much complexity and uniqueness to every relationship, so much to fill in and describe. As I started writing on how couples continue their journey after the initial crisis of an affair, it occurred to me that I was overlooking a really important message: The decision to stay or to go.
Stay or Go After an Affair?
In the make-up of relationships, the opinions and beliefs surrounding an affair are emphatic and divisive. A person who finds themselves in the horrible space of an affair will often also find themselves faced with the opinions of others. There will be people in your life who offer advice. Some will say that staying after an affair is a sign of weakness, a lack of self-love and overall low self-esteem. Others will tell you that it is an absolute cop-out to leave after an affair, citing the love of children, the need for forgiveness, the lack of acknowledgement of your role in the relationship distress, etc. These opinions, even if they are well-intentioned, are another emotional rollercoaster on top of an already brutal ride.
It is Your Decision what You want to do with Your Relationship
This article is specifically addressed to those of you who find yourselves faced with the decision to stay or go after an affair. I hope you hear loud and clear this message: It is YOUR decision as to what you want to do with your relationship and how you want to move forward. It does not need to make sense to anyone else. YOU are the one who has to live with your decision. YOU are the one who knows exactly where you are at in your emotional journey.
Choosing to leave does not mean that you are selfish and have less love for your children (if you have them). It does not imply you have less forgiveness in your heart, less ownership of your own patterns, or less of (insert whatever else you are hearing from others).
Choosing to stay does NOT automatically imply a lack of self-esteem or that you are weak. Whatever you choose, it is YOUR starting point. There will be room for increased insight, awareness and growth regardless of the path you pick. Please also hear this: no decision is ever set in stone. If you stay and pursue the hard journey of reconciliation, you may change your mind as you travel further down that road. If you leave and begin building on a new journey, it does not mean that you won’t ever have a change of heart. My point is that your relationship, your own experience of yourself and your partner, is yours and only yours. It is absolutely ok and even helpful to hear feedback from others, but ultimately, this is your story and you get to decide what to write next.
If you find yourself in this position, I really hope you find space and time to meet with a qualified professional. I say this not because you can’t handle your story on your own, but because it is helpful to have someone who is solely focused on what is important to you. Having a space for you to express all of your emotions, your confusion and the gut-wrenching uncertainty about this decision is invaluable. Being seen, heard, and understood is a breath of fresh air during a season of pain.