When you were first dating your partner, everything felt magical. From your first date to your first kiss to your first “I love yous,” all of it was memorable and electric. Then, came the proposal and a commitment to love each other through sickness and in health—and everything in between—till death do you part. A new life began with the two of you united in love with a deep commitment to each other. Through this love, little blessings may have come that made you parents. Your love story may not be a fairy tale, but it is yours to keep, honor, and cherish.
In many ways, marriage evolves as you grow and learn from each other. Life rarely allows a relationship to remain stagnant, especially when children are involved. It would be naive to say a good marriage does not involve arguments and feelings of dislike and resentment at some point. All feelings and experiences are valid and may appear at any point in a marriage.
But, there is one experience that can disrupt the very foundation of a marriage, which, for some, can ultimately lead to a dissolution of the relationship. Infidelity can certainly be life-shattering, but for some couples, it does not mean the end of their union. In fact, through couples counseling, forgiveness, and open lines of communication to rebuild trust, some couples who have gone through infidelity in their marriage reframe it as a transformative experience.
We interviewed Brooke Sprowl, a licensed psychotherapist, to ask her advice on how a marriage can survive infidelity. Brooke is the Clinical Director of LA Therapy and the author of the upcoming book Why You SHOULD Date Emotionally Unavailable Men: Use Your Unhealthy Relationships to Transform Your Life. Additionally, we reached out to writer and mom Jodie Utter of the blog Utter Imperfection, who openly discusses and documents her marriage’s journey through infidelity. With Brooke’s expertise and Jodie’s story, we would like to provide hope to couples who have experienced infidelity so they can find healthy ways to heal from this traumatic experience.
Common Causes of Infidelity in a Marriage
Brooke explained that infidelity, regardless of the intimate details, is usually a symptom of something else plaguing the relationship. There is a myriad of reasons why a partner will cheat and can vary by gender. For example, according to an article by marriage consultant Sheri Stritof, men may cheat because they are seeking more sex or attention—layered with feelings of insecurity—while women may cheat because they are trying to fill an emotional void lacking in their relationship.
Brooke shared that when a person cheats, it may be because something is wrong, so they go outside the marriage as a symbolic “cry for help” which ultimately becomes a “wake-up call” for the relationship.
…when a person cheats, it may be because something is wrong, and they go outside the marriage as a symbolic “cry for help” which ultimately becomes a “wake-up call” for the relationship.
Additionally, Brooke shared, “sometimes infidelity happens because someone is not honest, doesn’t want to be in a monogamous relationship, and would rather be in a consensually non-monogamous relationship.” There is also a possibility that the partner who was unfaithful is a chronic liar and no amount of therapy can result in them taking any accountability for their actions.
Regardless of the reasons, Brooke wanted couples to know that infidelity does not necessarily mean the end of a relationship. Rather, she has noticed that for some couples—with therapy and the rebuilding of trust—infidelity can ultimately deepen their love and commitment to each other.
Jodie Utter’s journey with infidelity did not define her marriage—it redefined it. She candidly retells her story by first acknowledging that the love in their marriage did not, miraculously, die as a result of the affair. However, at the time, Jodie recalled how painful it was to face her husband’s betrayal and recover from it all while trying to parent their kids. Jodie admitted, “I had no idea how to summon the mammoth energy I knew I would need—especially when I wasn’t sleeping, I had lost my appetite, and I couldn’t stop crying.”
What made her story even more challenging was that the infidelity was made public, so she couldn’t shield the truth from her kids. They had to heal together as a family unit. Jodie reflected on the reality that healing from infidelity did not come with a manual and nothing felt intuitive as she was living through it.
Nonetheless, Jodie and her husband delved deep into salvaging their relationship to make their union stronger, and that, subsequently, helped heal their kids through the process. “They saw us dig in and do the work it takes to save any kind of relationship—as a result, I think they’ll be able to draw on the good parts of our family story, even when acknowledging the not-so-good,” Jodie shared.
Jodie’s experience with infidelity in her marriage is one of redemption. Now, she and her husband are protective of their marriage in ways they never had been prior to the infidelity. Jodie confessed, “We’d let life circumstances and our own dysfunction create a wedge in between us, one big enough for another person to fit into. We don’t want that to happen again, so we sourced the tools and know-how to ensure a tighter, stronger union.”
Ways a Marriage Can Heal From Infidelity
Brooke shared two steps that can aid in healing a marriage from infidelity. First, with the assistance of a therapist, figure out the root cause of the indiscretion. Was it because of repressed trauma or did the partner not want to be in a monogamous relationship? Whatever the reason, the couple needs to get to the core cause before any healing can happen. Second, as a couple and individually, you need to determine if it is even possible to heal from the infidelity. Does this mean the death of the marriage, or can it serve as a catalyst for healing?
For Jodie, she knew deep in her heart that she wanted to stay with her husband and heal her marriage. However, Jodie wanted to “build a brand new, different, more bullet-proof kind of marriage with him.”
Through weekly couples therapy, in which they both incorporated the lessons learned into their marriage, they were able to start a new chapter in their love story. This time they vowed to put each other first and give each other their best. “We also learned to respond to each other’s bid for affection [rather than] ignoring them or brushing them off [which] was no longer an option if we wanted a healthy, secure, fulfilling relationship,” Jodie recounted.
For her own personal healing, Jodie explored Esther Perels’ work on infidelity and long-term relationships, read Glennon Doyle’s book Love Warrior, and documented her story with her own words—which proved to be the most cathartic and impactful way for her to heal and move forward. Jodie shared, “As I was able to bring myself back to life—because, initially, infidelity is something you feel you might die from—I tried to take the best care of myself I ever have.”
What to Avoid When Trying to Heal Your Marriage From Infidelity
As Jodie mentioned, there is no “right way” to heal your marriage from infidelity. However, Brooke did want couples to try to avoid blaming and shaming in the healing process. She said, “You can express your own pain and the impact it has had on you. But, you do not need to blame or shame your partner who probably already has that shame anyway. You should especially avoid doing this in front of your children.”
Brooke also suggested the couple develop a plan on how to protect the children so that they do not get “enmeshed with the conflict nor become privy to every detail.” She reminded couples that children are innocent and should not be embroiled in any of these issues. Brooke also wanted couples to know that they should “avoid using children as pawns or intermediaries in the couples’ emotional process. Beware of any oversharing with the children.” Instead, much like Jodie did, model to them how couples can resolve a conflict in a healthy and mature fashion for the children and your own sakes.
Lessons Learned From Overcoming Infidelity
Jodie shared several lessons she has learned about healing her marriage after infidelity:
Jodie’s marriage is stronger and more enjoyable not in spite of infidelity, but because of it. Infidelity propelled them to fix what was broken in their marriage for quite some time.
Jodie never condoned her husband’s infidelity. “But once I gained an understanding of how he could choose to cheat, I was able to own my own role in the decline of our marriage,” Jodie admitted. She believed she left him too, but in a different way. Jodie realized, “I’d abandoned him emotionally and physically. We weren’t even friends at our worst point…but, I could put up with it until the kids were grown and then I’d re-evaluate…That’s a death sentence for a marriage.”
If there is infidelity in a marriage, there is no blueprint for what is the “right way” in terms of leaving the relationship or staying together. But Jodie received this advice which helped her determine her path: “You just have to do the right thing for you…There’s no need for big, sweeping decisions immediately after discovering you’ve been betrayed. Either way forward will be hard. There’s no easy path.”
The best way to come to an understanding of how to move beyond infidelity (whether together or separately) is to take time to sit in the experience—sit in the stillness of the pain and get to a place where you quiet the noise around you. Deep down in you is the answer and a voice letting you know what your path is.
Jodie credited reading and listening to other people’s journeys to help her heal. She shared, “It’s phenomenal how recognizing your own story inside of someone else’s can galvanize you and point you squarely in the direction of your own true north.”