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It’s a tale as old as time: your spouse was in the shower and received some flirty texts from an unknown number. Or worse, you came home to find them in the act. Perhaps this news hit you like a bus, or maybe it’s something you suspected for a long time.
Either way, you caught your spouse red-handed, and you now have tangible evidence. Now what? Should you immediately confront your spouse, let your emotions take the wheel, and blow up? Or should you retreat into the corner and sob? Or maybe… cut up all of your spouse’s clothes while they’re at work? Tempting as that might sound, it’ll probably cost you in more ways than one later, so put the scissors down.
In all seriousness, you may feel very alone right now and have the urge to panic, but please, take a deep breath and know that, yes, times are tough right now, but you are by no means the first person this has happened to — not even close. According to the American Association for Marriage and Therapy, national surveys show that 15 percent of married women and 25 percent of married men have cheated on their spouse. These numbers jump 20 percent when you include emotional affairs (cheating without sex).
Still, you’re probably thinking, that doesn’t make navigating my situation any less bearable, emotionally or practically speaking. So how can you make it through?
Stop And Take A Deep, Deep Breath
You’ve reached a fork in the road: should you turn left (try to save your marriage) or right (end it)? It’s a compelling question with an even more powerful answer, which definitely won’t come from an onslaught of emotion. It’s why the worst thing you could do at this moment is to react. Your feelings are too raw.
Instead, it would be best if you gave yourself time to process the situation, including figuring out whether you’re willing to risk that your spouse will cheat again. According to another study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior titled “Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater?: Serial Infidelity Across Subsequent Relationships,” participants unfaithful in one relationship were three times as likely to be unfaithful in their next relationship. That’s in comparison to those who had not been unfaithful in their previous relationship.
In any event, if you do decide to repair your marriage, make sure your cheating spouse invests fully in the process, which includes going to couples counseling and working hard to regain your trust. If they’re not on board, your spouse has essentially made your decision for you.
Consider The kids If You Have Them
Another important consideration is the children and how they will react to a divorce. It should go without saying (but I’ll repeat it for emphasis) that you must prioritize your children’s well-being. And no, that doesn’t translate to staying with your cheating spouse for financial reasons or keeping the family “complete.” Newsflash: these days, families come in all shapes and sizes.
Keep in mind your children develop their worldview from how you raise them. Children are always watching to see how you’ll react. So, in a morally conflicting situation such as adultery, ask yourself what type of message you would like to send to them. That it’s OK to cheat? Or be cheated on? It’s a rhetorical question.
Take Care Of Yourself
It may seem like your world is collapsing around you right now, but I promise, it’s not. You hit a bump in the road — a big one. But, if I may sound trite for a moment, you’ll get over it. That is if you remember to take care of yourself. Do something you loved before your spouse turned your life upside down — baking, knitting, reading, whatever it is that you enjoyed. It could be something as seemingly insignificant as taking a bath. The point is the act benefits YOU.
Remind yourself to eat, too, even if the thought of it makes you sick. Eat healthy food, drink lots of water, and exercise. You will need your strength now more than ever, so stay mindful about not indulging in any old vices or picking up new ones. A bad habit is harder to break than to start.
Find A Support System
Spend some time with (supportive) friends and family. It’s essential not only for having strength behind you as you press forward but also to help recreate a sense of normalcy if you feel like you’ve lost that recently.
If you have children, you need to be at your best for them. Having an emotionally distraught parent can have adverse effects on kids as they grow up, which is why it’s crucial to maintain stability and be available for them. A mental health professional can help you in that regard.
A psychologist or individual otherwise trained as a therapist will be valuable for helping you sort through and deal with your emotions. They can also teach you how to interact with your soon-to-be-ex and talk to your kids about the current situation at home, including an impending divorce.
If they see a need, your therapist will direct you to a psychiatrist to provide you with anxiety-reducing medication, which can take the edge off if you have difficulty managing your anxiety or experience panic attacks.
Look For A Lawyer
It shouldn’t matter that you haven’t decided whether you will divorce your spouse or attempt to save your marriage; you should begin looking for a divorce lawyer anyway. Even if you live in a no-fault divorce state like Washington, where I practice, it’s beneficial to find an attorney who has familiarity managing high-conflict divorces and will commit themselves to put your children’s needs first. In no-fault divorce states, a court will not hold adultery against the offending spouse. Of course, there’s always the court of public opinion, which can play out in other more subtle ways.
One Last Word
Given the hostility cheating often creates between spouses, the wrong lawyer can ratchet up the stress — and your legal bills — quickly, damaging your family dynamic and ability to co-parent successfully. And for that disservice, there will be no price tag. Only pain.
Elise Buie, Esq. is a passionate, creative, problem-solving family law attorney who creates solutions, not obstacles. After evacuating her hometown of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and surviving a divorce, Elise landed in Seattle and founded her law firm. Elise’s practice involves all aspects of family law, guided by a collaborative philosophy and her deep understanding of complex parenting issues. Elise opened her firm during a period of personal adversity. Now in a period of global adversity, Elise’s firm has experienced its most significant growth yet, which she attributes primarily to her driving force and mantra: “I can do it.”