how do couples survive infidelity?
January 24, 2019 8:57 AM   Subscribe

Searching for resources for a short story I am writing about a couple dealing with infidelity.

I am looking for resources on couples who have experienced infidelity and were able to heal the relationship and stay together for a story I am writing. What does it entail? How did it go? How long did it take to rebuild trust and how does the process of rebuilding trust work? How does the one who cheated prove they won't again? How does the one cheated on feel confident that they don't have to worry about a further infidelity?

I am looking for first person accounts as opposed to resources written as a guide to couples facing this issue - those are easy to find. I want to hear first hand accounts of incidents where a couple survived and thrives in spite of a betrayal. I would love to collect anecdata from the hive mind but I also strongly welcome books or articles with first person accounts of this process.

I really don't want to hear anything to the effect of "cheating destroys everything forever and there's no going back" - it's not helpful to me for the purposes of my story.

Thanks in advance!
posted by thereemix to Human Relations (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You can visit Surviving Infidelity and read many, many posts for first-hand accounts.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:00 AM on January 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

First thing I thought of was Esther Perel. She has a TED Talk called "Rethinking Infidelity" that's basically about this. I think there is an episode of her podcast, Where Should We Begin, about it too.

(To be clear, the podcast is where the first-person accounts will be.)
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:07 AM on January 24, 2019 [6 favorites]

I would like to gently express serious reservations about Surviving Infidelity. The forum may have been something positive at one point, but for what it has become? There are a lot of anecdotes and it is possible that you may find something helpful to your stories there ... still, I don't believe that most of what is on that site is promoting healthy behavior. I’m done some perusing of the site over a few years. (I’m a stripper. But that doesn’t mean I don’t care about monogamy and want to understand it better.)

There is some good advice but very limited moderation, and any good advice is mostly buried in a landfill of risky and flat-out bad advice — more or less exactly what you would expect from a group of hurt, angry, betrayed, humiliated, lonely anonymous individuals gathering in a corner of the internet. Again, I mean that gently; they're hurting, deeply.

The priority is on letting people vent. And so hurt people egg each other on. There is a lot of encouragement to polygraph and install key logging software on computers and put secret GPS trackers on cars. Contact the affair partner’s workplace and tell everyone the gory details. Send the homewrecker’s nude photos to her friends and family. Anything short of physical confrontation is totally fair game; the bitch/son-of-a-bitch brought it on themselves. And if you don’t agree, it’s because you haven’t been through it like I’ve been through it and so I don’t care about your opinion, la la la I can’t hear youuu. I remember one person getting cheers for contacting the affair partner’s teenage son’s girlfriend with the intimate details. In one case, a few people recommended that a guy get a DNA test for his 14-year-old daughter, and as she’s getting the DNA swab then tell her about the situation because she’s old enough to understand what’s going on. Another person got cheers for suggesting that adultery should be a “sex offense” — a crime that should show up on one’s criminal record — and that there should be a “public database” of adulterers.

Plus, plenty of references to sex workers as “whores” and “roaches,” not to mention a shit ton of flat-out inaccurate information about the industry. (“No one ever goes to a strip club and just gets a drink.” “‘Massages’ cost $60.” “They only take cash.” Etc.) Also, it seems like the prevailing (or at least most oft-discussed) view when it comes to porn is that it is a toxic thing that ruins relationships and should be treated as cheating-ish, if not outright cheating.

And while there are discussions of both men and women straying, rest assured, Surviving Infidelity members seem extra-comfortable throwing around gendered language for female cheaters and female affair partners. “Slut,” “whore,” etc. (I recall a thread with a mind-numbingly stupid discussion of the gendered language, including a bunch of people explaining their definitions of the words “slut” and “whores” — including a dictionary citation — and that doubling-down that yes, the “other woman” in their cases really were deserving of one or both of those titles.) And because most of the posts are about heterosexual relationships and heterosexual affairs, just about every affair involves either a female cheater or female affair partner. So you can imagine how gendered slurs are totally normalized on that site.

And while posters don’t actually discuss plans or immediate intent, people frequently talk about a general desire to kill their spouse and/or the spouse’s affair partner — and in my perusal, the majority of that desire seems to be directed at female spouses and female affair partners. There’s a “Red Pill” undertone to a LOT of the posts.

Surviving Infidelity welcomes both “betrayed spouses” and “wayward spouses” — referred to as “BS” and “WS” for shorthand, respectively — and offers support for both reconciliation and separation, so I figured would provide a lot more insight into a complicated problem than it ultimately does. The bottom line is that few people on the site are willing to say, “[X] is not okay, no matter how angry you are.” Most anything you say to hold back a “betrayed spouse” in language or in action is considered supporting the “wayward spouse” and blaming the victim. 

There are some people who seem to find Surviving Infidelity helpful, which is obviously why the site exists and why they use it. And I understand why. Being cheated on can feel so humiliating and so lonely and all-around devastating that of course you want your feelings validated. But when emotions are running high, when there are families involved and children involved, that’s usually when you need people to keep your impulses in check with an eye towards long-term happiness instead of short-term revenge. And this site overall focuses little on the former and way too much on the latter.

People say that the site’s motto is, “Take what you need; leave the rest.” That’s not fucking good enough. Most people on the site aren’t “leaving the rest.”

I thought it would be like AskMe, sort of, but lots of lots of infidelity questions. But the relationship advice here, which I roll my eyes at a fair amount of, is MILES BETTER than what’s on Surviving Infidelity. People on the site have made references about hatred towards wayward spouses growing over the past few years (despite the site being created by a wayward spouse) so it is possible that it was once a good site and has changed. But whatever it was once was, I don’t want to be a part of it now.

To be honest, if I learned someone was an active part of the Surviving Infidelity community, I would make a little asterisk in my mind that this person is part of a community that encourages slut-shaming and blind-rage acts of revenge — a community that promotes language and behavior that is at odds with what I know to be basic tenets of modern feminism. (Not to pass judgment entirely; maybe the person is one of the few voices of reason on the site, doing the whole “be the change you want to see in the world” thing. I don’t necessarily know the backstory and shouldn’t make sweeping assumptions. But it’s something I’d note in my mind. I’d be extra careful what I said around the person.)

And full disclosure: Maybe I’m sensitive because of being a sex worker. That’s a fair rebuttal to my criticism. But I think a lot of non-sex workers and progressive feminists would agree with my criticism. The views freely perpetrated by a lot of people on that site are incredibly detrimental to society as a whole — and specifically to women’s rights and women’s sexuality.

It bums me out, because I wish there was a community on the Internet that actually offers what Surviving Infidelity purports to offer. Infidelity is gutting, trapping, and in many cases, life-altering and life-shattering. There should be a place for support people going through such heartache. But I don’t think Surviving Infidelity is the right place.

I'm very curious to hear others' suggestions about resources for your story. Thank you for posting this. I will give this some more thought and maybe come back with some anecdata, for whatever that might be worth.
posted by Peppermint Snowflake at 10:05 AM on January 24, 2019 [37 favorites]

Cheryl Strayed covers her experience a little bit in this column.
posted by foxjacket at 12:07 PM on January 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Seconding Esther Perel's work.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:13 PM on January 24, 2019

I defer to Peppermint Snowflake; it's been a long time since I looked through SI but I do remember a forum there that was specifically for those what had reconciled, with long term stories in there. I believe that is what the OP asked for, rather than a healthy guide to approaching infidelity in his or her own relationship.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:26 PM on January 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

This American Life has done some stuff exploring peoples' experience of this:
posted by hotcoroner at 1:43 PM on January 24, 2019

Definitely Esther Perel - her work on this topic is absolutely top quality. The podcast is unlike anything else, it is real couples doing a one time couples counseling session with Esther and the skillful way she helps them express themselves and their experiences is fantastic.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 10:22 AM on January 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

Feel free to reach out to me. I've lived through it, in fact, on both sides of the marriage/relationship. We've been together 16 years and have a 3 year old.

I will say, I didn't start out with all together star struck with the idea of monogamy, but still it's required a lot of work to move through it. Esther Perel is literally life changing/mind blowing in this regards.

I honestly think letting go of the the perfect marriage and what that has to look like, and opening up to the idea that it might be possible to experience love for a partner and desire for someone outside the marriage ... this has been really relieving and really crucial for me to fully understand. I just really get both sides of why people do it, and also how bad the pain is and how intense it can be. I truly think each affair AND each marriage/primary relationship is quite different. Like some people really do cheat because the marriage is essentially over... and others, it's quite more complex, and it could even be an attempt to save the marriage on some level.

Anyway, my husband and I are doing great. It's complicated our lives, for sure, but the sex is great, the therapy is awesome, our conversations are rich and dynamic, and probably most importantly, I feel like I'm in a marriage that I'm creating rather than one I just fell into without really negotiating what I truly want. It's work. I'm in it now. He's the love of my life. And it's possible we are moving into a more open marriage, but that's not the focus.

It's the end of the old marriage, but it also can be the beginning of a new one, in my understanding. Transformation time. And also, my heart really goes out to you because it's painful as all hell when you're in the fire.

I also didn't find a whole lot of resources when going through this, except good therapy, Esther Perel, and leaning into the poly community - not because I am poly, but because I really wanted to understand sexuality and relationships more fully. Oh, this discussion group is great as well.
posted by Rocket26 at 5:52 PM on January 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh and by the way, anyone who tells you an affair ends everything just has a very narrow/rigid view of humanity, love, sexuality, and attachment. I truly believe it can be the catalyst for so many awakenings. Cheating does not destroy everything - it's possible endless lies, deception, and an inability to confront each other and communicate destroy things though, but that's not the same thing as an affair, even if that's sometimes a part of it. It's just very complex. Sex and love literally are BIG BIG deals in human lives, and you can not sum up these things because "cheating". I am always shocked how grown up humans can have a ridiculously adolescent view on this matter.

And I agree, stay away from forums that are narrow and rigid and use outdated views of sexuality, relationships, etc.
posted by Rocket26 at 6:03 PM on January 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

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