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Cheating: forgive and forget or just leave?

Cheating: forgive and forget or just leave? *

Some betrayals are easier to forgive than others. Cheating on a significant other is more of a roadblock than a speedbump. But with the numbers hovering at lifetime infidelity rates at 25 percent for men and 15 percent for women, potentially one in four of us are scheduled to meet that roadblock head-on. According to a study cited by O Magazine’s “I Thought I Could Trust Him…”Judith Newman, General Social Survey found that unfaithful wives under 30 increased by 20 percent and husbands by 45 percent respectively from 1991 to 2006.

How do you define “cheating”?

There is emotional cheating; good old fashioned physical, sexual cheating; and somewhere in the middle–a sweet, seemingly innocent office crush. In the age of texting, Skype, social networking websites and message boards, cheating is easier than ever: anonymity, privacy and accessibility are abundant.

However, when most couples say “I do,” one would hope they never contemplated themselves one day in the future, salivating at the receiving end of a racy photo or texting unmentionable sex talk throughout the workday to a complete stranger. It is a slippery slope. But at some point, a boundary is crossed and suddenly relationships, marriages, families are destroyed. Nonetheless, before you pack your bags, load up the U-Haul and look up “divorce lawyers” in the phonebook, ask yourself a few questions:

Questions to ask when (you suspect that) your partner has cheated:

1. Has it happened before?
Chances are it will happen again. The old aphorism “once a cheat always a cheat” unfortunately is a saying for a reason-it rings true. Cheating is a symptom of a much larger problem. The spouse didn’t feel special or appreciated. Sometimes, the cheating was a convenient and attractive distraction from the mundane rigmarole that is parenting, paying the bills and snoring in cotton pajamas next to your mate. While feeling ignored and bored is a sympathetic cause, serial cheating will not solve the problem. If this is the second or third time, you may want to leave. Otherwise, you may find yourself in a strange episode of “Groundhog Day.”

2. How did you find out?
If you discovered the indiscretions by scrolling down the recent calls of your partner’s cellphone, or you read e-mails from a mysterious co-worker that didn’t exactly involve anything work-related, your spouse is caught mid-affair red-handed. Ask yourself…were they ever planning on telling you? You know the sad and unfortunate answer. It is a little harder to forgive and forget when your partner was forced into confession. Or worse yet, can you really move past this marital discord when your husband or wife tries to rationalize or deny the offending evidence of an affair and proceeds with business as usual?

3. Are children involved?
Children should never be the only reason that you stay in a marriage or a relationship. However, when mommy and daddy have 10 years of fidelity and the bonds of a family with children, the answer to dealing with a cheating partner is much more complex. You are not only ending a relationship with your spouse when you leave, you are ending the happy image of mommy and daddy together. Still, if the image is truly just that, a fake Hollywood front for the children to go through their golden early childhood years, then maybe you should leave. Before leaving, seek a family therapist, counselor or pastor to discuss if there is anything worth salvaging. For some, cheating is a non-negotiable and no explanation or psycho-babble interpretation will suffice- their boots were made for walking.

4. Are you staying for the right reasons?
Money is not the right reason. Easier said than done, but if you are in this relationship to be on the payroll of the other partner, you probably should consult an attorney as soon as you are done reading this. I know that in an era when financial portfolios are mere shadows of their former selves and inflation has made grocery shopping nauseating, it is hard to imagine life on your own. Be brave, cut the tie and start brainstorming what your marketable skills are. And remember there is always spousal maintenance and alimony to give you that post-divorce financial lift.

In the end, remember that cheating affects divorce and child custody peripherally. While the family courts are not courts of moral authority, and the scarlet letter will not be emblazoned on the chests of cheaters, judges may consider infidelity as a grounds for divorce. Judges don’t take too kindly to situations when lovers have been introduced to the children during the marriage or have engaged in inappropriate behavior such as forcing the children to call the lover “mom” or “dad.” A judge in Texas may award a disproportionate share of the marital estate, considering the grounds of infidelity. Further, when deciding access and custody issues, the judge may consider whether the unfaithful spouse has moved in with a girlfriend or boyfriend during the pendancy of divorce. And then, if that girlfriend or boyfriend has children of their own, you have just complicated your case exponentially.

* (Image c/o Creative Commons)