I stop short of saying that my husband's affair(s) helped our marriage, though there is at least one woman who hails it as "the best thing that ever happened to me". I think the emotional (and physical) wreckage from infidelity is simply too devastating for me to ever consider it a good thing. I can, however, recognize that all that agony also brought with it some gifts. Wisdom, for lack of a better word, that I might not otherwise have…and that has contributed to greater joy in my life.
But I worry, when experts are hailing cheating as something that can "save" a marriage, it's giving implicit permission to those considering an affair to forge ahead. After all, it might even be good for their marriage. Who wouldn't want the opportunity to screw with impunity, all in the name of self-improvement?
I understand the point these experts are making. I'm living their point. And I sing their same song post after post on this site: An affair does not have to sound the death knell for a marriage. It's a position contrary to…ahem…some others on the Web, with whom I've had my difference of opinion (and to whom I won't link because she tends to trigger those of us early on the path of healing).
I think it's important to offer up a different message to women facing their husband's cheating because, for far too long, we've been shown two options: Throw the bum out or sweep the affair under the rug for the sake of our marriage.
There is, of course, another way. To use the affair as an opportunity to deconstruct a marriage is crisis and then rebuild. But we can't gloss over just how brutalizing an affair is to the betrayed partner. We can't subscribe exclusively to an "he-had-an-affair-but-look-on-the-bright-side" way of thinking that does little for the betrayed or the betrayer. I remain convinced (though I am an incurable optimist) that if more people saw the effects of infidelity up close, they'd keep their pants on and their legs closed to all but their spouse. They'd think twice before they sent flirtatious texts to a co-worker. They'd walk away when opportunity arose, knowing that the brief pleasure simply wasn't worth the sacrifice of their partner's sense of safety in the world.
Unfortunately, given our cultural conviction that any woman who stays is a doormat and any woman who kicks him out is a warrior, we don't have much evidence of how betrayal impacts those of us who chose option 3 – to rebuild our marriage with the person who broke our hearts. We need to have that conversation too, along with the proposal that it's possible to learn lessons (incredibly painful lessons) from a spouse's affair.