Have you ever experienced the phenomenon where you thought about buying a certain kind of car and then suddenly you start seeing that car everywhere, even though you are sure you never saw more than three before in your whole life? Ever since I wrote my post about how a separation is sometimes the right answer, I feel as though I am seeing a lot of separations happening here on in the BWC community. And maybe I’m just seeing things that are always there. Maybe there is a lot of it. Maybe I’m assuming an undue level of influence for the post I wrote (I still take responsibility for things that aren’t mine). I know no one here is jumping into a separation willy-nilly because of something they read on the internet. And of course, as I wrote earlier, sometimes it is the rational, healthy choice for someone in a toxic situation. But, I’m also feeling that I want to add some balance through discussion of the other option, one that can be just as hard, and that’s staying.
Choosing to stay when faced with a partner’s affair is absolutely a valid choice and one that many women make. The public view of affairs is reminiscent of the ways we used to (and in some places still do) talk about sexual assault. It’s taboo. We pretend it doesn’t happen. We don’t talk about it openly. When someone in the public eye is unfortunate enough to go through this, the public is openly condemning the act of betrayal itself while simultaneously taking a voyeuristic pleasure in someone else’s pain and downfall. Society also tends to blame the victim (sounds familiar, right?). The wife must have been a frozen shrew, or he wouldn’t have strayed. She must be a chump if she stays with a cheater. She’s “asking for it” – being hurt or fooled again – if she stays. A woman is left feeling alone, isolated and with a burden of shame for her choice to stay. There’s no high five, feel good Oprah episode celebrating women who fight this difficult and painful fight. This is piled on top of the PTSD symptoms we’re struggling with from the betrayal itself. Why, then, might a woman choose to stay after the life-altering trauma of betrayal?
Staying might be the choice you make today, right now, because you need time to breathe and find your feet before you decide what is the next right step for you. You are shattered and often a weeping mess on the bathroom floor (no shame, we’ve all been there). Now is not the time to be considering wholesale changes to your life. It’s okay to sit still for the time being and recruit your strength. Staying because you need time to recover is okay. You have as much time as you need.
You may choose to stay because you have a long history with this person. You’ve built a life together. You are not willing to throw all that away. You know there is work ahead, and so does he, but you both are willing to do that work to get somewhere better. And sometimes, it takes a little while to get from the pain and horror of D-day, to the point where you both are on board for this effort. It is a legitimate choice to stay and give things time to unfold, to settle down and for you to assess whether or not you see him making changes and doing the hard work of figuring out why he made the choices he made. Again, you have as much time as you need to let this part of the story unfold.
You might choose to stay for your children, if you have them. This is a valid choice too. Disruption, separation and divorce are all scary and challenging for children. You are making a choice for them, to keep things safe and settled. But know that they need a happy, healthy mother in their lives. So as you make the choice to stay for them, also own that it is a choice for you. You are not trapped or weak. You are fighting for a better life. What does this look like? Is this also time to assess and let things unfold? Staying for your children is an okay place to start but don’t let it be where you finish. What does your husband need to do to show he deserves this second chance to be in a family with you.
You might choose to stay because you are scared. Scared of all the unknowns out there. Scared you can’t provide for yourself. Scared it will be a struggle. Scared of being alone. Scared of running a household on your own. Scared that you won’t be able to keep your family safe. Scared of anything and everything. This is also real and legitimate. I’ve been there (and still go there sometimes). It’s okay to sit still when you are feeling scared about your future. Take some time to look at what you are afraid of. If you don’t feel like you can support yourself, start doing something to address that. If you don’t have visibility into the family income and finances, take steps to get that access. If you worry you won’t have enough to live on if you do end up on your own, go and visit a lawyer to understand what your rights are. Start taking steps to address those fears and take some of your power back. You have as much time as you need to work through these fears and gain confidence in your ability to handle your own life. This will serve you whether your relationship ends or mends.
The bottom line is that you may choose to stay for a variety of reasons, all of which are personal to you and all of which are completely valid. It is necessary, after trauma, to take time to breathe and recover, to give yourself time to feel through the pain. As you start finding your feet again, take stock. What needs to change? What are your boundaries and terms for staying together? What are your needs? What do you want to work on? What is holding you back personally? What does he need to do to earn this second chance you are giving him by choosing to stay? How are you going to take better care of yourself and ask for what you need? What are your deal breakers? What is your plan if a deal breaker occurs? It’s a lot to think about AND you don’t have to have all those answers today, tomorrow or next week. But, when you are ready, start thinking about where you want to go from here. Claim the power you already have to steer your life. And know that no decision is made in stone. You may choose to stay today, for just today. You are always free to change direction. This is both liberating and scary as help. Just know that we’ll be right there with you.