I Feel Betrayed, Should I Stay or
Should I Go?
By Joanna Alvord, LAMFT, MBA
I Feel Betrayed, Should I Stay or Should I Go?
By Joanna Alvord, LAMFT, MBA
“If you start to feel that you have given up too many parts of yourself to be with your partner, then one day you will end up looking for another person in order to reconnect with those lost parts.“ - Esther Perel
One of my favorite authors on infidelity and betrayal is the renowned sex and relationship therapist Esther Perel. Based on decades of her psychotherapy experience, she truly believes and is adamant that many marriages can recover from the blow of betrayal. That is great news! However, Esther also expresses concern over stigma the betrayed partner may face in our modern society, should they choose to stay with an unfaithful partner.
In her talks and books on infidelity, Perel deals with the unbearable pain of fractured relationships with intense honesty and compassion and offers her clients astute and direct perceptions. Although her frank methods can seem eccentric to some, if my marriage was in trouble, I’d want her help.
What are the most common types of affairs?
The reality is an “affair” no longer means only a sexual intimate extramarital relationship. Times have changed. We marry for different reasons nowadays. Divorce laws have changed in the last decades. Infidelity isn’t black and white any longer; it comes in all shades of gray today. One common theme is the secrecy. Some types of infidelity can be:
· Physical/sexual affair; when one partner has sex outside of the relationship. Studies show men have a harder time forgiving a sexual affair than women do. At the same time, women may be more likely to forgive when emotions are not involved.
· Virtual affair; when trust violation is committed through chats and sexts. This may include the viewing of pornography.
· Emotional affair; when one partner becomes emotionally attached to someone else. Sex is not always part of the emotional affair.
· Outside interest affair; when one neglects the relationship to pursue an outside interest to a point of near-obsession. That can include obsessive hobbies or addictions such as gambling.
Knowing what your spouse views as infidelity is key to maintaining your marital or commitment vows, so talk with your partner. Attending premarital or couples therapy can help in discussing views and expectations around monogamy to avoid future disagreements or hurt.
Perel observes, “Love is messy; infidelity more so. But it is also a window, like no other, into the crevices of the human heart.” So why part of you may be asking everyday: “Should I stay, or should I go?’, I would challenge you to look deeper.
Can a marriage heal after an affair?
While betrayal can bring unbearable pain, research shows it can be healed. As Perel emphasizes based on her experience, “an affair can even be the doorway to a new marriage—with the same person. With the right approach, couples can grow and learn from these tumultuous experiences, together or apart.”
I also resonate with Perel’s observations that “today, we turn to one person to provide what an entire village once did”. Just realizing how much hope and expectation we have put into our partner—where perhaps we should have been providing for ourselves—is key.
Also, let me note that affairs do have a lot to teach us about contemporary relationships; our wants, desires, entitlements, or even our dares. They offer a unique peek into our attitudes about relationships, lust, and commitment; unquestionably all viewed from our personal and cultural lens. What is acceptable to you is utterly unacceptable to another. What once was unacceptable to you, under today’s circumstances, can be accepted, or vice versa.
How can I decide if I should stay in the relationship?
Of course, there is always the next step to consider when facing issues of infidelity in your relationship. Do you stay with this person or not? In some cases, that question may be answered for you, with your partner leaving the relationship. Or, it may be you feeling that it is necessary for the relationship to end; perhaps your partner isn’t willing to end the extramarital affair or face their addiction. Another option is for you try to work with your partner in processing the experience, however painful, and perhaps find a way to stay together… in a new way.
Whatever you decide, make sure that you have considered the pros and cons of all options. This is where working with a therapist can be helpful. You shouldn’t have to go through this pain alone.
Infidelity of a spouse can be a traumatic experience for anyone to face. It can trigger emotions and safety concerns. However, it is something you can get through, provided are able to process it yourself, and you have the support during this difficult time.
Perel, E. (2018). The state of affairs. Rethinking infidelity. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, LLC.
Joanna Alvord is a Marriage and Family Therapist at The EFT Clinic in Salt Lake City, Utah, and is currently accepting new clients. Email Joanna (joanna[@]theeftclinic.com) or call The EFT Clinic today to set an appointment.