What makes up the foundation of a monogamous relationship or marriage? For many people, trust is a huge pillar—yet recent data indicates that anywhere between 20 and 70 percent of people cheat on their partner at some point over the course of their relationship.
Whether you're the one doing the cheating or you're trying to move past your partner's infidelity, it's unfair to say that cheating is entirely black and white, and few relationship experts believe it should absolutely mean the end of a relationship.
"In some cases, there’s eventually a positive that emerges long-term after infidelity—that an affair was one of the few things dramatic and life-changing enough to bring the couple back to a strong erotic connection," explains Debra Campbell, psychologist, relationship expert, and author of Lovelands. "That being said, recovering from infidelity is long, hard work, and you’ll only be motivated to do that hard work of rebuilding from the ground up if you both still truly value and want to be with each other. It will require some soul-searching all around, and couple therapy can be a good option for doing that."
We know what steps relationship experts would take, but how do real women feel about infidelity? We asked five of them. Here's what they had to say.
Cheating is a gray area.
"I think cheating falls into a really gray area, brings up a lot of issues about what you'd like the narrative of your life to look like, and examines what role your relationship plays within that. If the narrative is about kids and family and shared history, I'm not sure cheating is enough to make that suddenly veer off course. But if it's about this passion and one-and-only-love thing—maybe it is. I think one of the many reasons cheating is so terrible is because it forces people to question what they want their relationship to mean in their life." —Leslie, 31
Trust isn't something you can't put back together again.
"Everyone's different, and maybe for some people it shouldn't result in a breakup, but for me it would. If my girlfriend so much as made out with someone, no matter what the circumstances, I'm pretty sure I would break up with her immediately. I'm just not sure I could trust her after the fact." —Michelle, 23
I've been cheated on, and I'm glad I stayed.
"My college boyfriend was an artist with a ton of emotional baggage, and he cheated on me while we were in the midst of a 24-hour fight. I was hurt, but I also could easily see how it happened. This other girl was all over him and made him feel desirable while I was pulling away from him. He showed up on my doorstep at 5 a.m. in tears, then spent a week trying to win me back. If this were someone I planned to marry, that whole episode would have been a deal-breaker, but he wasn't. I thought about what I'd be giving up if I walked away and what I'd get if I stayed and I decided I wanted more of him. Was it the healthiest, most balanced relationship? No, but it taught me a ton, and I'm glad I stayed in it another year." —Eloise, 32
When there's a lot at stake, it's not always that easy to walk away.
"My husband and I had been going through a rough patch that lasted about two years when I cheated on him. After three kids and 18 years of marriage, he didn't shower me with the love and attention he once had, so I went looking for it elsewhere. I slept with a friend of a friend one night and told him a few days later. After threatening to leave, he decided walking away wouldn't be that easy. Things hadn't always been perfect, but we'd built a mostly happy life together and had three amazing kids to show for it. We started going to couples counseling, and three years later I think we're both happy we were able to patch things up." —Ellen, 52
Love isn't a catchall.
"I think the older I get, the more I want to think that cheating is black and white. But love isn't this catchall that we've come to define it as. The way marriages are set up now is kind of depressing. Live with the same person, sleep with the same person, date the same person...for three-quarters of your life? Don't get me wrong—older couples who have done this are really sweet, but it puts a lot of demand on one person, so cheating becomes more understandable. I have a joke that I 'fall in love with people' all the time. I think with the right balance of trust and love in your partner, you can design a life that's rich and full. It's not about restricting each other because you 'own' them or belong to them but instead allowing one another's needs to be met because you love them." —Sloan, 30
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