If you have spent any time in online forums or groups for betrayed partners, you know that a big topic of discussion is whether to stay or leave your relationship with the cheater.
It is always interesting to me to see how confident one person can be about what another person should do. Many times, I have seen posts and comments telling someone to either leave or stay in their relationship. Without any information about the relational context (other than that there has been cheating) a judgement is passed.
What I notice in these discussions and comments is that the idea of staying or leaving is often viewed in a binary, black and white manner. Leaving is looked at as the healthy choice and staying is the weak or codependent choice. Or, on the flip side, staying is seen as the right and loyal decision and leaving is seen as a loss of faith or lack of perseverance.
What gets lost in these emotionally charged conversations is the reality that staying and leaving are simply outcomes. They are outcomes of choices that people make about their relationships. Neither outcome is good or bad by itself. Both outcomes can be arrived at by healthy means or unhealthy means.
The reality is that you can choose to stay in your relationship from a place of health or from a place of brokenness. Staying in and of itself is not an indicator of emotional wellness. Same with leaving your relationship. You can leave from a place of health or leave from a place of brokenness.
What this means is that we really need to shift the conversation that we are having around leaving and staying! The question is not, “should I leave or stay?” The better question is, “Am I able to make the best choice for myself from a place of emotional health?” And better yet, “What does staying from a place of emotional wellness look like? And what does leaving from a place of emotional wellness look like?”
For betrayed partners, leaving and staying are complicated questions and each person’s situation is unique. Thinking through how to make these decisions in a healthy manner that creates positive outcomes is a vital part of the healing process.
My wish for every betrayed partner is that they can make the decision to stay or leave from a place of clarity, freedom from fear and freedom from shame. We are going to look at the issue of clarity below and then next week we will discuss freedom from fear and shame.
To know whether it is best for us to stay or leave, we first need to get very clear about what is happening in our relationship. We often cannot know what is best for us right after discovery. We don’t yet know if we are dealing with infidelity or addiction. We don’t yet know the entire scope of the betrayal. We don’t yet know if our partner is willing to do what is needed to repair the relationship. We don’t yet know what is required to heal.
I’ve had many people land in our Braving Hope coaching program and tell me that they didn’t even know that staying and repairing the relationship was an option. They thought their only possibility was to divorce and move on. Some of them reverse course and begin a new journey with their partner toward healing. Others are saddened that they didn’t have the information sooner.
In the crisis of discovery, emotions run hot and heavy as the pain is acute. Most partners want to leave their relationship during this time. However, the truth about whether the relationship can be saved or whether the relationship needs to end, is often hidden at this point. Clarity about this comes over time as you onboard expert help, learn about healing betrayal and begin to stabilize from the initial trauma.
One of the biggest gifts you can give yourself during this stage is the gift of time. Time to get clear about what has happened, how you feel about it, and what is possible or not possible given the realities of your situation. Time to gather support and information and begin to process it. Time to grow your internal capacity to navigate the new foreign land of betrayal. Time to develop your resourcefulness so that you are free to choose the best outcome for you.
Clarity moves you toward choice. Without the ability to choose to leave, staying becomes a default option or the relationship continues because you are stuck. When we are free to leave, we are free to choose to stay. The goal is freedom to choose what is best for you and gaining clarity is the first step.
About the Author:
Michelle Mays, LPC, CSAT-S is the Founder of PartnerHope.com and the Center for Relational Recovery, an outpatient treatment center located in Northern Virginia. She has helped hundreds of betrayed partners and sexually addicted clients transform their lives and relationships. Michelle is the author of The Aftermath of Betrayal and When It All Breaks Bad and leads the field in identifying and crafting effective treatment strategies for betrayed partners.
Braving Hope is a ground-breaking coaching intensive for betrayed partners around the world. Working with Michelle will help you to move out of the devastation of betrayal, relieve your trauma symptoms and reclaim your life.