Choosing to terminate reconciliation

goodbyeWhen is it time to say goodbye?

When confronted with the truth that my husband committed adultery my first reaction was to tell him to fuck off. Repeatedly. I did this whilst hitting him. I did this whilst crying. When you move a boundary, life changes violently.

I don’t know for sure when the moment was that I decided to let him stay along with the possibility that I would be prepared to consider a reconciliation of our marriage. Well, the truth is, the decision to let him stay must have been pretty immediate. I didn’t throw him out. However, for me, our remaining together was only initially a temporary measure because it was totally dependent upon whether I felt our marriage stood a chance of surviving the carnage that he had placed at our marital door. Initially, I did not have a clue as to whether we might survive or what measures might work in our favour. The last three years have been acts of improvisation, sometimes, desperately so, but I’m confident that we are well on our way to marital recovery and remain committed to the remaining lifetime’s work that will be necessary to protect the intimacy and monogamy that is so very precious to me.

I remember being completely thrown off balance by the truth of his adultery. It placed me in a situation where a decision needed to be made at a time when I had no idea what might be best for me. Having to make a forced decision put me into a place where I had no choice except to accept what had occurred and to work with what existed between us. There were two stark choices for me: divorce or stay. However, I realise now that whereas choosing to divorce is absolute (unless you get back together) staying, if it does not provide the necessary ingredients for healing and recovery can become a landscape of its own unique horrors.  It can’t be reconciliation at any price, that will just prolong the agony! Reconciliation needs to build on what exists between two married people post adultery.  It might be only weak foundations to begin with but with the right amount of emotional work (and this will vary enormously between couples) the decision to stay can be a route to recovery and a life of promise.

However, instead of genuine remorse and a willingness to face the responsibility of adultery , what if the betraying spouse fails to step up to the plate? What if the isolation of betrayal doesn’t go away? What if suspicions aren’t assuaged? What if the selfishness and cruelty continues? What if the betrayed spouse finds herself just an option in her husband’s life and is forced to play the tragic ‘pick-me, pick-me’, game? I realise that it can’t be an easy decision to make but I do believe that there are situations in which terminating the reconciliation is a wise decision. Leave a cheater in order to get a life!

Chump Lady is one of my preferred ‘alternative’ blog sites. Alternate, in chump ladyas much as she made the decision NOT to reconcile with her serial cheater husband (mind you, she did try for over a year) and alternate in that she uses acerbic humour mixed with a certain schadenfreude which is not for the sensitive.  But, she has been betrayed, knows what it’s like and still retains her compassion for those of us who have been cheated on (chumps). Not everybody’s ‘cup of tea’ (and I didn’t warm to it when I first found it) it is not a site optimistic about reconciliation. She likens reconciliation to a unicorn, a mythical creature we want to believe in, but which is seldom seen. So, no advice here about saving a marriage but lots of reality slaps to help save your sanity if you think that it’s time to say goodbye. Chump Lady states it clearly:

Even with the rare remorseful spouse the days after D-day are so very hard. Now, imagine the far more common scenario in which the person isn’t one bit remorseful. No, they’re pissed off that they’ve been discovered. They ramp up the blame-shifting and the gas-lighting. STAY WITH THAT?

She has an interesting post about whether the remorse felt by the cheater is real or imitation.

So, why stay if the abuse continues? Perhaps there are no rational answers. I do understand that no matter how unhappy we may be in our marriage there is a tendency to revisit the possibility of making it work because it is tied to an image of ourselves, of who we expected to become and the future we had hoped to inhabit. With the continuing emotional abuse we become disorientated and our reactions and responses are not what they would normally be and maybe we find ourselves lost, confused and incapable of acting independently. Adam Phillips, a British psychoanalyst (thanks for yet another recommendation Iris) suggests that “we learn to live somewhere between the lives we have and the lives we would like.” We lead a parallel life in our heads. Now, whereas life in general will always have us balanced somewhere between the two, experiencing betrayal and not having this pain rightfully recognised and respected or worse, ignored, will throw these two aspects into stark relief during any reconciliation.

I watched a disturbing TED talk the other day (via Chump Lady) by Leslie Morgan Steiner who talked about why victims of domestic violence don’t leave. It’s a harrowing personal story but she owns up to a warped way of thinking that kept her tied into a very physically abusive marriage. Steiner says two things: One, she didn’t KNOW it was abuse; and two, she told herself that she was a very strong woman in love with a very troubled man, and only she could save him. That’s why she stayed with her abusive husband.

Are there echoes of her story of physical abuse to be found in infidelity? If we agree to reconciliation but our betraying spouse does not do anything to help us heal or is repeatedly indifferent to our pain do we recognise this as abuse? Is there a narrative which can be adopted which reframes this unacceptable abuse into an acceptable reversal of expectations.  The betrayed spouse is expected to bend to the needs of the betraying spouse?

Making the decision to let go; to leave everything behind and leap into the unknown is a fearsome thought but what are the alternative options? A life of continued abuse? My heart goes out to women confronted by these scenarios. I have found reconciliation a tremendously difficult and painful journey (still do on occasions) so cannot imagine how much more heart-breaking it must be to be with a spouse who adds insult to injury.

Please, you have a life to live and you can do things you didn’t realise you were capable of. Love yourself. As in the words of the song “Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all”.

Image credit: Time For Goodbyes Message Means Farewell Or Bye by Stuart Miles

26 thoughts on “Choosing to terminate reconciliation

  1. woundedraven

    Great post. I think the decision to divorce is pretty finite whereas the decision to work towards reconciliation (whatever that even means) is one that is made over and over again…each and every day. On ‘bad days’ I am ready to call it quits and just give up on it all. Not that my H isn’t trying… these are the days that I no longer feel like accepting his remorse. I am faced with the same choices each time… stay or go. I don’t know if there will ever come a time when I don’t have to make the conscious decision to stay in the marriage ….. perhaps that is the day when I can consider myself truly healed? I have read the chump lady blog as well (and been verbally assaulted by her minions a few times) …. I definitely think that if both spouses are not in agreement about reconciliation and taking the necessary steps to move forward in the marriage, then there really is no point in staying. I love the comparison to abused spouses (though I hate that spousal abuse exists) ….. staying in a one-sided marriage IS abusive. Allowing someone to betray you over and over with no signs of remorse IS abuse and should be treated as such. I pray that any one who is in a situation where they are miserable and treated poorly finds the strength and support to do whatever is necessary to take care of themselves first and foremost. Thanks MR for providing such valuable insight as always xoxo

    1. marriagerecovery Post author

      Thank you for your response WR. I think you’re right, the decision to stay is one that is visited constantly, perhaps for ever. I also ponder about how life would have been if I had decided we needed to divorce. I’m happy to have stayed but it’s a bittersweet feeling. I also hope that all women being abused find the personal strength to take care of themselves.

  2. sunshinelifeforme

    In the past, when we’d argue about stupid little things, I’d fantasize about what it would be like to split up so that I could make my own decisions. Now that I have what would be considered a legitimate reason to divorce, I resist even thinking about it. (And, I’ve found Chump Lady really hard to stomach.) So far H is on board, but I hope he understands as well as I do that the work he’s doing now will have to continue in some capacity for the rest of our lives.

  3. Reconcile 4 Life

    I too appreciate the posts by Chump Lady. She offers a perspective far different than we see elsewhere. I do appreciate her unique, but pessimistic, take and have found it useful as a framework to approach reconciliation with my eyes wide open.

  4. KJ

    Another thought-provoking post MR! I happen to love Chump Lady’s blog, as a BS who is trying reconciliation (I LOVE Woundedraven’s explanation of having to ‘choose’ reconciliation every day, so very true!) I appreciate CL’s thoughts on recognising false remorse, and her posts also have helped me understand that my anger is justified, and that no, I do not have to play nice and dance pretty for fear of ‘scaring’ off my husband into the arms of his affair partner. He created this rage, and when he told me that he would do whatever it takes to fix us I’m afraid part of that deal must include him dealing with my pain in whichever way it manifests itself, and that includes colossal anger and oftentimes doubts about the sincerity of his remorse. The only way I will heal is by his constant reassurances and by showing me that ‘sorry is as sorry does’. As Chump Lady points out, if he’s sorry then he should be sorry regardless of whether I choose to stay or not. I do not owe him reconciliation, and his remorse should not be dependent on my decision to stay. I’m so pleased that you mentioned her blog, I know that her approach can seem so very scary to most BS, but I personally think that it’s helpful to hear from different perspectives. At the end of the day the only thing we can control is ourselves, reconciliation isn’t just about building a better marriage, it’s about rebuilding ourselves and our boundaries too, as the saying goes “I didn’t come this far to only come this far”. Much love, KJ xx

    1. valkyriemad123


      And everyone’s comments I so agree! I regard Chump lady as a refreshing hard line – dose – (like strong medicine!) of sanity especially in the world of Esther Perel’s Dan Savages, etc…..truthiness. But I also cringe to witness ANY Betrayed person struggling and attacked by other veterans.

      That video on domestic abuse was amazing and Morgan’s plea to speak out!

      Child abuse, and sexual domestic abuse by stealth…..maybe it really won’t flourish if we cry out and talk about it. And to re-think and question our attitudes towards a battered spouse, is much like me wishing people could understand my betrayal….have any idea how this feels, to be knifed and cut so intimately and in this way?

      MR thank you so much for bringing up this issue. What about repeat offenders, the ones who don’t struggle with change? and just want to keep running over innocent people….worse hold them hostage

      My heart goes out to the innocents


  5. divorceat25

    When my husband cheated, he was the opposite of remorseful. It wasn’t an affair that I had to find by digging through his things. We were separated and he felt entitled to sleep with his newly found best friend. He claimed it was none of my business, and he had done nothing wrong. Then, he didn’t want to be with me any more because he needed space to figure himself out. He rejected me when I said I couldn’t have the separation he wanted, that I needed fidelity. He recently came crawling back and saying all the right things because he has been miserable alone. I don’t think he is a chronic cheater, but I also don’t know if I can hand over my heart again and try to reconcile with him. He is saying all the right things, but words are so cheap. It might kill me to try again with him, after being rejected so thoroughly.

    1. valkyriemad123


      You are brave and clear when you say you “Need fidelity.”

      Ugh, my heart drops reading your post. I believe also that words are, “so cheap.” The expression radical self care comes to mind. What ever it takes for you to focus on your own healing and recovery. This appears to me as repeated trauma. Please keep writing and restoring your own beautiful heart, and voice…..we hear you.


      1. divorceat25

        Thank you your support. It actually turns out that I was completely right to doubt him. His resolve to give me all I wanted lasted less than 48 hours. He is now back to his old position that he needs “true freedom”. I just need to cut him our of my life. Even trying to take care of myself and knowing that his words are so cheap, my heart broke all over again. I think this is one of those times were I can say without grey areas that he has emotionally abusive. He is dangling little carrots in front of me, so that I can agree to what he wants and play by his rules and then maybe, just maybe I get to have the carrot. I was doing so much better, I was so much stronger and I guess he couldn’t deal with that.

      2. valkyriemad123


        I wrote these words down on a piece of paper and just hunted for them. Pretty sure this came from a recent post from Chump Lady. A man wrote this and it stunned me to the core as true:

        “I just held her accountable, and cheaters hate that because they want to live by a different set of rules than they hold you accountable to.” (believe the guys name was Michael if I remember correctly).

        It’s crushing to love someone so deeply and get so little in return. And it’s only when you stand up and ask for accountability that the mask may fall off and it’s tragic or worse dangerous to see who’s really behind the mask.

        And It’s a tsunami of pain and “Soul Rape.” (CL term)

        People who have been cruelly betrayed understand your anguish, and we all learn various ways to manage and ride these intense waves…. of pain, grief, loss while working towards some type of recovery and eventually hope and renewal. I have been on this journey for half a decade!!!!!

        Shield up and may you become increasingly fierce!

        Much love

  6. cheaterfantasy

    I could be wrong but I do think that trying to reconcile with a spouse who ticks a lot of the boxes with a narcissistic personality disorder would almost be impossible.
    Our very first marriage counsellor who had a lot of experience with NPD said my H was in that category. When I had a session with her on my own She said there is no way H will ever change or show true remorse and that I should leave the marriage as soon as I could. I told H what she had said and then we both researched the criteria. Many of his actions do appear in the NPD spectrum but not all. Then again doesn’t everyone have a few of the traits? On further investigation and a visit to a psychiatrist and a psychologist NPD was ruled out. I might add they also ruled out sex addiction. I guess they were therapist that disliked labels. But then, how do you know how to work out recovery?
    Chump Lady was married to a man with NPD.
    Interesting post MC. Xxx

    1. marriagerecovery Post author

      Yes, excellent points. Of course reconciliation will look different in each instance. It’s difficult to generalise but some situations are far more problematic than others – I can see this from so many of the blogs that I read. I guess the remorse seems to be (for me) the common denominator. If the betraying spouse doesn’t feel any remorse for what they’ve subjected their faithful spouse to then I’m not sure reconciliation has a chance. However, saying that, I realise I’m projecting my own perceptions on to this. I imagine that there are many women who could probably prove that reconciliation happened even so. The remorse is what is the deal breaker for me. If husband started to show any decline in this I would be troubled. How he responds to his remorse is unique to him and I am learning to understand this. I can’t give him a script (though I’d like to) he has to work it out for himself and in that process he does stumble across the odd not detonated land mine. But we’re both learning.

      1. cheaterfantasy

        What would you have in your script? 😀
        Just yesterday I was feeling a bit off and teetering on the edge of that abyss and I knew I needed something from him but I could not work out what. It was weird. I chose to go and do a yoga class with him and afterwards I was more grounded. He knew something was up and asked me a few times during the day if there was anything he could do.
        Some days it is just hard to know what we want, what we need or even who the hell we are and what are we doing here?

      2. marriagerecovery Post author

        CF, my script for husband would be a bit like the letter that TigerLily received from her husband. A recognition and articulation of how all the individual acts he did impacted upon me. For husband the adultery is one shitty mess that is grouped together and buried under lead. He is very remorseful but does not reflect on his own.. I am always the one to bring it up. To process my thinking. He doesn’t want to think about it. Pig Shit is not significant to him but HUGELY significant to me. It is because she was the object used in the adultery. He can’t see this. So I guess my script would be written by me (highly reflective) for someone who is not reflective and wants to NOT think about what he did because it makes him feel bad. Of course, it’s part of the skill of compartmentalising, that’s how he could cheat! For me, I don’t like thinking about it but I can’t compartmentalise. I process. But, I don’t want him to lie! He’s not a wordsmith and he doesn’t have any answers to my questions but I don’t want him saying stuff just because I need to hear them Catch 22 I fear!

  7. Iris

    Tracy Schorn is changing the language around infidelity (there’s a long way to go) and this can only be a good thing. The comments on her blog are sometimes brilliant, chumps are unusually articulate. I hope she does a TED talk to balance up Esther Feral.

    A painful place if you’re living with a non-disordered ex-cheater who gets it but I have to say I love those fighters and survivors.

    1. valkyriemad123


      Yes it’s that genuine remorse I was looking for in my husband….. and any ability to have empathy and compassion for ANYONE beyond himself.

      Evil came into my life through empathy-erosion the very moment my husband handed the family blueprints to an enemy (OW).

      Well I certainly throw the word narcissism around and just this past weekend picked up a new book (Of course) called “Rethinking Narcissism by Dr. Craig Malklin. (seems pretty interesting)

      But sometimes I find myself thinking is it something in our water?

      I heard an older person recently say something to the effect “Narcissism is meeting history and colliding with it.”

      And IRIS! I have day dreams of Tracy Schorn doing a Ted Talk also! And fantasies of her leading a charge across the field right up to people like Perel (Feral that’s good just noticed it!).
      And challenging self centered, reckless myths of ‘monogamy.’ Has Perel ever used the word narcissism in any of her talks? She implies it however but seems to sweeps it under the rug, twirling it into “exuberant defiance.” Shape shift for profit? Collude for income?

      Yeah me too! those “fighters and survivors,” make me do a happy-happy-gig when they start pulling words out, like bullshit (glass ceiling) shattering, swords!!!!!!!

      Peace out

  8. horsesrcumin

    The something in the water is capitalism gone mad! When we, as Western citizens, think the whole world revolves around us. When we can look at so many other ways of viewing our place in the world, for example, consocial personhood, whereby we are not the same person in every situation, rather a daughter, a community member, a husband, a leader, a worker. The Cult of Me, Myself and I has a large part to play, and although statistics are supposedly reflecting an evening up of the gendering of infidelity, I still anecdotally see a hell of a lot of women on the betrayed side of the infidelity scales. Why is this? We are enculturated to care. To look out for others. To give of ourselves. To sacrifice. Often at great personal cost. But we are taught, even while resisting the idea, that we will be emotionally taken care of if we do these selfless things. I call bullshit on the whole fucking mess. Sadly, I had worked all of this out before meeting my cheater, but honestly thought if I set the communication levels right from the start, state my doubts and fears, that we would be okay. Yeah, right!

    1. Iris

      I think it’s libertarianism expressed. Or narcissism enjoyed.

      Nick Cohen says of modern liberals: ‘Shoppers have little time for Auden’s flat ephemeral pamphlets and boring meetings. They are commitment-phobes, with no appetite for the hard slog and the long haul.’*

      When I read people like Glen Greenwald I wonder if the ‘libertarians’ scattered over the web have any understanding that infidelity is betrayal and realise what betrayal is. So much of the discourse is ‘You’re not the boss of me,’ or ‘These wives and mothers (they’re mostly women) are not the boss of him,’ and ‘Hooray!’ like restless teenagers who’ve climbed over a wall to freedom. However I think they’re only the loudest voices, like any adolescents and do not represent the common view. In my experience you only have to scratch a little to get down to an awe at how readily some people seem determined to destroy their families and reputation for almost nothing at all. We have to keep saying, whenever we hear even a confused ‘But what did s/he do?’ about the faithful spouse: ‘They weren’t involved. That’s the point’.

      *’What’s Left?’

      1. horsesrcumin

        Love that. I’m pretty left. And I left :-). But still struggle with WTF happened. This was not a selfish idiot man. Until then. Then, oh hell yeah! I adore your answer to what did s/he do. The problem is no one seems to really believe the answer.

      2. Iris

        horsesrcumin, I want to reach out and shake your hand, you’re so cool. And I think you have good instincts. I really do 🙂

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