Zukiswa Dlamini looks at the pain of having to decide whether to stay or leave after your partner has cheated. This is a tough decision, but one that has to be made with careful thought. Pictures XX *Not their real name
“I believe the most difficult choice you’ll ever have to make is whether you should move on or hold on just a little tighter.” I can’t remember where I saw this quote or who it belongs to, but it is quite relevant to many of life’s issues, including cheating. Infidelity can happen to anyone, and the results are almost always the same – devastating. “One of the reasons cheating hurts so badly is that it makes you question if you are not enough for your partner,” says relationship counsellor Irene Jones. “That can wreak havoc on your confidence. This is why the decision on whether to leave or not is hard. Making such a big decision when you are dealing with major emotional pain is not easy.”
WHAT IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
Should you find yourself in this situation, no one should tell you what or what not to do. “Everyone will have an opinion on whether you should stay or leave your relationship after infidelity,” says Sheila Kekana, a church relationship counsellor in Durban. “There are generally two camps that are both passionate about their stance. The one camp believes in sticking things out, no matter what, especially when you are married. The other one believes that you should leave immediately, no matter the circumstances. But, the reality lies somewhere in the middle, and feeling confused is perfectly normal,” she explains. For Bongiwe*(31), the pressure to decide was an extra weight in her life. “I was devastated when I found out about my husband’s mistress. I had no suspicions; suddenly, my world was in shambles. As if that wasn’t enough, my friends and family all wanted to know what I was going to do. I felt under pressure and lonely. I didn’t know what to do, but I knew that either way, I was being judged. When I chose to stay, I felt that some people lost respect for me because they viewed me as weak.”
CHOOSING TO ENDURE
Making the decision to stay in your relationship after infidelity has received a bad reputation on social media platforms. And, women who made this choice have been labelled as “Team Bekezela” (be patient). Irene says in the past, women who left their relationships for cheating were judged, and that now, the opposite seems to be true. Both are wrong. So, should you choose to stay after cheating, the first thing to focus on is healing. “This is a major trauma, and not one that can be neatly swept under the rug. Allow yourself to be hurt and go through the process of grieving. Your partner needs to allow you the space to do that; someone wanting you to just get over it is a sign that you have even bigger problems,” she warns. Bear in mind that grieving isn’t a quick or neat process, and it will require both parties to make it work. The next step is to work on re-establishing trust. “This is where many couples fall short,” Sheila says. “This is a long process; it can take years. The person who cheated needs to be patient when they are being questioned. Because trust is fundamentally broken, things cannot go back to how they used to be. A new relationship is essentially being started, and it will be tougher than you think,” she adds. Irene warns the aggrieved party to be realistic about their decision to stay. “Just because you have decided to stay doesn’t mean you get the right to act out and be abusive. You have to be willing to actually mend the relationship, otherwise you will be doing more harm than good,” she says. Getting counselling and exercising patience will go a long way in rebuilding trust and love. Be nurturing to each other, and put your relationship first so that you can heal and move forward. With the right tools, intentions and actions, your relationship can be recreated, possibly even better than the one you had before the cheating.
Although leaving is not easy, it is an option. “I have always admired people who know that staying would interfere with who they are and how they feel about themselves. Staying only works if it doesn’t kill your sense of self,” Irene explains. If you leave, you have the tough work of healing without access to the person who betrayed you being there to answer their questions. “When you leave, you might be back in the dating pool once you heal. And, that can be daunting,” Sheila says. Refilwe* (39) has not been able to move on since she left her nine-year marriage. “I knew that I wouldn’t be able to love him after his affair, so I chose to love myself and leave. That was two years ago, and I am still not ready to date. My baggage and trust issues are very deep, so I have come to accept that I might be by myself for a long time. That is still better than staying, but it is a lonely life,” she says. Unlike Refilwe, other people are able to move on to happy and solid relationships. “I advise people to leave or stay for themselves; never for the other person. That way, you can move forward in your truth,” Sheila says. But, be aware that leaving doesn’t absolve you of the process of healing. “It is important to work on healing and restoring whatever the infidelity took away from you,” she adds. “Just moving on isn’t a real solution because you will burden all your relationships with any issues you do not deal with.” The pain of infidelity doesn’t have to crush you, whether you stay or leave. Finding a way to pick up the pieces and moving on with a life that you love is the biggest cure to the pain that threatened to break you.