Fitness + Well-being

When you should — and shouldn't — stay with a cheater

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Trust is one of the main tenets of a strong partnership. When cheating happens, that value is shattered — and for many couples, saving a marriage can seem difficult, if not impossible. But according a March 2014 study published in the journal Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, many married couples who face infidelity do bounce back and make the active choice to stay together. And it's not just for financial reasons or parental responsibilities.

Infidelity does not have to be the end of the relationship, Dr. Tammy Nelson, a couples therapist and author of “The New Monogamy: Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity,” told Fox News.

“Sometimes, an affair is a result of an opportunity that comes at a moment of resentment, of instability in the marriage, or at a time when the cheating partner is feeling like they need an ego boost,” Nelson said. “However, afterwards, the cheater realizes they feel worse because they have violated their own implicit vow to be faithful, and the guilt usually forces them to confess.”

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Experts like Nelson agree the only reason to stay with a cheating spouse is if he or she is deeply and genuinely sorry for the betrayal and willing to work for your forgiveness.

This means they show they understand the pain you went through after learning about the affair, Dr. Sheri Meyers, a marriage and family therapist and author of “Chatting or Cheating: How to Detect Infidelity, Rebuild Love and Affair-Proof Your Relationship,” told Fox News.

“They can’t just put what they did away in the vault, talk about it once, and move on,” Meyers said. “They must take responsibility for their actions and prove their commitment to the relationship every day.”

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Blaming outside factors, including you, does not count as taking responsibility.

"If they blame their partner or lack insight into their actions, chances are, they'll do it again," Meyers said.

Why stay with a cheating spouse? Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, a licensed marriage and couples therapist, told Fox News that couples who stay together after infidelity have compelling reasons to do so.

"They are invested in the relationship and don't want to throw away a history of success,” Hokemeyer said. “The cheating event is either a one off occurrence or based on an implied understanding between partners." In other words, you were both taking a break and agreed to date others at that time.

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When a cheating spouse admits to being unfaithful, realizes the pain they've caused you, and is willing to prove their commitment to the relationship every day, it is possible for a couple to heal and move past infidelity.

The relationship will, no doubt, feel different. It can find a new equilibrium, but it will never go back to the way it was before the cheating occurred.

"This is because our brain is wired to retain strong emotional experiences," Hokemeyer said. "The partners have to find a new normal. One that doesn't ignore that the betrayal occurred while simultaneously finding a place for it in the narrative of the relationship."

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Nelson said the majority of people will know if their relationship is built to last through a breach of trust.

"Most people ultimately know when their relationship has a solid foundation and a loving connection — they know if the relationship can survive an affair.” In those cases, she said, “Sometimes a relationship is stronger than ever afterwards.”