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In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s nineteenth century classic, if citizens were found unfaithful they were branded with a Scarlet “A.”

In a society where marriages were considered sacred, those who strayed from their vows were condemned. Forced to wear the infamous letter, many women (let’s be honest, while men were more apt to get away with infidelity, it was more unacceptable for women to commit adultery) were publicly shamed. The “A” branded them as tainted goods – pariahs of society.

Fast forward 165 years – How does the Scarlet Letter manifest today? What does it look like? With a divorce rate of 50% and rising in the U.S., leaving marriages is more of the norm than staying. And for many, straying from those long-term relationships even while in the relationship has long-since lost the societal stigma it once carried. In fact, we don’t need to look far to find examples today of society blaming the betrayed partner for the acts of the cheater.

Infidelity in Relationship? Relationship Tips on how to Keep it Staying Alive“Do you blame him? If I were married to THAT I’d cheat too!” rings in our ears like a refrain from a familiar song.  The “other woman” is simply an improved model, rescuing the cheater from a life of monotony, responsibility, and lifelessness.  Clearly the Scarlet Letter today is not brandished by those who commit adultery.

So what about those women and men who decide to stay in a relationship where there has been infidelity? 

What about those who decide to stay after discovering that their partner had several ongoing affairs

Still yet, what about those who decide to stay after they discover their partner has a long-standing pattern of addiction to these behaviors? 

In a society where it’s much easier to go than it is to stay, the scarlet letter today has become inverted – borne by those individuals who dare to stay in relationships after vows have been broken.

All too often, those who have decided to “work things out” with their husband or wife become shamed or ostracized by their communities for doing so. 

But what if we were to look not at the ease in leaving, but rather the courage it takes to stay?

Assuming that the betraying partner is doing his/her work to better the relationship, discontinue the  infidelity, and show genuine remorse, empathy, and commitment, why would we not see this as a courageous step in a society where it’s far easier to cut ties and find our next partner? 

Sometimes the damage is too great, the actions of the betraying partner to egregious to heal. In these instances, it absolutely makes sense to cut losses and move on. Yet for others, the shattered remnants of their relationship can be carefully constructed with much care, empathy, and slow dedication to become an even deeper, more vulnerable, and more intimate relationship than was present before. There can be much beauty gained by walking through the relational pain after such betrayal.

Now, we must be clear again about an important point:

The actions of the betraying partner are vital in this process.

This individual must work to show true empathy and remorse, and must discontinue all activities that betray his/her partner, including any patterns of lying, deception, manipulation, or abuse. Staying in a relationship where the individual is NOT actively doing his/her work is abusive, and is not helpful to either individual.

So if you are a woman or a man out there and have chosen to stay after infidelity, you are courageously beating the odds. And if you are the straying partner of someone who has stayed, continue to do your work to heal the broken relationship you caused. Your partner has shown an incredible degree of strength and courage to stay, when many of her/his friends will say to run. The beauty that can come from the mosaic of shattered lives is unlike any art you can imagine. The healed scar from the Scarlet “A” is a reminder of the pain of betrayal, yet it also bears witness to healing made possible through the pain.

Dan Drake

Dan Drake is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist – Lic.#MFC49986, a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor – Lic.#LPC327, a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist-Supervisor, and a Certified Clinical Partner Specialist. He is also EMDR trained, and uses his training and certifications in his work with sex addicts, their partners and families at his private practice in Studio City, California.

Dan has earned two masters degrees from Fuller Seminary: A Master of Science Degree in Marital and Family Therapy, and a Master of Arts Degree in Theology. In addition to his clinical work, he has lectured domestically and internationally.

In his passion to help people restore relational, mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual wholeness to their lives, Dan strives to provide a safe environment where his clients can grow and heal. You can find more information about Dan and his practice at www.dandrakemft.com.

What Do You Think?

17 Comments | Join the discussion

  • Karrie Sep 15, 2015 at 12:38 pm

    Dan, thank you – this gives me a route to look at the future in a tangible way. Sometimes I find myself almost consumed by a white rage that he should have discounted me and placed his own interests higher than mine, that his actions have placed me in an inferior position in the marriage, as if the rules of a relationship apply to me but not him. This is actually how I have behaved myself, to all my previous partners, in all my past relationships. Probably I need to work on my own sense of grandiosity, I am so outraged that this has happened to me! And yes, I do see a certain irony here….. But perhaps, as you say , I need to one look at the value of the journey. Thank you so much.

    Reply
  • Karrie Sep 7, 2015 at 9:20 am

    I want to at least try to stay and some days are ok, some are even quite good, others are very grim indeed. My husband is doing all he can to recover, as far as I can see. But I just can’t see how things can ever be happier than they were before – stronger maybe, in a way. But I will always know what he is capable of and what he has done. There’s lots still to fight for but I feel somewhat ashamed of myself for doing so. How does this beauty and intimacy happen?

    Reply
  • Coach Sep 2, 2015 at 5:05 am

    I have been there and know what it means to rebuild after betrayal, and how repair can make it stronger. I now help others who want to rebuild. Leaving is truly the easy way out, and more important, you can never “run away” from problems. They stay with you until they are faced.

    Reply
  • Dr Urmi Shelley Aug 29, 2015 at 8:47 am

    Thank you for bring out this topic. Its written beautifully. I would say one really need that extra courage, patience, understanding and off course SAME LOVE LINE to handle it. I also feel some of us continue for the sake of children, family name, our commitment. And also just for the sake of staying married!Thank you once again. Happy writing!

    With best wishes

    Reply
  • Rose Aug 28, 2015 at 6:07 pm

    I stayed after my husbands affair was discovered. It has been the hardest work I have ever done. I have PTSD symptoms from the severity of the betrayal. It’s been a little over a year since everything came out. I have not fully recovered yet and from what I have read it can take years. I wish we taught more people about what a healthy loving relationship is, how to communicate emotions and that you can cause trauma to your spouse and children by lying. The relationship can get better without having to blow it up first, we just need to teach people how earlier on.

    Reply
  • Jeanne Vattuone Aug 28, 2015 at 6:09 am

    Great job Dan! Thank you for speaking for these folks!

    Reply
  • Marty Simpson Aug 27, 2015 at 6:13 pm

    Good job, Dan! It does take courage to stay and there isn’t as much written about the deeper levels of intimacy possible for some couples following discovery of an infidelity. I enjoyed reading your words here!

    Reply
  • Brian Aug 27, 2015 at 11:25 am

    I stayed after my partner cheated what I thought 3 different times but I couldn’t stay. About a year of trying to work it out I still had no trust so I had to leave. After I left it found out that the person had 19 affairs in a 6 year marriage. I will never again try to work things out with a cheater. There is plenty of woman and men who are faithful, go find you one.

    Reply
  • Crystal Rae Morrissey Aug 25, 2015 at 11:19 pm

    Love, love, love this!

    Reply

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