You’ve been with your partner for years and although you love them deeply, there’s one big problem: They’ve been unfaithful. Your gut tells you to leave, but another part of you says you should stay. Perhaps they’ll change and it won’t happen again, you think. You feel torn and can’t decide what to do.
Wondering when to walk away after infidelity? Keep reading for everything you may need to know in order to help you try and make the right decision.
Infidelity in a relationship
Deciding whether to stay or leave after infidelity can be tricky, as many couples have years of commitment behind them.
Infidelity is relatively common in the US National surveys indicate about 15% of women and 25% of men are unfaithful in long-term relationships, according to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.
The Institute for Family Studies found not only that cheating is more common in men than women, but also that rates of infidelity rise with age. Infidelity occurs most frequently in men ages 70 to 79 (26%) and women ages 60 to 69 (16%).
What causes infidelity in a relationship?
The main cause of infidelity in a relationship is lack of healthy communication, said Carla Manly, PhD, a clinical psychologist and relationship expert based in Santa Rosa, Calif.
“When one or both partners don’t communicate their needs in healthy ways—whether the issues are related to sexuality, time together, finances or resentments—infidelity may result,” she said.
Another common factor that can lead to infidelity is misguided expectations, said Justin Baksh, a licensed mental health counselor based in Port Saint Lucie, Fla.
Some people aren’t taught the importance of core relationship tenets, such as compromise, honest communication and knowing oneself, Baksh said. Another contributing factor? People grow complacent and feel they need excitement in their lives.
“I’ve used the example of celebrities with my clients in the past,” Baksh said. “They have fame and fortune, and are often very attractive people. So why does infidelity happen to them? They are human beings, too, and human beings are cursed with complacency.”
Stay or leave after infidelity: How to decide?
Wondering when to walk away after infidelity? The most important factor to keep in mind is your partner’s ability to accept fault for their actions.
“There are many factors to consider when deciding whether to walk away or stay after a partner’s infidelity, yet the key piece is whether or not the unfaithful person takes full responsibility for his or her actions and is engaged in self-work to avoid making the same error again,” Manly said.
If your partner is willing to be held accountable, trust can be rebuilt, she said. If they’re evading responsibility, however, the outcome likely won’t be positive.
Signs when to walk away after infidelity
The following seven signs likely indicate that it’s time to walk away from a relationship following infidelity:
You’re the only one making changes
If you go to individual and/or couples counseling and feel like you’re the only one making meaningful changes, it could be time to call it quits, Baksh said.
Your partner is playing the blame game
If the partner who cheated is blaming you, shaming you or evading responsibility for their actions, Manly said the long-term outcome is likely not positive.
The reason you’re trying to make it work isn’t rooted in love for your partner
Are you trying to make the relationship work for financial reasons? Or, do you have children and you’re trying to make it work for them? If your reason is not rooted in genuine love for your partner, you might want to consider walking away.
Your partner won’t discuss what happened
Is your partner evasive and unwilling to discuss what happened or even who they had the affair with? If you feel like they’re trying to sweep what happened under the rug, this is a warning sign that the long-term relationship outcome might not be positive.
The partner who cheated refuses to go to therapy
This is a major red flag. “If the unfaithful partner is not willing to go to individual and/or relationship therapy in order to foster learning, healing and recovery, these are signs the relationship will not improve,” Manly said.
You notice old behaviors resurfacing
Do you notice your partner exhibiting old patterns of behavior that are concerning? This could be a warning sign that it’s time to walk away, Baksh said.
Do you feel unwilling to put in the work necessary to repair the relationship? There’s nothing wrong with feeling this way. If the infidelity affected you to the point where your gut tells you you’ll never be able to recover, don’t be afraid to throw in the towel.
How long does a marriage last after infidelity?
Research has shown more than half of relationships that experience infidelity survive. Although it likely takes months (if not years) to do the work necessary to rebuild a relationship, you can take comfort in knowing it’s possible to thrive following a partner’s infidelity.
Baksh said it’s important to remember that these things take time—and there will likely be bumps along the way. Instead of expecting perfection out of the gate, it’s important to be patient and flexible.
“The old saying, ‘two steps forward and one step back’ is very true,” he said.
Reasons to stay married after infidelity
Deciding if or when to walk away after infidelity is a very personal decision. However, Manly said some positive signs to look out for are a partner who is truly apologetic, takes responsibility for what happened, and is willing to do whatever it takes to regain your trust.
“When the unfaithful partner is willing to do the substantial work necessary to learn, earn trust, and prove that he or she is a safe and honorable person, the relationship can often be rebuilt,” she said.
You shouldn’t rush into a decision when it comes to whether to stay or leave after infidelity, but you also shouldn’t stick around if your intuition tells you things aren’t working.
“Take time and reflect on your values, morals and how you define relationships in general,” Baksh said. “If you hold up your end of the bargain, but your partner doesn’t pull their weight or even makes the same mistakes again and again… well, when is enough, enough?”