Every week we read shocking details of powerful men in high office who have cheated on their wives; Jeff, Bezos, John Edwards, Mark Sanford, Gov. Eliot Spitzer, Bill Clinton to name a few. The tendency to cheat is not reserved for the rich and famous. Depending on the study you read, infidelity strikes, conservatively, 25 percent of all heterosexual marriages. Why is this happening? There are many reasons: the Internet gives opportunities never seen before to find lovers. More women in the workplace provide opportunities for men and women to cheat. Cell phones and text messaging makes it easier to have conversations on the sly. Stress and mundane lifestyles cause people to opt out and risk their marriages. The affair provides that emotional high, the excitement of the chase and the intense, exhilarating feelings that become addictive. I’m a divorce lawyer and see the cheaters and the cheated in my office on a daily basis.
What do you do when you find your spouse is cheating on you?
Option 1: Throw the bum out
Before you go that route, ask yourself: is this infidelity part of a pattern? Or is it out of character for your partner? The answer will tell you whether or not this marriage can – or should – be saved.
In my experience, most cheaters can be placed into two dominant categories: The compulsive adulterers and the midlife crisis adulterers. The habitual cheater is someone who has consistently cheated, and someone who will always be on the lookout for the next affair. These sorts of habitual cheaters are often addicted to the thrill of the chase. They need and want those feelings of euphoria, exhilaration, and obsession associated with the brain producing sex chemicals that compel them to have a new relationship. They are generally very charming and charismatic, and their wives forgive them over and over again. There is not much that can be done about these people. They will not control themselves and will continue to have one affair after another, despite promises to change.
If you find yourself married to one of these, dump them no matter how hard that may be. Staying in the relationship will cause you to be hurt and abused. Not only are you being subjected to risks of sexually transmitted diseases, but you should also expect to be cheated financially. Having an affair is expensive. The flowers, dinners, jewelry, gifts, and travel all add to the hidden costs.
Option 2: Hang In There: Don’t get Drawn into His Drama
The midlife crisis affair is different and will usually happen between the ages of 35 to 50, both to men and women. They are thrown into a total turmoil they never imagined would happen. It hits people who have a very stressful life, with too much responsibility and too little fun and leisure time. The daily grind with work, financial stress, responsibilities to children and family becomes too much, and they just opt out and try to “find themselves.”
They look at their lives and wonder if there is more to life than this; they “escape” and find someone who is often “different” and then they behave like teenagers again. For the husband, it may be someone he meets on the Internet or at work. For the wife, it may be the child’s karate instructor. The wonderful, perfect husband is now somebody that just cannot be recognized, who is so different, who loses interest in the kids and tells his wife “I never loved you. I have found my soul mate.” What nonsense. What was a man doing married to her for 20 years and then saying he never loved her. Of course he loved her. He’s just lost his judgment while he heads into outer space.
If you married the perfect doting husband who is now going through a midlife crisis, hang in there, as he may return to earth with a hard landing. If you had a bad marriage in the first place, chances are the infidelity crisis will be the final blow. How do you survive while his sole focus becomes the new attraction and the clandestine sex?
- Accept the fact that you have a new moody adolescent in the house. I said to one client: “You had three children at home. Now you have four.”
- Take control of you and put all the energy back into yourself. If you’ve become boring and frumpish, been focused on taking children to basketball games and ballet performances, turn right around. You can control what you look like, what your hair looks like, what your figure looks like. You can control your day-to-day living. The smart woman will buy new clothes for herself; she’ll take control of her own situation and try to be calm and balanced, no matter how hard that may be. In the midlife crisis, he is looking to escape but also values strength and stability to balance his own crisis. Like a naughty kid who comes back to his mother, he’ll come back to his wife, if she gets her own life together and he can have fun with her. If she wants to, if she can handle it. Some can’t handle it and just want out, which ends the marriage.
- Trying to control a man going through a midlife crisis is a hopeless cause. However, the wife has always got a huge advantage in that she represents the memories, the family, the traditions. Sometimes the man turns around and says, “Wow, she’s looking pretty good. She’s really together and she is the mother of our kids. I want that.” At that time she has bargaining power in the relationship and they can go to counseling and set forth conditions for continuing the relationship.
- Dig in for the long haul. Surviving a midlife crisis is like living on a rollercoaster. The guy comes home and says ok, he’s very committed and he cries and says he’s dropping the girlfriend. So now he’s back home; he lies on the couch and he’s in a state of depression because he’s dreaming of the sex and the bikini underwear. He sits at home like a bear with a sore head. Now the wife’s stuck with this lot, but she has to remain grounded and not go overboard or be punitive. The guys will swing from wanting to be with the wife and then want the girlfriend. This can go on until one of the women kicks him out. Accept this is going to be a crisis, but in some cases, the husband returns home and comes to the realization that secret hotel rooms and string bikinis don’t really provide the answers that he needs.
Many people keep on going another 25 years and have their 50th wedding anniversary after the affair, but it is a catastrophic event. Use a rational strategy rather than an irrational response; you may wind up keeping your family together.
If that happens, take time to enjoy life together, appreciate each other, have fun and be young at heart again. Take some trips and outings without the children. Do something romantic, change the routine and rekindle the passion in the relationship. Better still, do that before the affair takes place.
To learn more, take a look at how cheating and infidelity can lead to the dissipation and hiding of marital assets.
Learn more about the divorce process generally in Griffiths Law’s Colorado Guide to Divorce.
Suzanne Griffiths is the Managing Shareholder and CFO of Griffiths Law PC. She was recognized by the Best Lawyers in America© in 2019 for family law and was selected to Colorado Superlawyers from 2005-2019. She was also recognized in 5280 magazines for Top Lawyer in Family Law in Denver from 2016-2019.