Marriage Affairs: When Not To Reconcile

Our life’s work, as marriage counselors and Imago therapists, has always been to help enrich and restore marriages. Reconciliation requires two, committed people who are willing to do the work. Unfortunately, there are times when our best advice is to not reconcile after marital affairs.

When we recommend not to reconcile…

Serial Cheaters

Unfortunately, we cannot recommend reconciling marriages when there has been a pattern of repetitious infidelity—as in the case of the “serial cheater.” This pattern is often a signal of a deviant character disorder that requires psychological treatment by a competent mental health therapist. A person with such a disorder may not feel any remorse for their behavior. Often, the person is unwilling to seek therapy and/or blame their behavior on their spouse rather than taking responsibility for their own dysfunctional behavior.

Sometimes the serial cheater cheats because they know that they can cheat and can get away with it. The betrayed spouse may complain but that’s all they’ll do. In some instances, the betrayed spouse may prefer that the cheating spouse get their sexual needs met outside the marriage because they are unwilling to have sex with the cheating spouse anyway.

In other instances, the betrayed spouse simply accepts the situation as it is, may believe that they are trapped and can’t do anything about the cheating, may have poor self esteem and may feel that the marriage to an unfaithful partner is the best they can do, may be unable to financially support themselves (and/or their children) without their mate, or may have any number of reasons for accepting their spouse’s unacceptable behavior.

In other situations, the serial cheater may have a “sexual addiction” in which sexual gratification is sought compulsively in a frequency or manner not available in the marriage. The sex addict usually feels some sense of remorse and feels helpless to stop their behavior. The prognosis for the sex addict is considerably better than the person with the deviant character disorder. In both instances, the person must be diagnosed and treated individually if there is to be any meaningful progress toward recovery.

There are often additional dysfunctional behaviors that go along with the serial cheater’s behavior. These may include physical and/or emotional abuse, alcoholism, drug abuse, gambling, use of household funds to support the infidelity that puts the family at risk, untreated mental health problems, etc. These must also be treated and a conscientious effort made by the cheating spouse to address these issues along with individual therapy related to the infidelity as well as marriage therapy to learn new relationship skills to improve the marriage. It is not uncommon for the betrayed partner to decide that they are not willing to give the marriage that much time, that the marriage is not worth saving and it is best to move on.

Please stay tuned, this article is one-part of a long series–Marital Affairs: The Harsh Reality and Going Beyond. Sign up for our newsletter below to stay updated on the latest additions!

  • Lila M

    Um…so you are distinguishing between the serial cheater and the sex addict.  And saying the prognosis is better for the sex addict.
    This is misguided.

    • Jesse & Melva Johnson

      If we left the impression that the prognosis for the sex addict was better than that of the serial cheater that would be incorrect.

      A serial cheater may not necessarily be a sex addict. For example, a serial cheater may be having an ongoing “emotional affair” with a partner that may or may not involve sex. Most often, however, it eventually leads to sex.

      In the case of the sex addict, the affair(s) usually include sex because that is the nature of the addiction. In either case, whether the offender is a serial cheater or a sex addict, the negative impact on the primary relationship is the same.

      Both are extremely destructive to committed relationships. If the offending partner, whether they would be diagnosed as a serial cheater or a sex addict is unwilling to commit to the serious work of correcting their dysfunctional behavior that is having a detrimental effect on their relationship, the prognosis for either is difficult if not impossible. The damage inflected in the primary relationship is usually not repaired quickly. It requires a dedication and commitment over time to heal the relationship.