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Surviving Infidelity Is Hard to Do

What Do You Do When You Find Out Your Wife Has Been Cheating?
By Sean Elder
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Sheldon Marks, MD

How can you tell if a guy's wife has cheated on him?

Well, it depends on the guy, of course, but I do recall my wife and I having dinner with a couple she knew better than I, and thinking that the husband was being awfully rude to the mother of his children.

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"What was that about?" I asked my wife later.

"I think he's mad at his wife for cheating on him," she said.

"Wow. You mean he just found out?"

"No, this all happened five years ago."

For most guys in most matters, five years would be an eternity. It's been four years since the Yankees won a pennant, and even longer since Robin Williams made a funny movie. And yet we seem willing to forgive them both. What makes dealing with infidelity so difficult for men? Why can't we let it go?

Dealing With Infidelity: The Stubborn Images in Your Head

"A lot of people have affairs," says Mark Epstein, MD, a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City and author of Open to Desire: Embracing a Lust for Life. "It doesn't necessarily have any ultimate meaning. The hardest thing for men in that situation is to let it be history."

That's rather ironic, given that women often complain about men compartmentalizing everything else. We just had a fight? Let's have sex. We just had sex? Let's watch a movie. Why can't we compartmentalize the idea of our wives being unfaithful?

"Imagining one's partner with someone else is too profound for some men," says Epstein. "[The faithless wife] is a very common theme in porn, but when it gets turned around [when the porn role is being played by your wife] -- it's too intolerable."

"I just can't get that image out of my head," his patients will say. And what does he tell them?

"Yes you can. Though maybe you don't want to."

Surviving Infidelity: Can This Marriage Be Saved?

"Affairs are common and happen for all kinds of reasons, and our culture promotes it," Epstein advises those interested in surviving infidelity. "A lot of marriages don't break up just because someone has had an affair."

Does that mean women are better at letting things go? Not according to Louanne Cole Weston, a family and marriage counselor and licensed sex therapist in Fair Oaks, Calif. "As a group, women hold on to negative -- and positive -- emotional experiences longer than men," she says.

True, says Weston, "some men think they can't fix it if a woman has been with another man." But others want to get in there and make things work. "Some say, 'I need to take a look at myself.' One woman I saw had a longtime affair with a house husband, the father of a kid at her child's school. When it came to light, her husband was upset -- but then he looked at their sex life, his own rapid ejaculation and lack of foreplay and creativity in their time together. It got a bunch of information on the table," she says, and the couple is still together.

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