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Surviving Infidelity Is Hard to Do

What Do You Do When You Find Out Your Wife Has Been Cheating?

How Do Most Men Respond to Infidelity in Marriage?

"Sometimes men will be jealous, sometimes they will be competitive, sometimes they will have a lot of self-recrimination," she continues, listing three classic responses. "But sometimes it will be a huge wake-up call."

Most men would probably prefer to be woken up in a different fashion (a clock radio is nice), but there's the rub: Sometimes it takes a shock to the system to get a man's attention. "If, God forbid, you come home and find your wife in bed with another man, and you are in a stable, gratifying marriage, you need to talk about what happened openly and honestly," says Steven Nock, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia and the author of Marriage in Men's Lives. "If you can actually discuss what is going on and why it happened, those couples seem to survive. But that presumes a lot."

It presumes, first off, that the husband will keep a cool head. Extreme anger must be dealt with in counseling, which is also the best way to expel the stubborn images Epstein says his patients complain of.

"Men fret over it because of what they imagine happened," adds Nock. "You'll do that until you face it head on. [Surviving infidelity] is going to take a lot of talking and doing things together. And guys are not that eager to talk about their relationship -- especially if they have to talk about her sleeping with someone else."

Married Couples Survive Infidelity Better Than Unmarried Couples

In nearly 30 years of studying men and marriage, Nock has found that "a large majority of couples who cheat do not divorce. ...But it is a dramatic threat to this core basic assumption of marriage, which is that your wife is the one person you're supposed to be able to trust."

Married people are different in this regard, Nock has found. "If you interview unmarried couples who were living together about why they split up, infidelity is the leading cause. But that's never been true about married couples. Infidelity is a problem in divorce, but by people's own accounts, the cause usually has something to do with being incompatible or unable to communicate."

What Infidelity Tells Us About Marriage

Your wife's infidelity can certainly be a symptom, or culmination, of those things -- nothing says, "our marriage is in trouble" like sleeping with someone else. But for a lot of couples it is just a reminder of how tenuous the matrimonial bond is.

"Marriage is full of disappointment," says Epstein. "That has to be dealt with. People have to have an element of forgiveness. For men, the general disappointment comes when you discover that the other person is human and is not there exclusively for you. Her whole life is not actually oriented toward you."

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