Is it ever OK to stay with A CHEATER ?

It’s viewed as one of the biggest relationship sins – but is it that simple?

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

It’s viewed as one of the biggest relationship sins – but is it that simple?

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Getting cheated on is a punch in the gut. If it happens to you, it’s natural to want to kick your partner to the curb. But must it be that way? First, take a step back and assess how invested you are in the relationship. “Reflect on your reasons for wanting to stay or leave,” advises Dr Sara Delia Menon, Clinical Psychologist at Alliance Professional Counselling LLP. “Draw up a table of the pros and cons of staying and trying to make it work, or cutting your losses and leaving.”

So you kind of want to stay...

If you decide the relationship is worth salvaging, you not only have to take steps towards forgiveness, but also look at the kind of partner you’ve been. “Very often, couples who experience infidelity have entered a space of emotional disconnection. They’ve stopped turning to each other to share joys and sorrows, and doubt the other will be there to listen or give support,” notes Dr Menon. If you’ve been emotionally distant towards him for some time, while you certainly aren’t responsible for how he chose to deal with it, you may need to acknowledge the part you played in the disintegration of the relationship. It would be good if your partner opens up about the factors that led to his infidelity and validate your hurt, and that you validate his hurt too.

Was sex involved?

“Most couples find it easier to commit to trying to make it work if the affair does not include a sexual component,” says Dr Menon. Because sex is intimacy at its rawest form, you might find yourself more forgiving if you know your partner didn’t share his body with someone else. If there was physical infidelity, a one-night stand is likely easier to forgive than a full-blown affair. The latter not only involves physical and emotional betrayal, but also some form of deception, which can be devastating to accept. The combination of these factors can make the affair very difficult to let go of,and you should, as suggested, weigh the pros and cons of the relationship to help with your decision. You have to look beyond feelings and consider the long-term effects of staying in this relationship. If you tend to find it difficult to trust, will this bring out the worst in you?

Just remember: whether or not you choose to stay, if you had a hand in the breakdown of the relationship, you have the opportunity to learn to be a better partner. As Dr Menon points out: “If things don’t work out, we can move from one relationship to the next, but we still bring ourselves and all our unpacked baggage along with us. If the factors that led to the infidelity are not addressed, it’s possible for these destructive cycles to repeat themselves.” 

“Most couples find it easier to commit to trying to make if work if the affair does not include a sexual component.”

“I got cheated on and I chose to…”

One woman tells us why she chose to look past her partner’s infidelity, while another shares why she left. 


“Whenever I could no longer deal with an argument with my partner, I’d just walk away. At first, he would chase after me, but over time, he stopped, and that became our way of dealing with disagreements – disappearing on each other. We not only failed at communication, but allowed resentment to breed.

I found out about his infidelity when I chanced upon a text conversation between him and his friend. Much as I was horrified by his actions, I was angry at myself for not seeing the signs sooner, and chose to keep quiet about it at first. Since his heart was with someone else at that point, I knew he would leave me if I brought it up, and I couldn’t bear the thought of losing him. Not at that moment, anyway.

Weeks later, I could no longer deal with the hurt, and blurted out my knowledge of his affair. He was sorry, and felt terrible that I lived with it for so long. By then, I was considering breaking up, but he wanted to end his affair and have us start on a clean slate. I knew I was to blame for a lot of things that happened in our relationship, and decided to forgive him. It was very hard, but sometimes, you just have to fight for what you want. People will always fail you, and you’ve got to learn to manage your expectations. We lasted for another year before breaking up. He left me for someone else, but at least he did things the ‘proper’ way this time around. It was difficult trusting him again, but it made me learn not to take anything personally, as a person’s actions are reflective of them, not me.” * Samantha, 27


“As an air stewardess, I was flying a lot. I’d been with my then-boyfriend for more than three years when I found out he was cheating on me with one of the girls he was mentoring at work. A friend told me the girl had been going around boasting about having slept with him. I asked him about it, and a huge fight broke out at his house. He didn’t bother denying it as he knew there was no point lying about it since we shared the same social circle.

I got really depressed and started doing all sorts self-destructive things. I drank and smoked incessantly, and even tried overdosing on some pills. I left the country for a while, and when I returned, I realised he was gone. He refused to tell me where he went, which added to my misery. I not only nearly lost my job, but also my life because I was unable to cope with the depression. If not for my friends, I wouldn’t have made it through.

Two months later, he came back wanting to try again. He even said it was a conspiracy between our parents – that they didn’t want us to be together because we’re of different religions. By then, I had come to recognise he was just really bad for me, and this made-up theory just made me lose all respect for him. He didn’t give our relationship the dignity it deserved, and I decided he wasn’t worth a second chance. It made me mentally stronger, but also more suspicious of my new partners. Once I felt better, I realised there’s always plenty of fish in the sea.” *Adeline, 28

*Name has been changed for privacy.

Images Text Adora Wong.