Can Marriages Survive Infidelity?

haltzman book coverFollowing up on my last post, Why do affairs happen?, I want to share some responses from psychiatrist, author and marital therapist, Scott Haltzman, M.D, to my questions. He recently released The Secrets of Surviving Infidelity, which has certainly shed light on some new areas.

The short answer to the question, “Can marriages survive infidelity?” is “Yes.” They can, and they do. He estimates half of all marriages stay together after infidelity.

Here are some questions I asked Dr. Haltzman related to the book:
Q: Can you briefly define flame addiction and explain why the brain chemistry affects reasonable decision making?
A: Flame addiction describes the psychological and chemical process by which a person become infatuated with another person who is not his or her spouse. This person is a “flame,” and, like a moth circling a candle, he or she provides an irresistible pull to the married individual. Flame addiction is based on the phenomenology of infatuation, in which excitatory brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine are elevated, just as they are when people are abusing drugs like cocaine. It’s further complicated by a dip in brain serotonin. When people have normal levels of serotonin, their brains get messages to relax, but when levels are low, a person can feel restless, unsettled, and have increases in obsessions.

Q: Why is breaking off all contact with the affair partner the hardest step for the offending spouse?
A: A very strong attraction develops between the spouse and the one he or she is having an affair with. This third person might be seen as source of enrichment or excitation for the spouse, there might be powerful feelings that the flame is a soul mate, and the possibility of losing him or her may feel like too great a loss. Or, the person having the affair may simply feel a duty or obligation to the paramour. Often the position of the unfaithful spouses is that the third party didn’t do anything wrong, so they can’t justify hurting feelings by breaking things off.

Q: How can you tell if you’re in a relationship with someone who made a serious—but one-time—mistake versus someone who will hurt you again? Or in other words, how often is “once a cheater, always a cheater” true?
A: There’s no surefire way of predicting who will end the affair, and who will continue to have trysts. Good predictive indicators include individuals who are willing to take a careful look at their behavior, minimize defensiveness and blame, and make sincere efforts to put energy back into the relationship once an affair has been discovered. Those that insist they still need to maintain all of their Facebook friends, or their own private cellphone, are simply asking to hold on to their old ways. That’s not good.

Q: Why do your odds of an affair go up each year you are together?
A: The best reason is that simply the longer you’re married, the more chances you have to cheat. In the first 10 minutes after your wedding vows, there’s about a zero percent chance you can fit an affair in, and in the first day, about the same. But each day you are married is another day you go out into the world and meet possible affair mates. Another reason that the chances may go up is that couples tend to get into ruts, and the excitement of infidelity seems particularly attractive if you are bored in your marriage.

Q: In your experience, you believe half of couples stay together after infidelity. Why is this fact helpful to others? And why do you believe that is the biggest secret for surviving infidelity?
A: Secrecy is the hallmark of infidelity, both during the affair and afterwards, so many people have no idea that their next store neighbors (or their parents even) have had to deal with infidelity. Knowing that you are not alone helps reduce the feelings of shame—and knowing that people can survive infidelity gives you options when the culture may be insisting that you should leave the marriage no matter what.

Q: Is there one piece of advice you have for couples to prevent affairs from occurring, particularly for couples who have been together for more than a decade?
A: Don’t take each other for granted. You should always be working on maintaining a good quality marriage, in which your partner feels like you are making his or her needs a priority. One of the advantages of being with someone more than a decade is you really get to know him or her. You can see that as a negative, as in, “Now that I know my partner, I realize what a pain in the butt he/she is.” But I believe this knowledge can be used to your advantage, as in, “I realize that my partner sees things differently than I do, and I have often assumed I know what he/she needed when I really didn’t know him/her. Now that I know my partner better, I can really see the ways I can improve the quality of our relationship.”

Thanks to Dr. Haltzman for these insights! Leave a comment if you wish to be included in the drawing for a free book.

I feel fortunate that infidelity has not impacted my marriage directly, however, the book is a reminder not to be complacent and to keep proper boundaries in place. I’ll have a followup on these prevention tips from Dr. Haltzman at a later date. For those who have been impacted, pick up a copy for yourself or a loved one.

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at and in various e-book formats here.

25 responses to “Can Marriages Survive Infidelity?

  1. I would be interested in what are the chances of recovery based on the gender of the wayward spouse. My impression is that when wives have affairs, they are more emotionally invested in the affair and have walled out their husband, while husbands are more often not as emotionally invested in the affair partner, nor have they closed out their wife.

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  4. In my experience, the sex of the spouse doesn’t predict whether a marriage can or cannot survive. I agree, that in general, there is a greater likelihood that and affair between a wife and another man involves a strong emotional connection. But I have found that when a man stands up and fights to keep the marriage alive, it can improve the perceptions on the wife’s part about HIS emotional connection to her.

    • Thanks for that insight, Dr. Haltzman!

    • In my small sample space, I have witnessed a dismissal of his efforts to fight and a re-witing of history to justify the affair. Things such as, “I never loved you” or “Too late, why are you doing this now” or “If you loved me, you would know what to do” and the “it was a mistake for us to ever marry.”

      Seems most wayward spouses are so addicted to their lover, they are unwilling to entertain the idea that their betrayed spouse actually loves them and is/was willing to forgive them.

      Oh, my absolute favorite (barf) is the, “God wants me to be happy” to justify the affair. Even if that is true, the logic of them being happy at expense of those they hurt should indicate that maybe an affair is not what God had in mind as a happiness delivery vehicle.

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  6. Add me to the drawing!!
    I personally have no data on whether reconciliation is higher if the betraying partner is male versus female. But since I work with midlife crisis affairs I can say that men who have affairs as part of their midlife crisis typically have emotionally-bonded affairs–that is the type in which they are caught in in-fatuation and they think the alienator is their soul mate.
    My husband’s affair was an emotionally-bonded type and the in-fatuation was obvious even before the affair was physical. Had I known then what I know now after several years of studying affairs and working with Standing spouses I might have thought his affair was already physical–I would certainly think so if I were someone else reading a situation just like mine. But it wasn’t, I know because I have her letters and to her their first time was their anniversary.
    The challenge is that with affair down alienators caught in in-fatuation the situation may last even beyond in-fatuation if there is Emotional Blackmail. In my husband’s affair she got controlling immediately–within a week of their sleeping/living together she announced there engagement at his family’s home and was telling him she wanted to have his baby. Once in-fatuation was diminished–still there, but not as high level, but the bloom had come off the rose–Emotional Blackmail picked up the slack. His affair lasted for 3.5 years and he came and left home 8 times.

  7. I’ve known marriages that survived infidelity and ones that caved. Contrition and accountability on the part of the offending spouse and a willingness to address their own problems by the offended spouse seemed to be the key in keeping going.

    This book looks like a great read. I’m adding it to my (very large) to-be-read pile. Thanks!

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  9. AlohaHarleySMG

    Thanks for sharing! The book sounds very interesting and incredibly helpful! 🙂

  10. Thanks – I wish this book had been written 25 years ago when my husband had an affair. We felt like we were swimming against the storm as we worked toward reconciliation and restoration of our marriage. Thanking God there are now men like Dr. Halzman and women like Lori Lowe who provide encouragement and hope.

    • That’s kind of you to say, and I’m glad you were able to reconcile all those years ago. Perhaps you can help others with your insights.

  11. I am working hard to get over my husbands 4th affair! I don’t think we got the correct help for the last three. I feel that we can work this out because I know that I was just as dishonest to him and he was to me. I was never emotionally there for him when I should have been and I always put him second. I am not blaming myself but I haven’t been the wife I should have been. I have read your other book and I continue to read every book or blog that I can on surviving affairs in a marriage. Thank you for your book and blogs

  12. My husband and I are finally, after years of struggling through infidelity, headed closer together. The healing is long and hard, but not impossible! If you haven’t yet given away the book, I would like to be entered in the drawing.

  13. I would love to be added in the drawing, I have a guy friend who is experiencing it right now, and I would love to help him out! I could see how it is hard for him to always see both her and his husband last name as __ vs. ___, whenever the lawyer emails them. And now, they’re still battling in the custody of their son!

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  15. Some good “Q & A’s” there from Dr Haltzman. I know of some people who have all the hallmarks of flame addiction that was raised. You can see it in meetings and events that I’ve attended with them and their flame. Some tend not to easily show they’re affected by it (usually the male). However, out of all that I know (or think I know) who have flame addiction it would seem that the ladies are the most obvious addicts in that they have a tendency to be poor actors and habitually let their feelings be seen through very thin facades. Don’t know what others think or whether they’ve experienced things differently? Maybe being female allows me to see things differently from the gentlemen folk.

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  17. I still struggling with healing 3 years later after my husbands affair.It has been a slow and very painful process, probably because he married me a virgin.I never went through any form of counselling but I have been reading any literature concerning infidelity and how to overcome it and I would want to read yours as well.

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  19. This article brings to light that an affair does mimic addictive behavior. Something I was trying to explain to my husband. Tks!

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