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Why do women choose to stay with men who cheat?

 Why women stay with men who cheat (Photo: iStock)

It’s a global trend that has been running for as long as we can remember. It starts as a happy admirable couple, holding hands in public and sharing affection - a kiss here, a hug there - sending everyone swooning.

Then suddenly, out of the blue, newspaper headlines break the story of a well-hidden, hot and juicy clandestine affair between the man and his mistress.

Former US President Bill Clinton shocked the world when his affair with Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern, was uncovered. Award-winning golfer Tiger Woods was caught with his hands in the cookie jar with his mistress, a nightclub hostess named Rachel Uchitel.

And American professional basketball player Kobe Bryant allegedly cheated on his wife Vanessa with ‘multiple women’.

But here is the universal question that comes with all affairs: To stand by your cheating man or kick him to the kerb?

It is not a decision any woman wants to make, but many have been forced to after their philandering partners were caught red-handed.

However, some women, those who believe in fighting for their marriages, choose to stay. While infidelity could lead to deep psychological scars and put a person at risk of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), many women choose to stay with their cheating husbands for various reasons.

Mary* a mother of three reveals that she ended up staying with her unfaithful husband for 10 years when he started cheating on her with another woman.

“The other woman told everyone he left me for her. I stayed to prove her wrong. It’s been hard and I will never trust him again, but the kids have their dad with them and we do get along,” she says.

“We do not sleep together anymore, just share a bed. He still wanders but that’s okay now. I just don’t care anymore,” Mary says of her husband whom she describes as a ‘roommate’.

Grace Chenda, mother of one, says she was just 21 years old when she found out her husband had had an affair just one week after their wedding.

“I was too scared to leave. So I sucked it up and moved on. A few months later we reconciled although I could never shake the feeling that something wasn’t right,” she says.

While for 38-year-old Elizabeth*, the decision to divorce was the culmination of several unhappy years of marriage.

She says the problem started long before when she dated and then broke up with her college boyfriend because he was seeing other women. They reconnected a few years after graduation and had a life-changing dinner date.

Knowing what she knew, Elizabeth says she “set herself up for failure”, but when he kissed her on the forehead, she had a “profound ‘this is the man I’m supposed to be with’ moment and got wrapped up in that fantasy.”

Elizabeth and her now ex-husband married in 2012 and divorced in 2016. In the intervening years of marriage, they would live out the fantasy — buying a house, taking trips, and having a child.

But they would also live out a reality in which he would have multiple affairs, and she would have an affair of her own, after which the couple would try and fail to make their marriage work.

Theirs is just one story of many. Many couples will call it quits in the aftermath, as evidenced by the fact that cheating is a common underlying factor in 40 to 50 per cent of marriages that end in divorce.

However, up to 75 per cent of couples rocked by an affair stay together, according to research by Peggy Vaughan, author of Preventing Affairs.

The idea of an affair is largely surrounded by stigma and shame by society. Every couple has its own dynamic and every situation is unique.

Considering the background of the relationship, it is difficult to expand in terms of reasons as to why a wife might be accepting of her husband’s extramarital affair.

However, there are many possible factors for a wife to be more accepting of her man’s infidelity such as financial stability, children, fear of being alone, career or that she is also cheating.

“There is no one-size-fits-all answer to why some wives accept their husbands’ infidelity. Ultimately, each case should be evaluated on its own merits,” says Loyce Noo Okello, a life psychologist and consultant with Ultimate Care Links.

Ms Noo says fear of being alone keeps people in all kinds of horrible situations and relationships.

“Another possibility is that the wife herself is having an affair and feels that it is hypocritical to judge her husband for doing the same thing. She may rationalise his behaviour by saying that affairs are common and that everyone deserves to be happy,” Noo says.

Another reason women choose to stick it out is the financial hit.

“Women’s greatest fear is that they’ll become bag ladies. In their minds, they would be leaving him for a life of poverty just because he’s been cavorting elsewhere,” she adds.

It is not a completely unfounded fear; a woman is likely to draw the short financial straw in a divorce. Research shows that an ex-wife’s standard of living drops more than 25 per cent soon after divorce. They are also more likely to lose other essentials, such as health insurance and their homes.

“A wife can lose her status because of divorce,” says Noo. “If you’re married to a governor, you’re a governor’s wife. Otherwise, you’re just his ex-wife.”

In other cases, a woman stays because she has a hidden agenda, says Noo.

This devil’s bargain can pay off if you make it with eyes open and a clear head. It doesn’t work “when we stay out of fear or low self-esteem because that causes suffering,” Noo says.

“If you live in a community where marriage is touted and single women are shunned, do you want to become an outcast because your husband does this?” she says.

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