Infidelity: Can marriage survive an affair?

James Mugisha had what he considered a good marriage with his wife. They did everything together as a loving couple, and in the five years they had been married, he never once doubted his choice for a marriage partner.

But earlier last year, things suddenly changed. His normally caring and attentive wife suddenly changed to being very busy and distant.

“I started having doubts and constantly thought of the possibility that my wife could be seeing someone else. I found it hard to wrap my mind around this, but one day I decided to go through her phone, and the messages I saw confirmed my fears,” he recalls.

Mugisha had to confront his wife but what ensued was turmoil. And even though they are still living together, Mugisha admits that he can never see his wife the same way he did. He says he is now contemplating separation.

Most people admit that very few problems in marriage can cause as much distress and devastation as infidelity. The betrayal, rage and loss of trust make it even harder to overcome it.

However, some argue that regardless of how destructive infidelity can be, it shouldn’t translate to the dissolution of a marriage.

Writer Ashley Willis notes that one might wonder if a marriage can work after a spouse cheats and that if a marriage can truly be saved after an affair. She, however, writes that “Yes, vows have been broken. Yes, trust must be earned once again. Yes, it’s messy and emotional and hard. However, it is possible but it takes lots of work and constant prayer.”

Eric Ntirampeba, a transcriber at eDatafarm Rwanda, strongly believes that marriage, let alone any relationship, can hardly work if one of the spouses was unfaithful.

He asserts this by explaining that a couple’s sex life is actually one of the fundamental pillars for the sustainability of marriage or any relationship.

“Even science shows that lovemaking is one of the best tools that deeply connects couples and strengthens the love and affection between them, particularly in an emotional way, and we all know how much emotions drive a human’s actions and reactions than anything else,” he says.

Ntirampeba says that if one of the partners is cheating, the outcome is bad automatically. This, he says, is mainly in terms of trust and affection because that precious love bond is being shared, yet this comes with other bad consequences — such as the transmission of sexually transmitted illnesses.

“All of this causes mental and moral sickness and if partners are sincere at this phase, there is no way of saying that their relationship/marriage can work,” Ntirampeba says.

For Marie-France Niyonizera, a nurse and blogger, a marriage can still work even in the midst of infidelity.

This, she says, can be possible if the one who cheated is honest with their partner.

“Love is built on trust and honesty, as long as the cheating partner puts all the cards on the table and recognises that what he or she did was wrong, the couple can base on that and build from there,” she says.

“Marriage or any relationship is not always a matter of bliss, care and every other thing we see on TV, marriage is a life commitment that comes with a lot of challenges and strong people don’t run away from the challenges, they fix them. As long as there is honesty things can still work out,” Niyonizera adds.

According to Honorine Mpinganzima, a student at Davis College, Akilah campus, the issue is not cheating, rather, what caused it in the first place.

She, therefore, thinks that a relationship or marriage can only keep going if both partners sit together and agree on finding the root cause, and, thereby, dealing with it.

Olivier Kalisa, an operations manager, agrees with Mpinganzima, expressing that in such cases, a relationship can only survive if the one who was cheated on forgives their partner, noting that this, however, can take time for one to heal and trust their partner.

“And I think one has to be strong to do that, personally I don’t think I would be able to do that,” he says.

The narrative of the ‘weaker self’ and the ‘higher self’

Marilyn Wedge, a family therapist, notes that often, a spouse is unfaithful because they believe that their spouse does not recognise their feelings, does not respect their decisions, and has grabbed all the power in the marriage. Having an affair tilts the balance of power in the relationship back in their favour. Infidelity is the quintessential power play.

According to her, what helps the hurt spouse understand how the affair could have happened is to introduce a narrative of the ‘weaker self’ and the ‘higher self’.

This narrative, the unfaithful partner is struggling to become a better person (higher self) than the part of himself (weaker self) who had the affair. With his higher self, he loves his wife and children and wants to be a good husband and father. With his weaker self, he tried to overcome his feelings of powerlessness in the marriage by being with a woman who desired him, and who gave him a sense of power and control.

Wedge, on the other hand, connotes the need for therapy highlighting that if therapy is to be successful and the infidelity is not to recur, a therapist must have unconditional empathy and respect for both spouses—including the spouse who has done the betraying.

“Saying ‘sorry’ every day is vital. In the early stages of therapy, the hurt spouse may need to hear the spouse who has been unfaithful apologise every day for the infidelity. She may also need him to text her or call her more often during the week so that she feels that her spouse is thinking about her often. This is especially needed when the hurt spouse has discovered frequent texts or calls between her partner and the person with whom he had the affair.”


YOUR VOICE: Infidelity: Do you break up, or can you make up?

Yes, it can if the one being cheated on wants to work on it and the cheat is remorseful and genuinely willing to be faithful. This entails real commitment and trust. It also depends on whether the one being cheated on has something to lose, for example, if they have been with this person for so long and they don’t want to throw all of that away, or if there are children involved.

But on the other hand, it can be hard for a marriage to survive if the trust is really broken, the spouse is a serial cheat, if you realise that you are sacrificing your emotional health and self-worth, if the cheat wants to be with someone else instead of you, or if the cheat has contracted a disease that you don’t want to deal with.

Gloria Mutoni, Public servant


I believe a relationship can still work even in the worst-case scenario of adultery. Though there is psychological damage inflicted and the healing process may be hard and take long, cheating is not a final relationship breaker. This is especially so if a person cheated without any emotional attachment.

Andrew Kazungu, Assets management specialist


If a marriage is to continue after cheating, then it would be for formalities because there will be no trust. I don’t think I can even forget something like that for my whole life. However, I think there should be room for forgiveness if the person does not make a habit out of it.

Laban Bizimungu, Assistant branch manager


Well, some couples are able to forgive each other even after cheating and life goes on, but for others, the broken trust can take a lifetime to rebuild. I believe the behaviour of the cheating partner can determine whether a marriage can still work or not.

Marie-Christine Umuhire, Pharmacist

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