My husband has cheated on me at least three times (that I know of). I stupidly keep taking him back because we have children and I want to honour our marriage vows. A friend recently told me that he's up to his old tricks again and I've come to the conclusion that I should finally consider leaving him. Can you offer any advice? Should I give it one last shot or just accept that he's always going to be a cheater?
This is such a hard question to answer because people who stay in an unhappy, unhealthy situation in which they aren't respected and don't feel loved, generally do so because they share children. People will do almost anything to preserve their family and protect their kids, rather than put themselves first.
Parents, particularly the good ones, follow their instinct to always put the needs of their children first, and many understand that kids suffer consequences when their parents split up, so will do almost anything to avoid that.
There is a lot of research to support the idea that children are better off with living with both of their parents, rather than cope with a divorce. And in fact some research indicates that children would choose for their parents to stay together, even bitterly fighting, rather than split up. Kids are often quite traumatised, at any age, by their parents' conflicts and break up.
However, do kids always know best, even if they know what they want? No, of course not, they are children. There are certainly some toxic situations when it's best for the parents not to stay together. This is particularly true in violent or abusive situations when it would be dangerous to keep the children in that context, or less extreme, when it's not healthy or good for them to be constantly exposed to conflict, stress or emotional abuse.
No-one could say you haven't, and aren't trying, to protect your children and keep your family together. Three times you have tried to preserve your family unit by taking your cheating husband back. It is devastating to deal with a sexual or intimate betrayal in a marriage.
Fighting to stay together for the sake of your kids is honourable, but will never succeed, unless both partners are willing to do the work to stay together and repair the relationship. It sounds from what you've written that you're committed to trying to stay together, but he's not committed to you and your marriage, because he continually strays.
You are considering giving the marriage "one last shot", again, and that you are considering it means there is a part of you that really wants to, and hopes to, make things work so you don't have to split up.
You can't stay together purely and only for your kids, though. Both of you have to want to be partners as well as parents together, if you're going to save your marriage. If you decide to try one last time, you must do something different. Because the way you've been handling his cheats isn't teaching him not to do it anymore. In fact, he's learning that he can cheat, and cheat again, oh and again and again, and you're going to keep on taking him back.
He's learning that you will accept his behaviour, even if you don't like it and would prefer it to change. To learn that it's unacceptable there are two options: One, leave him over it. Or two, give your marriage one last chance, on the condition that you both enter into couples counselling to deal with the issues in your relationship as well as the cheating.
You can't just expect to deal with the adultery in isolation and fix your entire marriage. You need to discuss and deal with the resentments and anger between you, the mistrust, and disrespect, and also learn how to communicate healthily and honestly. If you can both learn these things and role model a positive relationship to your children, it is well worth fighting to stay together and your family will benefit as a whole.
But if this isn't possible, then you have to look at what price you and your children are paying staying together in a family situation that is a poor model, emotionally stressful, and unhealthy for everyone involved. If you keep doing the same thing, nothing will change. If you want true change, you have to search your heart about what you think is really best, and do something different. It's not for me to say whether you should leave.
If you want to stay, seek counselling advice to learn how to make things finally different, and at last give yourselves a chance at happiness for everyone including yourself!