I’ll try to give you a quick response to your question, “why do I stay?” (not very quick, as it turns out, sorry)
We’ve been together, dating, for 2.5 years now; we've been talking around the issue of marriage for some time. Perhaps we will feel strong enough in the next few months to take the next step. I hope so, actually, and I think it's likely.
His disclosure came just over a year ago. I think I am the first person he told apart from his therapist. He lauched a "trial balloon" a couple of weeks before he really told me what had happened (in outline), and I guess my response to that was calm enough for him to feel comfortable proceeding.
But I don’t know why I stayed long enough to find out, really. We talked about that the other day, he and I: considering how awful his behavior was on a regular basis, there’s no obvious explanation for why I would have stayed, other than hope. He would take off relatively often with no warning and no explanation for days at a time. I found out from his son (who often didn’t know what was up, either) and from one of his oldest girlfriends, who was an ex as well, that this had been a pattern for years and years and years. (BTW, he’s in his early 50s and I’m in my late 40s.) That used to be torture for me, and if I had been more self-preserving I probably would have left. Shortly after his disclosure, I discovered evidence of his recent interaction with other women, which devastated me. He reassured me that these were old attachments, not active now, but it still hurt me deeply and I am not yet sure of his veracity in this regard. But somehow, again, we muddled through.
After he had not disappeared for several months, then he did it again last month, and I was very, very close to giving up altogether. His latest disappearance was what pushed to communicate with people on this site, though, and this source of support has helped. Therapy has also helped: we each have individual ones, and we started seeing one jointly last May, after an especially egregious violation of confidence. (He stood me up at one event so he could go to another, solo; I found out from other people who were at the event, and that was a humiliating experience.) I insisted that we find someone to talk with, otherwise I couldn’t continue. We have done well with that, although we are not at all “done” with the process. It helps keep us focused on what we each want, and what we need to do to make it possible for us to flourish, separately and together.
Being a survivor myself also helps, though I wouldn’t recommend seeking out that source of commonality if you haven’t already endured it. (a feeble joke, I hope you’ll accept it.) I can, although it’s difficult, empathize with his own internalized anger, and understand some of his behavior as something separate from me, and in fact something that grieves him not to have more control over, because I believe he sincerely does not want to hurt me—except on very, very rare occasions. This disappearing habit is outside of his volition in many ways, a protective mechanism that may have outlived its usefulness but is still a recourse in times of stress. I get it, even though I don’t like it, and sometimes I can actually tolerate it.
This is all very backwards, actually, because the compensations and adjustments we have gone through still don’t explain why I stay. But I’ll address one more area before I try to speak to your question more directly. I see improvement over time. It’s not always up, but it definitely trends that way. He works very hard at his recovery. He apologizes to me when his behavior hurts me. He sometimes makes direct amends (he’s getting better at that). He steadily assumes more responsibility for making our life together more comfortable for both of us. (He is de facto living in my flat, with me and my younger daughter; their relationship is still under construction, but it is improving too.) He does chores and he contributes financially. He continues to try to communicate as clearly as he can, and most of the time he does very well. He has been there to support me, usually, when there have been major crises in my life. There have been two (other) life-changing ones during the time we have been together, plus my continued under-employment, and he was a rock during them, utterly wonderful.
OK, now I will try to explain why I stay, but I may not get far because this is really very intimate—even if I am more or less anonymous!
He is the only man I have ever known with whom I feel comfortable being my whole self, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually; we’re working on the physically, but that’s coming along…. He encourages me to “be big” as I encourage him likewise. We laugh together every day, which means that I am capable of being unreservedly funny with him. We know each other’s deepest secrets, fears, and longings, and we honor them. I feel greatly honored, in fact, to have his confidence on the level that I do. It means a lot for survivors to trust someone enough to be honest with them. We recognize each other—we SEE each other clearly and unflinchingly. We do have similar politics and similar faith, and these are important elements that contribute to our solidarity, but the differences between us are still a source of fascination and stimulation. Our touch is healing to each other, a source of comfort even in our toughest times. We have a sense of adventure together that continues to inspire us, despite the difficulties of our current circumstances. I am proud of him, and he of me. He is a man of great capacity, truly, and it is a great pleasure to be supported to grow into my own gifts just as he is fully developing his.
I can’t imagine my life without him; the connection we have is as cosmic as the one I have with my children (different grounds, similar comprehensiveness). He says the same, and I believe him. I didn’t know it was possible to feel this strongly about anyone else.
I do get scared, still, on a semi-regular basis: I have trouble trusting my judgment, because I want so very much for this relationship to work and fear that I am trying to talk myself into believing that it will/can/is. But this is one way that joint therapy helps in particular, so we get some external affirmation for our struggles and our accomplishments.
When things are good, they are FABULOUS, in other words, and so, yes, it is worth the struggle—it is an opportunity even more than a challenge. I am SO PROUD of how hard he is working to become whole again. It is the least I can do to respond in kind, by exerting myself to continue with my own journey toward maturity and integration.
Again, good luck to you in figuring out for yourself what you are willing to do.