What constitutes infidelity varies amongst individuals. Couples can view infidelity as anything from a physical or emotional affair, watching porn, sexting, or even staying secretly active on dating aps. What does remain the same is that when infidelity occurs it threatens our emotional security.
Many of us view our partner to be the love of our life, our best friend, and our emotional companion and at the same times view ourselves as the chosen one, unique, irreplaceable, and indispensable within the relationship. What infidelity tells us is that we’re not. It is an ultimate betrayal that can shatter the grand ambition of love. Infidelity can be traumatic because it threatens our sense of self. We start to think, I thought I knew who you were; I thought I knew who I was; I thought I knew who we were as a couple. We start to question everything. With infidelity being a violation of trust and a crisis of identity, it can be normal to question if we can ever trust our partner again? Can we ever trust anyone again?
With all these questions and doubt is it even possible to survive an affair? Sometimes affairs can actually push us into new possibilities. The result is that 60%-75% of couples that experience affairs stay together, but some of them will simply survive and others will actually be able to turn a crisis into an opportunity. Many couples in the immediate aftermath of an affair, because of this new disorder that may actually lead to a new order, will have conversations with openness and honesty that they have not had in years. The fear of loss can rekindle desire and make way for a new kind of truth.
When an affair is exposed there are 4 things couples can do to start to repair their relationship:
- Accept Responsibility: Healing begins when the partner who had the affair acknowledges their wrong doing. The first thing is to end the affair, but the other is the essential act of expressing guilt and remorse for hurting the other partner, as well as apologizing without making excuses. It is also the initial duty of the offending partner to become the protector of the boundaries in the relationship. It’s their responsibility to bring it up to relieve the other partner from the obsession of having to make sure the affair is not forgotten, and that in itself begins to restore trust.
- Implement Self-Care: It is essential for deceived partners to do things that bring back a sense of self-worth, to surround oneself with loved one, friends, and with activities that bring back joy and meaning and identity. There can be a multitude of emotions experienced when dealing with the aftermath of an affair including shock, anger, stress, and sense of loss. It’s important to allow ourselves to go through these emotions and focus on your self-care. Seeking professional counseling can assist with dealing with intense emotions that may seem too much to handle on your own.
- Communication: While open communication is imperative it is important to refrain from seeking the details of the affair. Where did it happen? How often? Were they better than me? These questions only inflict more pain and keep you awake at night. Instead switch to the investigative questions, the ones that focus on the meaning and the motives. What did this affair mean for you? What were you able to express or experience that you feel you were no longer able to do with me?
- Rebuild Trust: Rebuilding trust for the offended person is the most difficult part of the healing process because the offended person does not know what has been true and what has been a lie in the relationship. The offending partner will need to be willing to be more transparent and give up some privacy in order to make the other partner feel safe. They must also be willing to offer more frequent validation of their affection and commitment to their partner.
Every affair will redefine a relationship. There can be two sides to affairs, hurt and betrayal on one side, growth and self-discovery on the other. “Your first marriage is over, the decision is would you like to create a second one together?”
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Author: Stephanie Booth, MS has her Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology from Palm Beach Atlantic University and is a Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern at Total Life Counseling Center in Orlando where our relationship and marriage experts specialize in depression & anxiety and can be reached at (407) 248-0030.