When you find out your partner has had an affair, it can feel like the end of the relationship. You’re likely to be shocked, angry, and hurt. All your family and friends will naturally take your side against your partner and tell you to leave, because they want to protect you from someone who has hurt you.
But what if you still love them and can’t imagine being with anyone else? What if you have children and a house and joint asset together? What will you be leaving behind if you walk away? You might feel ashamed, embarrassed, or even stupid to consider staying with a person who has betrayed you in such a terrible way, but does an affair really have to be the end of a relationship?
What causes affairs?
For as long as marriage has existed, people been having affairs. In fact, adultery appears twice in the Ten Commandments, once for doing it and once for just thinking about it!!!
In fact latest research reveals that 22 – 40% of married men and 11 – 25 % of married women are involved in an affair at any one time. However more often than not there's something much deeper and more pervasive running through the relationship - and the affair is a symptom of the problem, rather than the problem itself. Even if you do leave, one risk is that you may end up repeating the same relational patterns with someone else and find yourself in the same situation again.
Sometimes an affair can serve as a wake-up call and an opportunity to look at what’s been going wrong. If you've both been avoiding problems, not talking about issues or have been drifting apart over time it can force you to re-evaluate the relationship and any problems with it.
Maybe there were arguments that created a sense of disconnection and lack of intimacy. Maybe you had both become too busy with the kids or work to pay proper attention to each other. Maybe the things had just became monotonous and routine.
Whatever the reason, something wasn’t working prior to the affair. So yes, the relationship as you knew it had to end - but that doesn't necessarily mean leaving your partner. It can mean leaving behind what wasn’t working and accepting the possibility of creating something new and better.
Road to recovery
Without understanding what happened and why it happened, couples will fail in making the right decision about the relationship’s future.
To fully recover from an affair:
The affair must stop. The partner having the extra relationship must have no more contact, in any form if the marriage is to survive and rebuild.
The hurt partner must be given the opportunity to express their varied emotions (shock, denial, hurt, anger, sadness, turmoil, betrayal, loss of face) while it is important for the affair partner to listen, accept and validate his or her feelings, and also provide reassurance that he or she indeed wants and values this relationship.
The affair partner must take on the responsibility to rebuild the trust by being transparent and accountable. This means comings and goings, be findable at all times and be willing to have phone and emails open to share with his or her partner. This needs to happen for as long as it takes for the partner to feel that the trust has been rebuilt.
Finding meaning. Both partners need to explore why this affair has happened so that it doesn’t reoccur again in the future.
Forgiveness. In order for this to occur, the partner having had the affair needs to feel a very high level of humility, and deep sorrow for what he or she has done, as well as true empathy for the hurt the partner has been put through. In addition, there needs to be a commitment and hope for a better future together. Only then is it possible for the other partner to be able to forgive fully.
Restructuring the relationship. In this stage the couple needs to work actively on fixing the problem and restoring and growing a healthy relationship so that the couple feel complete and whole.
Doing the work is essential but I would urge you not to try and complete this process on your own. Almost all couples need help from a trained counsellor to be able to successfully complete these steps.
To rebuild trust, the unfaithful partner needs to demonstrate to the betrayed partner they have the capacity to be accountable for their mistakes. Acknowledging the damage of the affair is the first way toward showcasing that ability.
It will take some hard work and commitment from both of you to really look at what’s been going wrong, but the pain caused and suffered by an affair - on both sides usually - is a huge motivation to never get back to this place again.
If this article has raised issues for you, please feel free to get in touch and book an appointment. The first step towards understanding what has happened is to talk about it. From there, you can begin to piece together how and why the affair occurred - and what you might like to do next.