As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I have seen many couples who seek marriage counselling or couples counselling after an affair has been discovered, disclosed or uncovered. The time immediately following the discovery is often the most painful time.
The betrayed partner is trying to digest the information, make sense of it and figure out what to do. The betrayer is back pedaling, apologizing and trying to explain. He or she may or may not be relieved the information has come to light. He or she may not be ready to decide if they are in or out of their relationship OR the affair.
When couples arrive in my office, they are often in crisis. The information is fresh, distasteful and the pain is palpable. This knowledge about the affair has blown something wide open and they are not sure what to make of it, what it means about each of them and their relationship and how to steer through it. Often the deceived partner is seeking details, trying to piece together the events. The betrayer has difficulty explaining his or her actions and reluctantly gives the requested details. This is a very painful time as the betrayer rarely gives all the information and the betrayed partner becomes a detective finding new clues and information.
Counselling Couples after an affair
When I work with couples I like to encourage them to do some individual work in conjunction with the couple work. I find it helpful for each partner to have the time and space to talk about the swirl of emotions, thoughts and feelings they are experiencing. I want the betrayed partner to express and process their reactions and their hopes for the relationship. I want the person who had the affair to talk about their motivations and reasons for the affair.
There are many reasons people have affairs. I encourage them to talk about their reasons. Was it for power, out or anger, to satisfy a longing, to resolve a childhood trauma? Was it a midlife crisis, a way to stay in a sexless marriage? Do they need time to grieve the loss of the affair?
Building Trust after an affair
Building trust is a gradual and painful process. It can take a year to build better memories, but up to 3 years to feel whole again. There may have been so many lies, that it is hard to know when your partner is no longer lying. Partners experience intrusive thoughts, fantasies and anger. The one who had the affair needs to be prepared to apologize over and over again. As well, they need to be present to witness the hurt they have induced with their behavior. This is another really hard time to be in a relationship marred by an affair. The hurt partner does not want to be hurting, to be mistrustful and to be angry. He or she may worry that expressing these feelings will only create more distance and push the partner away. The person who had the affair has an opportunity to stand firm on the relationship.
Can an affair be helpful to a marriage?
When it is revealed it can end a relationship that was dying anyway. Or it can provide an opportunity for a new marriage that is different from the one before. When people take a hard look at how they have been doing their relationship, they can grow and make the marriage even better. They can rekindle desire for someone they were indifferent to before. They can learn to communicate in ways they never did before and to show up for their relationship in ways they had not been present before.
Certainly, this is not the way I recommend people solve their marital difficulties. Instead, I find it remarkable when one person can turn to the other and say “Honey, we are in trouble, if these issues are not fixed, I might need to have an affair.” Indeed, I have met couples where this was the starting point of counselling. But more often, I meet couples where an actual affair is the reason for coming to my office. Infidelity is disturbingly common. Is it more common? Who knows? But it can be dealt with and counselling can help.
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