An affair, physical or emotional, is a betrayal of the worst kind. The one to whom you’ve entrusted your life, who you’ve shared every intimate aspect of living with, now has shared those very aspects of their being with someone else—a place and part of them that should be reserved exclusively for you. You trusted someone with your heart, soul and emotions; you counted on them to keep you safe. An affair shatters the trust, safety, and honesty you believed in.
The one who had the affair is the one who stepped out of the sacred bounds of the marriage. Feeling intensely betrayed, enraged, and resentful, the “victim” often attacks the “villain,” creating even more distance than existed before. While it is tempting to vilify the one who had the affair, we must examine what led up to the affair.
Before we embark on this journey to examine why it happened, I must be clear—nothing justifies an affair. This is a form of acting out in a most egregious manner, a most hurtful response to inner and outer stress. It is a failed attempt to find peace that only leads to even greater pain.
Affairs Have Meaning
While it is never justified, an affair often has meaning, and understanding that meaning can provide insurance against it ever happening again. Most affairs occur in the context of significant marriage issues. A skilled counselor can help the couple look deeper at the marriage problems that existed long before the affair took place.
Marriages susceptible to affairs often struggle with the issues below. If you find yourself with some of these “symptoms,” seek immediate, deep help. Your relationship may be vulnerable to an affair.
- A lack of functionality—fighting about the same issues again and again.
- A lack of intimacy—ineffective communication, with feelings of distance, resentment, and turmoil.
- A lack of acceptance and significance—ignoring your mate’s need for acceptance, appreciation, and significance.
- A lack of excitement—allowing the relationship to become stale, with little “spark” or adventure.
- A lack of sexual enthusiasm—allowing their sexual life to become boring and routine or perhaps nonexistent.
Steps for Recovering from an Affair
- Be with your feelings and make every effort to understand what your mate is experiencing.
Both the one who has been victimized and the one who had the affair have feelings about what took place. If you had the affair, make continuous effort to understand your mate’s feelings of betrayal and be patient in the healing process. If your partner had the affair, work at seeing the larger picture. Try to see the affair as a symptom of a larger, more complex problem.
- Recognize that both partners played a role in the affair and both must take an active role in healing from the affair.
This doesn’t mean the victim “caused” the affair or must take responsibility for it. What it means is that both are responsible for creating an environment in which an affair could occur (short of being married to a sexual addict.) Subsequently, both must be diligent about taking responsibility for their part and both will need healing and changes to their patterns of relating to ensure that an affair doesn’t recur.
- Understand that it will take time and effort to restore trust.
Trust can be restored, but this will require time, effort, and wisdom. Healthy boundaries must be restored to the marriage. The one who had the affair must show, repeatedly, that they are truly sorry for the damage they have caused. Both must be committed to long term healing of the marriage.
- Consider therapeutic work with a professional.
Should you fail to move through recovery from the affair, this suggests further intervention is needed, and that IS available. We will help you determine what is blocking and impeding growth and recovery.
- Agree to grow through this trauma, not simply go through it.
Locking arms, dedicated to healing, you both can work diligently with a trained specialist to heal and become stronger and healthier than ever before. Notice the gains and reinforce progress.
We’re here to help!
I fully recognize that this is an incredibly sensitive topic. It is so easy and tempting to become adversarial, shift into blaming and shaming. Recovery is best done with expert help, and we at The Marriage Recovery Center are available for this process. Please contact our Client Care Team for more information or to get started with one of our therapists or coaches.