One of life’s most devastating traumas is finding out that one’s partner has had an affair. It is probably the most painful and hurtful experience one can go through in a marriage or committed relationship. The one person you placed your trust in above all others, and whose love on which you relied, has destroyed that trust. It is the ultimate betrayal, causing trauma and excruciating pain. You will be broken-hearted, suffering emotional and physical fallout. You may even question yourself: what could I have done better? The feeling of hurt, rage, loss, grief and rejection are unbearable. Your world turns upside down.
As a marriage therapist, I know that a relationship can survive after an affair. It takes hard work, desire and commitment to make this happen, but I have witnessed many couples successfully rehabilitate their relationships. If you both want to continue the relationship, this is possible.
An affair is an ongoing tryst, not a one-night stand. It is usually sexual and develops an emotional connection sometimes interpreted by the participating parties as “love.” It is intense and emotionally powerful – a big adrenaline rush. It is a secret life your partner is having, and the possibility of getting caught often adds to the excitement that is missing from their primary relationship.
If you simply suspect an affair, but are unable to comfortably confront your partner, there are symptoms to look for. You may not want to know, as denial can be a strong defense mechanism. But if you are observant, you might see a change in behavioral patterns such as staying late at the office, staying overnight with a good friend, coming home late from work, a new interest in their appearance, new clothes, weight loss, exercise and taking better care of themselves. Things in your own relationship may have changed: less sex, less communication, not paying much attention to you, frequently lost in thought, and simply acting disinterested. Sometimes their guilty feelings will be manifested in anger.
If you feel certain that your partner is having an affair, you need to confront them. They may or may not acknowledge their mistake, and if they do admit it, they may even blame you. This is where you need to be strong and remember, this bad choice was theirs, and they made that choice on their own. You do not have responsibility for what they did. Maybe your relationship wasn’t perfect, but working towards improvement is the smart and proper choice.
To heal and repair a relationship affected by an affair, there are a few necessary steps:
- Your partner must own his or her mistakes and weaknesses.
- They must commit to working on themselves and the problems in your relationship.
- They must commit to stopping the affair immediately and prove to you that this step has been taken.
- You also must consider how you may have contributed to faults in your relationship, and be willing to work on being a better partner.
- It is vital that you both still feel love for each other. Your anger may block those feelings, but if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance it’s buried inside and can return.
Throughout the healing process, if your partner continues to lie and/or see the third party, you must accept that he or she is not committed to rebuilding your relationship.
Therapy is essential for success. A trained therapist will guide you, and help you to achieve your goals. Emotions will be strong and often overwhelming throughout the healing process, and not having a trained professional in the room can be detrimental to success or failure. Sometimes individual therapy is helpful as well. Your therapist will know what to do and how to do it.
Through this difficult time, be sure to take good care of yourself. You really need to nurture yourself both physically and emotionally. Trust that there is hope, even if you don’t feel that way in the beginning. With strength, courage, love, and full cooperation from both partners, you can get through it.
Sandy Cox is a licensed marriage and family psychotherapist and can be reached at (760) 345.9002. www.sandycoxpsychotherapist.com