In my last blog called Extramarital Affairs: 7 Risk Factors, I shared some of the common characteristics found in couples at risk for infidelity. These are helpful in preventing an affair in your relationship.
But if you’ve already been affected by an affair–and are still hoping to salvage the relationship–the question becomes how to heal.
It IS possible to heal and rebuild your relationship post-affair. In fact, the chances of a couple staying together after infidelity are better than most people think.
Many of us tell ourselves and our partners that “It’s over” if they ever cheat on us. But when confronted with the reality of an affair, most people don’t find it so black-and-white.
Depending on how it’s handled afterwards, an affair can be a catalyst for transformation, greater communication and renewed connection. While some people stay together for the kids or because they feel obligated, for those couples who genuinely still want to be together, affairs can actually bring them closer.
In fact, oftentimes an affair is a catalyst to creating a new relationship. Rather than going back to how things were, you create a relationship that is even BETTER than the one you had prior to the affair.
That said, the key is how it’s handled. The way in which couples deal with an affair afterwards will be the determining factor in the success of rebuilding the relationships.
How to Heal from an Extramarital Affair:
There are five key things you need to have in order to heal from an affair:
- Willingness to do A LOT of talking. The partner who had the affair needs to patiently answer all of their partner’s questions about the affair–how it started, how it was maintained, and what it meant for their marriage. The cheating partner MUST tell the complete truth at this point or the chances of growth are small. Both the betrayed and the betrayer must have a genuine interest in continuing to talk about it whenever it becomes a sticking point. It cannot be apologized for and then swept under the rug.
- Marriage coaching. Studies show it is quite effective in helping couples recover from an affair. David Atkins and Andrew Christensen found that while couples who have experienced infidelity usually start therapy in a more distressed state than other unhappy couples, they make quicker gains over 6 months with support. A coach or therapist can maintain emotional safety for expressions of anger, and focus the couple on communication skills which rebuild intimacy.
- Serious consideration of what led to the affair. Both parties must analyze what happened and why. What was going on with each partner during that time? Only when you’ve considered the source can you effectively work together to “affair-proof” your marriage.
- Commitment to learning new behaviors. Each partner agrees to behave in ways which build trust, intimacy and shared responsibility for how loved and satisfied the other feels. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting about it or never mentioning it again. It means being willing to restore trust. And this requires the cheating partner to commit to deep changes in his or her coping skills.
- Removal of the affair partner from the picture. It’s hard enough to restore a marital relationship when a lover is finally out of the picture. But it’s almost impossible when the lover is still hanging around. The cheating partner must be willing to cut all ties with their affair partner, and not make excuses to “stay friends.” This may mean changing jobs or other big moves. That is just what it’s going to take.
Extramarital Affairs: How they can become
Those who commit to the hard work of dealing with the devastation of infidelity, and to being a partner who owns his or her weaknesses and mistakes, have an excellent chance of not only staying together but of emerging with a strong, happy, and more fulfilling relationship.
While there are no reliable statistics on how many post-affair couples heal successfully, I know from own professional experience (and the reports of other therapists) that couples who make this commitment end up staying together because they’re simply happy together.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that an affair can be a catalyst for a better relationship. Rather than returning to the relationship you had prior to the affair, you end up with a relationship that is better than you ever had before!
Good luck and let me know if you have any questions in the comments below!