I'm married and having an affair. Can my relationship really recover?
Healing from infidelity is not just about what you do or don't do sexually with someone else. It's the distance and the active turning away. The Involved Partner strays from a stance of trust and transparency with your committed, chosen partner long before the infidelity.
Your marriage does not necessarily have to end in divorce because you had an affair. Even though admitting the affair to your spouse will cause a lot of grief and heartache, and anger, the odds are that your marriage will survive if you both want it to. Couples counseling for infidelity can help.
What advice do you have for couples in affair recovery counseling?
This advice may seem counterintuitive: Come clean and disclose wisely.
Coming clean and being honest are powerful.
However, it's not very common. When most spouses get caught cheating, their first instinct is damage control. This is a really destructive phase that adds one betrayal to another.
Not only were they involved with someone else, but they are now lying about the extent of the involvement. Keeping the affair a secret is the first lie. But intimacy gets worse when the involved spouse:
- Minimizes the involvement,
- avoids discussing their commitment or
- downplays the significance of the affair.
Attempts to contain the situation by lying aren't a winning strategy for rebuilding trust.
- The Involved Partner may totally deny the affair initially.
- They may try to deny any technological contact.
- Deleting texts, emails, and messages in a panic is a common step.
- Dribbling out information in an agonizingly slow fashion (called “titrating”) can also be common. This can arguably be called emotionally abusive.
- Other involved partners total shutdown and stone.
- Others engage in Gaslighting.
- Minimizing the affair emotionally, “we’re just good friends..she’s going through a hard time” is also common.
- Minimizing the affair sexually – “We’re just co-workers. We just sext each other as a joke” never works. However, few spouses considers sex talk between co-workers "funny."
- Some engage in total amnesia about when it began, how it started, and when it ended (if it ended at all). They may tell their spouse, "I can't remember," and mean it sincerely.
Containing who you disclose to is wise.
It's hard to consider the long term when the hurt spouse's trust and certainty in your marriage turn from concrete to shifting sand. Women often reach out to friends, family, and even their own children, before turning to a marriage counselor. This has lasting effects. If the marriage does survive the affair, very often, it does so with broken friendships or parental relationships when the news is broadcasted widely.
Who you tell about this affair is a serious matter to consider. Running to a family member who has been vocal about their dislike for your partner creates a ripple effect, as most of us like to announce, "I was right about him/her!" to whoever will listen.
Affairs are confusing to both partners.
Being labeled the "unfaithful spouse" or the "betrayed spouse" is often destructive in infidelity counseling and the recovery process. We prefer the terms "Hurt" and "Involved" partners" rather than talking about "people who cheat," and we encourage other infidelity therapists to do the same.
In treating infidelity, a couples counselor's primary role is to help the couple survive infidelity, not stigmatize spouses.
The first thing many Involved Partners ask us is, "What happened? Why did I blow up my marriage and my life?" They may tell themselves a narrative of how they got involved but not be clear on why they would do something so destructive to their marriages.
Equally explosive is the reality that many of the involved partners may give up their affair partners reluctantly. They may still long for the feelings the affair created in them of power, desirability, excitement, and even danger. Some want to talk to the affair partner privately to process the necessity for a breakup. This, in itself, can be volatile as promises might have been made and are now broken.
Hurt partners often ask, "How could he/she do this to me?" It's a question that is seldom answered to the hurt partner's satisfaction. Rumination and obsession are common. Rumination is not an emotional process; it is a repetitive habit of mind.
Many Hurt Partners say, "they are trying to understand."
Rumination and obsessive thoughts
The rumination and obsession of the Hurt Partner have predictable themes. They blame and attack seemingly out of nowhere. They ask questions about specific sexual activities with the affair partner. While they are trying to ease the pain by knowing, intimate details of the sex are more likely to torment them with an ever-widening circle of toxic detail rather than heal.
Feeling betrayed, partners can raise their voices, be full of rage, threaten divorce, or be utterly inconsolable. They are often no less restrained in the therapist's office. Their pain is evident.
It's perfectly fine for the Hurt Partner to describe their emotions in vivid detail. But expressing them abusively is not.
There are all types of affairs.
There are also all types of affairs, sexual affairs being just one of them. In fact, when weighing anonymous sexual liaisons longer-term against emotional affairs with well-known people, the long-term secrecy may be much less damaging.
Affairs have predictable phases.
The first phase for the Hurt Partner is Shock. "How could he do this to me?" is a question that has probably existed in relationships from the beginning of love. I imagine that this question has been asked by Hurt Partners for thousands of years.
Shock is held in the body and the mind. Numbness. Trance. Disbelief. And then...Rumination and Obsession. Science-based couples therapy directly works with this aspect of affair recovery.
“What happens next?”
Affairs are among the most destructive and disruptive forces in married life. For many couples, managing fear, rage, and soul-shaking grief take up all of their emotional energy for months or even years. We caution the Hurt Partner to focus on their own self-care. Normal eating, sleeping, and exercise are important first steps.
Most couples find it difficult to heal in an effective way from an affair. Of the three typical paths to healing, only one will help the couple move on and potentially end up in a stronger place than before.
At Couples Therapy Inc., helping couples heal and repair is all that we do. We are science-based specialists in affair recovery. One weekend helps couples jump-start their healing with a trained couples therapist.
Recover from the pain of infidelity and become stronger than before. Learn how an affair can be more than a marriage killer.