How to Survive an Affair

Tuesday, April 29, 2014 @ 2:32 PM

What is Adultery?

Cheating, infidelity, or having an affair, is the act of being unfaithful to a committed relationship. Partners who engage in extramarital "online" affairs which can have similarly devastating effects on relationships are included here as well. Adultery does not simply happen “out of the blue”, although it may seem that way to the betrayed spouse. It is instead the eventual outcome of a long line of unresolved issues. Similar to an iceberg, the surface above the water is outward and visible, but underneath, there is much more than what is visible to the outside. While an affair is destructive to a relationship, it is a symptom of something much deeper that has been growing for much longer, signifying the end of a painful road. Counseling at this stage is vital if the relationship is going to be saved. And yes, the good news is that even after something as devastating  as infidelity, complete restoration is still possible.

My Husband or Wife Had An Affair

Adultery affects one in every 2.7 couples. According to a published report in the Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy, by the time we are 40, approximately 50% of all wives and 60% of all husbands, will have had some degree of extramarital affair. Author and psychologist, Dr. Phil McGraw, further estimates that only 35% of these affected couples will stay together. Despite this gloomy prognosis, there is life after adultery. Studies show that couples who have chosen to tough it out, seeking couples and or individual counseling, have the best chance of staying together.

Why Did My Partner Cheat?

When we commit to exclusivity to our relationship we make a moral and ethical contract to remain faithful. Unfortunately, when we make these promises, the relationship is often still new and the normal stresses of life have yet to take their toll. Then, when this initial honeymoon period is over, (perhaps the bills are mounting, the job is more demanding then ever and child number two is on its way.) We begin to ask ourselves, “What happened?” There is no doubt the relationship dynamics change over time; they have to in order to accommodate the natural progression of family life. The problem arises however, when we forget to adapt to these changes, more specifically, to each other’s needs as they relate to the changing relationship. Contrary to what you may think, adultery is not merely about sex. In fact, sex is often a bonus to the affair. Adultery and betrayal are about emotional connectedness, the feeling of being wanted, needed, understood, and more importantly, heard. To those on the receiving end however, adultery is a selfish betrayal of trust that brings with it devastating consequences.

Surviving An Affair

The betrayal of adultery cuts much deeper than a simple broken vow. Some experts link the experience to that of physical and emotional abuse. Spouses who have been cheated on often suffer from anxiety, poor self-esteem, depression, humiliation, guilt, and a sense that somehow “it was their fault” or they “deserved it”, especially if the cheating continues. The longer the infractions persist, the deeper the couple falls into a recurring cycle. In the case of adultery, most spouses are eventually able to come to terms with the fact that their spouse cheated, not being able to let go of the memory and fear that it may happen again however, is what destroys most relationships. Trust is the foundation of any relationship and once that foundation is destroyed, it is very hard to rebuild unless both parties are willing to surrender to the fact that in reality, they have no control over what the other may or may not do. This comes full circle to the issue of trust, whether it is in your partner, yourself or something bigger than both of you. For most people, it seems easier to walk away from even a long-term relationship than it is to surrender and learn to develop trust again.  Even then, you must make this decision for the right reasons. In order for a relationship to survive, both partners have to make personal changes to their way of thinking and being. But what many people in this situation do not realize, is that there is hope and life after adultery, and surprisingly, the potential to have an even stronger relationship than before.

Moving Forward After An Affair

Moving past an affair is no easy task, but if both you and your partner are dedicated to working through the underlying issues through a competent counselor, the relationship has great hope for the future. Many partners can overcome this highest form of betrayal and be even stronger than before, however, it requires a commitment from both partners. Not all relationships make it. Sometimes the cheater may leave altogether, or the betrayed spouse may decide to walk away. Yet whether the betrayer or the betrayed, even if you decide to leave the relationship, you still need to deal with your own emotional scars so you don’t find yourself in a similar relationship. Values-Based counseling provides essential tools in the healing process. While adultery may be a life-altering experience, it doesn't have to define you or your future choices.

How Counseling Works After Infidelity

Infidelity is not something that occurs in a vacuum. Counseling address the issues in the relationship that led up to the affair. By the time infidelity occurs, there are many deep issues that have already been present for some time, and in order for healing to come, these issues must be addressed. While it is a serious problem in a relationship, infidelity is a symptom of a cluster of intimacy problems and  not the root problem. A competent Couples Counsellor looks to find those issues that brought the relationship to a place where an affair became an option. For couples to rebuild their relationship after adultery, counseling addresses the unmet needs and wants for both individuals. Getting past blame and hurt is a difficult, yet critical step in order for forgiveness and restoration to begin. We look at what is still works in a relationship and build on these components to work towards that forgiveness and restoration. While one person may commit the act of betrayal, adultery counseling is not about placing blame, but rather working towards restoration, forgiveness, and healing. We recognize that adultery creates such a volatile situation, that sometimes healing the relationship is not possible because one or both spouses have already made the decision to end the relationship. In those cases where restoration of the relationship is not possible, we commit ourselves to working with the individual to address feelings of hurt, guilt, insecurities, anxiety, loneliness, and other issues that result from the broken relationship. 

When individuals have the opportunity to resolve these experiences they are more able to move forward and prevent this hurt from affecting and hindering future relationships. Often, the individual who has been the victim of an affair is not ready to make the decision to stay or leave the relationship, so seeking help from a counselor for adultery works to identify and resolve emotions of helplessness, loss of control, and hurt.  If the couple wants to work through the hurt and betrayal, counseling focuses on communication skills, rebuilding trust, and developing goals for the future to direct the couple providing hope for the future and restored love and intimacy.

Counseling When Children Are Affected By Infidelity

When there are children, we work with the parents to develop a healthy co-parenting relationship that provides for the ongoing developmental needs so the children to have loving and healthy relationships with both their parents. Children who experience the breaking of trust in their family also need the opportunity to voice their feelings. Confusion and self-blame are common reactions from children as they think “I could have been better then mom/dad would not have left”. While the family unit may not be restored, a child’s ability to learn to trust again and develop security in their situation is vital for future development and growth.