Many couples believe that an affair means that their relationship is over and beyond repair. They are certain that they will never be able to trust their partner again and they believe that the relationship can’t possibly be viable after their partner cheats. They feel that they know longer know their partner.
There is blame, anger, sadness and a profound sense of betrayal. These are perfectly understandable feelings but what I’ve learned working with couples is that when the story unfolds and both people are able to understand and make sense of the ‘how this might of happened’, healing can, and does, take place. It takes time and patience but couples do have the capacity to forgive and love each other again. There is also a huge opportunity to learn about oneself and their partner through this painful process.
Stages of Healing after an affair:
When discovering one’s partner has gone outside the relationship there is naturally shock and outrage. This is the time when the couples have strong negative feelings towards each other. The reactions that come out may be reactive and forceful or it can manifest itself as one partner withdrawing. Hard though it is to do, this is the time to slow things down and allow the feelings to settle.
Getting to the point where a couple is able to come together and talk effectively varies, and needs to be respected. Once feelings settle, it’s time to talk. Being clear and connected to one’s feelings allows us the clarity to articulate thoughts and emotions, enabling our partner to hear us rather than react and defend themselves. In other words, being clear with our feelings shifts the conversation from blaming to starting to make sense of what has transpired. It’s relational rather than attacking and creates a dialog to start to build trust and understanding again.
DON’T GET CAUGHT UP IN:
It’s important and natural to want to know the facts of the affair because it allows a couple to understand why it happened in the first place. The problem arises when a couple gets stuck in the details because then the underlying feelings and reasons get lost.
Getting to the root cause of ‘why’ isn’t always possible because the person responsible often doesn’t understand why they did it in the first place. There is a feeling that it ‘just happened’ which suggests that they are not taking responsibility for going outside the relationship. This can be frustrating for the other partner because their world has suddenly become unstable and not pinpointing a reason only intensifies this feeling.
I have sat with couples entrenched in this dynamic and I sense the person responsible for the affair really doesn’t have a clue as to why. Staying with the couple’s ‘not knowing’ and gently allowing the process to progress is what allows the understanding to emerge.
The most difficult thing for couples to appreciate in this situation is that both parties are suffering and really do want to understand and most importantly, to get back to the way things once were. Although not always possible, when a couple is able to stay with the difficulty and work forward, the process of letting go and forgiving can and does take place.