There are few events that can have such immediate and devastating effects on a relationship as the revelation that one partner has had an affair. Or in some cases is still having an affair. For both partners, it brings up all sorts of questions: about themselves and their boundaries, about the relationship; and about trust and commitment.
If you’re in this position yourself, either as the person who has been betrayed, or as the person who has had the affair, it’s likely that you’ll be wondering whether your relationship can possibly recover. This is a normal reaction of course. Indeed, many couples don’t recover and end up separating; or they remain together in a bitter and disconnected relationship, draining the life and energy out of both of them. However many others are able to remain together and rebuild a loving and trusting partnership. It is often a long and painful experience, but it is possible.
Should I Stay Or Should I Leave?
The decision to remain together is not an easy one to make of course. At times it may seem like the right choice, at other times it will just feel too painful and difficult. It’s likely to be a lengthy process and you will probably feel like you’re going around in circles, covering the same ground over and over. And repeatedly wondering if you really can recover!
You’re Both In A Lot Of Pain
Both parties have a lot of emotional pain to process. Anger, hurt, sadness, anxiety, bitterness, confusion, grief, and many others will come and go. For a while it may feel like a roller-coaster! For the betrayed person, your partner’s affair may leave you re-evaluating everything you thought you knew about your relationship, and how well you actually know your partner. You may also wonder what else you don’t know about, and find yourself getting caught up in painful thoughts like “I’m not good enough” or “there’s something wrong with me”. Indeed, mental health issues such as depression and low self-esteem are common.
If you’re the person who had the affair, you’ll also have some difficult emotions to wrestle with. Commonly these include shame, guilt and regret, and you may have to confront the reality that your partner may leave you. While it is often assumed that affairs are primarily about sexual gratification, it is common that they start out as a way to meet emotional needs. The physical and sexual side often develops later, as emotional intimacy increases. In my experience, many betrayers describe feeling lonely and disconnected in their relationship but unable to share this with their partner.
Talk, Talk And Talk Some More
For a couple to recover from an affair it is vital that they start by talking with each other. Talking openly about what has happened, and the impact it has had on you both is extremely painful, but it is an important way to rebuild trust. After an affair the relationship has been changed forever, and the changes must be acknowledged. In order to rebuild trust both partners need to speak the truth and be willing to listen to their partner. It can be incredibly difficult of course, it’s never easy hearing painful things about ourselves and emotions can become overwhelming. This is a time for both partners to be honest with themselves and to each other, and to look at changes they both need to make for a healthier and more satisfying relationship.
“But I’m not a talker, it’s not my thing” I can sense some of you thinking. If this sounds like you then it may be time to ask yourself honestly if this has, in any way, contributed to where your relationship is now. Being able to communicate our emotions and needs to our partner is an important part of any healthy relationship, and it’s an important part of a couple’s recovery from an affair.
Seeing A Couples Counsellor Can Help
If you doubt that you and your partner are equipped to talk things through in this way, you may find it helpful to see a professional, such as a couple’s counsellor. A professional can provide you with an emotionally safe and non-judgemental setting, in which you can both learn and practice the effective communication, listening and emotion regulation skills required to process your pain and start to reconnect. Skills which will enable you both to have a healthier and more satisfying relationship for years to come.
Yes, it is possible for a couple to recover from an affair. But it requires time, commitment and a lot of hard work from both partners.
I hope that you find my blogs helpful and I appreciate the time that you take to read them. If any of the content has brought up any concerns about your mental health, please seek professional help right away.
Author: Todd Griffin