By David Joel Miller
The common perception is that once the affair is discovered the couple is headed for divorce. The truth is that up to 70% of married couples stay together, for a variety of reasons, after they discover that partner was having an affair.
Among those who do divorce many will later regret making that first impulsive decision.
Your family and friends may be telling you to kick him, or increasingly her, to the curb. But should you call it quits? What does it take to recovery from an affair? How can marriage counseling play a role in mending the pain?
1. Make no sudden decisions, give both of you time to think it through. You have a lot of time and emotions invested in their relationship. You owe it to yourself to see if it can be repaired before you junk it.
2. Both partners in the relationship may need therapy to work through their feelings about the affair, their relationship and how it reached this point.
Therapists recommend that the non-affair partner write a letter to the affair partner telling them how they feel and how this has affected them. This is the kind of letter you need to write but do not need to send. Process these feelings first in your own therapy. Eventually you may be able to read this to your relationship partner and help them to understand how this has affected you.
3. You need to create empathy for the non-affair partner
Many people who have had affairs have very little understanding of how this has affected their partner. They will say in counseling that they have ended the relationship and that should solve the problems. Having them listen to the non-affair partner talk about how they were hurt by the affair and what feelings this created in that person can increase empathy and understanding.
4. Beware of staying together and ending up living two separate lives.
Some couples arrive at this point as a result of unspoken feelings. They will stay together for the children, for the economic needs or because of the problems of splitting assets. What they don’t plan on is having an emotional close relationship ever again. Most of these efforts fail as the two people involve find that they are living a life devoid of love and affection.
Even if the couple plans to try to make this relationship work, avoiding having those tough talks about their plans goals and future may result in a relationship that feels like to unrelated people living in the same house.
5. Rebuilding trust is a long hard process
The most devastating part of finding out your partner had an affair is the feeling of betrayal of your trust. It takes a long time and lots of effort to rebuild that trust. You need to let each other into both your lives and make sure neither is hiding anything. Do not tell your partner you are going to get gas for the car and then turn up several hours later with leftover takeout food. If you plan on several stops tell your partner, if plans chance call them and let them know or stick to the plan and make a second trip some other time.
6. Do not try to use the recovery process, counseling or therapy as a way to get even with your partner.
7. Give the non-affair partner all the information they need but no more.
Many partners want to know every detail, what did you two do in and out of bed. It is important to stop keeping secrets but beware of giving more details that requested. Non-affair partners can suffer from symptoms similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. After hearing about sexual activity between the partner and the affair partner the non-affair partner can experience intrusive thoughts. They may imagine graphic images of their partner engaged in sexual activity with another person.
8. Make this a repair effort
Give the partner that had the affair a chance to show their intentions. Do they do small things to make it right but quickly slip back into old behaviors? Let them know that you hope for and expect the best but they will need to prove their desire to change and make it right by making visible changes in their behavior.
9. Get extra honest with each other.
Affairs are about the fights you never had. If there are problems in the relationship talk them through. Work on expressing your feelings, being careful to ask to have your needs met rather than run your partner down. “I feel disrespect when you do not help clean up after dinner.” Not “You are such a pig!” You never clean up after yourself!”
One key characteristic of affairs is the need to keep secrets. The non-affair partner sometimes feels then may have contributed to the affair by not asking what the other person was doing and feeling. Some people who have had affairs tell me that they felt they had a sort of permission to have the affair a “don’t ask don’t tell” code.
Couples may need to have a lot of those talks about sex and relationships they did not have before they entered this relationship. Women frequently have a different definition of an affair than a man will. She thinks that flirting and emotional closeness with another woman is cheating. He may think that anything short of sex is OK. That attitude and some alcohol has led to a lot of one night stands.
10. Avoid problematic use of drugs and alcohol.
Drugs and alcohol lowers inhibitions. People with an untreated substance use disorder are at increased risk to engage in affair behavior. Drinking and using places encourage sexual activity. People who abuse alcohol and drugs may accept those kinds of behavior as a part of the “Partying” lifestyle.
For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at http://www.counselorfresno.com/recommended-books/
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