Can A Marriage Survive an Affair or Does the Affair “Survive” the Marriage?
For couples, affairs are among the hardest problems to address. Affairs ignite feelings of betrayal, abandonment, shame, devastation, anger, grief, to name a few. And healing from them requires dedication to be able to forgive, and move forward, which is not always possible for an individual or a couple. For some, not revealing the affair is a way of protecting the marriage, but for others, not speaking about the affair creates a serious wall to intimacy. Can a marriage survive an affair or will the affair survive the marriage?
One size does not fit all, but I have found that often if the couple views the affair as something that was not only traumatic individually but a trauma to the relationship itself, and approach it as a personal trauma that needs both individual healing and healing for the ͞unit͟ that was traumatized, it is the first step to moving in the direction of survival. Both spouses need to recognize this and be willing to participate in some painful and committed work. What does it take? Although this is not all-inclusive, starting with this framework is a good start: Marriage Therapy & Communication… Communication… Communication (Did I say Communication?)
Communication is always important in relationships, but especially so when there has been an affair. There must be room for the spouse who feels betrayed to express their feelings, thoughts, and emotions. They need to feel understood and heard by their partner. Yet, it’s just as critical that there is space for the partner who had the affair to describe his or her own feelings about what they feel may have led to the affair and their feelings about the infidelity. Infidelity happens in context and making room to explore its meaning is critical.
Both spouses need to react to each other’s feelings genuinely, with acceptance in order to be able to move to the next step of repairing the relationship. Another significant step in communication is being fully transparent and not keeping secrets. Time to stop the hiding even if you think it is to protect your spouse’s feelings.
Actions speak louder than words. A cliché, but a good one, especially here. Keeping promises, like committing to being home at the time you said that you would, or following through with taking the kids to a game as promised or making those reservations and participating in that planned dinner date are some examples of building the trust back into the marriage. Making sure that you stick with Marriage Therapy is another. Demonstrating that the marriage is important and the commitment for it to survive.
Do it differently and change the behaviors that may have caused the infidelity. Sometimes it is not in the forefront, but unconsciously, or deep down somewhere, we are aware that there is a participation of behaviors that have impacted the marriage and may be one of the root causes of the infidelity. Looking at those behaviors and figuring out ways to change those patterns is another part of the process.
Once you have made the commitment to focus on saving the marriage and not letting the affair survive the marriage, being as present as possible is a huge factor to survival. It is so easy to live in regrets of the past or fear of the future. While these fears may be valid, constant worry is not healthy and will only impede survival. Like any trauma, you eventually want to replace the traumatic experience with healthy images and create a place of resilience and strength.
Give it some time and attention
Do not put a limit on your partner’s healing and trusting process. There will be bumps, but even a little progress is progress. As long as you are moving forward, you won’t go back to where you were before you started.
Accept if you can’t do it alone
There is nothing wrong or shameful about this! We all need help at times to manage life’s challenges and, infidelity is a big one. Therapy is a safe place and a judgment-free zone. It is okay to seek help and recognize when the relationship needs a helping hand. This is also a great opportunity for Marriage Therapy!