Extramarital affairs are more common than you think. So are the myths surrounding them. Because the experiences are often shrouded in shame and guilt, we don’t hear about the couples who actually recover from infidelity and how they did it.
Below are three of the most common myths about infidelity, demystified, followed by how you can thoughtfully rebuild your relationship.
Myth #1. If my partner cheated once, she/he will cheat again. Most affairs are a one-time thing. They happen spontaneously and aren’t a result of someone searching for it or wanting it to happen. An affair is as individual as the members involved in it. Repeated affairs have more to do with unresolved problems, issues, and communication from each partner than a character flaw of one person. Each partner must be honest with his/her feelings of hurt, guilt, shame, jealousy and anger. What happens after the affair can set a relationship on a course for stability or blow it out of the water. After ending the affair, the person who cheated must be completely honest for healing to take place.
Myth #2: A relationship is doomed once one partner has had an affair. More than 50%of relationships can survive infidelity. That statistic might surprise you because friends & family don’t talk about affairs or share their successes. We most often hear of the negative consequences and not the actual long-term struggle and triumph that can emerge. Many couples can learn to rebuild their marriages and relationships--some stronger than before the affair. An example of a success story is that of Don & Felicia, a couple in their 40’s who entered into couples counseling after Don revealed an affair. Through counseling, the couple uncovers long-standing problems with intimacy and each individual seeks his/her own counselor. After a one-year trial separation, the couple reunites and begins rebuilding their relationship. This story highlights that with work, accountability, honesty and a little professional help, an affair doesn’t have to spell disaster for a couple.
Myth #3: If there's no sex, there's no affair. Many affairs happen without any sex at all. Is it cheating to stay up half the night, secretly texting a “close friend,” about your most intimate thoughts? Emotional cheating in relationships has been found to be just as damaging as physical cheating. The person doing it may not see it as cheating, but you can be sure his/her partner sees it differently. When you give an emotional part of yourself to someone who is a potential affair mate, it's a form of infidelity. Affairs are about secrets. The infidelity is not necessarily in the sex, but in the dishonesty. For example, people in polyamorous relationships have sex openly, without dishonesty and therefore without betrayal.
How to Rebuild Your Relationship After An Affair
After the initial shock of the affair has passed, then it is time for you both to examine what role you each played in letting the relationship take a downward spiral. Below are three ways you can work towards rebuilding your relationship. For my complete list of how you can recover after a breakout, read more…
1. Establish Open Communication: The person who had the affair needs to be 100% honest with what happened or they are not truly trying to re-establish their relationship. This means answering all of your partner’s questions even if it means they may not want to stay in a relationship with you.
2. Rebuild Trust: This means being patient, empathetic, and avoid being defensive when asked to be accountable for your whereabouts, even if you think it’s unfair. If you are trying to rebuild trust you have to invest time and understand there will be skepticism surrounding your actions for a period of time after the affair. If you roll with those requests over time your partner will reduce tracking behavior (possibly with the help of a therapist), but you have to prove with your actions you are a person worth trusting again.
3. Surround Yourself With Support. No one should suffer alone and a lot of times the solutions to problems are hard to achieve without outside help. A third party such as a therapist can help you both break unhealthy cycles and address problems. I commonly encounter partners being more open to address issues when it is brought up by the therapist vs. the partner, in that the therapeutic relationship is not as emotionally loaded as the relationship with your partner, making it easier to discuss problems without an individual feeling accused or nagged by their partner. Find a pro-relationship therapist who believes you can repair the relationship.
The take home message: Relationships CAN survive after affairs. Be honest to yourself, your partner, and make that commitment to heal together, if that is the path you choose to take. You may be surprised to find a healthier, happier, and stronger relationship as you build a new road together.
For more help or advice about relationships, visit DrFrankie.com. I am licensed psychologist with years of helping couples in all stages of their relationships. I love what I do and I want to help. Contact me today.