It sounds crazy that an affair could actually strengthen a marriage. And yet, for those of us who work in therapy, what we see is that couples who do the work after an affair is disclosed often describe having a relationship that is even better than before. Impossible? Not really.
In American culture, affairs are the most taboo choices that a spouse can make while married. It is quite common to hear the unmarried and married alike say, "If my husband cheated on me? I'd leave him! Period!" or "I'd never tolerate an affair. Our relationship would be over!"
Until it happens to you. Can your marriage survive an affair? When an affair comes to light and your entire life, your family, your children, your standard of living, and the person you have loved all stand in the balance — it often does not seem as cut and dry.
If you have a quality therapist, that person probably will not just focus on the affair itself. She will help you and your partner untangle the, often, years of emotional distance, unresolved hurt, sexual tepidness, and complacency that almost always accompany an affair. During this process the "whose to blame?" question gets thrown around a lot but the truth is that in marriages it is not a 50/50 agreement. In a healthy marriage, each partner is 100% accountable for their actions, behaviors, tone, and emotional engagement in a relationship. If the marriage is not satisfying what you want, where are YOU accountable? Tough questions, especially if your partner is the one who cheated on you.
And yet, like most tough questions, it is the question that gets to the underbelly of the issue. I am not saying that a spouse can cause an affair, but I am saying that both parties contribute to creating an environment that sprouts and can sustain an affair.
Often, the person that acts out and has the affair is communicating something loud and clear that their partner has not been able to hear prior:
- I am very unhappy in this relationship.
- I am tired of being ignored.
- I cannot go on living like this.
- I am incredibly hurt and want someone to see and love me.
- I am willing to take a major risk in order to get my needs met.
Almost always, prior to an affair happening, some of these statements have been made aloud. There have been discussions (or arguments) about how one or both people have been dissatisfied in the marriage. Almost always, if each partner were to get quiet and feel back to before the affair, they can see signs of where and how the relationship was breaking down— but you didn't think your partner would ever cheat.
The statistics are somewhere between 30% and 70% of married people have affairs (texting, chatting, or sleeping with someone who is not their spouse) in America. We can pass judgment or we can see this as an indicator of an epidemic of marital breakdown that is sweeping the country. It is a call for help to find effective ways to revitalize and heal our marriages.
If you find yourself reading this article and thinking about how your marriage could use some revitalization, call me today at 720.457.3342 and let’s see how I might help. Marriage is my business.
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