This guest article from Psych Central was written by Suzanne Phillips, PSY.D., ABPP
Recently, we again witnessed the dismantling of a celebrity marriage with the exposure of an affair. As always, the world watched, condemned, condoned and debated the question: Can a marriage survive an affair?
The fact is that whether celebrity or not and regardless of what the world thinks–only the couple can decide if their marriage will survive an affair.
In my work with couples standing in the emotional debris of an affair, I have found that if both partners want to recommit to an exclusive relationship and have the courage to trust and reignite their love – they can rebuild a marriage.
Difficult Beginnings are Understandable
Rebuilding sounds good but at the beginning – it is not easy. Often, no one is sure of anything but the wish to make the pain “go away.” Emotionally, the feelings of devastation, anger, betrayal, guilt and blame, don’t just go away.
- There is sometimes an urge to bury them and re-connect as if nothing has happened.
- There is the pull of the immediate world to do or not to do something. (It is interesting how many people who vote against taking him/her back – will fight for their own marriage when put in the same situation)
In face of this, the couple needs to give themselves permission and time to deal with the situation in their own way and heal together.
Here are some important steps towards this goal.
An apology is a verbal, sometimes written, expression of guilt that conveys remorse or sorrow for having injured or wronged the other. In the aftermath of an affair an apology is a way of bearing witness to the pain of betrayal one partner has caused the other.
An apology is neither a “get out of jail free card” nor “ license to kill.” It is not the preface to blame, excuses or retaliation. A true apology after an affair sends the message that no matter what the reason – violating the bond is never the answer.
An apology is important because it repairs a sense of safety between the partners – it promises change.
For a couple to move on there has to be recognition of the apology and a willingness to forgive. In many ways this is a mutual process that implies a belief in the other’s willingness and capacity to change – sometimes it is a leap of faith worth taking.
Forgiveness is not incompatible with cycles of emotion and upset. Much like any other trauma, one or the other partner may react from the triggers that remind them of the affair.
The betrayed partner may be thrown back into feelings of anger, hurt or rejection. If the betraying partner recognizes this as understandable to the healing process, it is very productive to validate their partner’s pain and upset. This is much more effective in reducing the feelings and creating a sense of reassurance than become angry with the return of the feelings – “I thought we were past this?”