After an affair, the betrayal of trust and the deep hurt can be traumatic.
Intrusive thoughts, pictures of your partner with someone else, and the anger toward the one who cheated can all ruin what once felt like a deep, connected partnership. Yet some couples seem to stay together after one partner cheats. How do they do it? And are they really happy?
Some couples who come to me for couple’s therapy see their experience with infidelity as a way to stimulate a positive discussion of what went wrong in the relationship before the cheating busted it wide open. In fact, after some deep insight work and a good amount of counseling, some couples even say,
"Maybe this affair was the best thing that could have happened to us."
For some lucky lovers an affair can be a wakeup call; a way to stimulate a dying relationship, or a call to something higher and more satisfying. Talking about what needs fixing in the marriage or committed partnership sometimes happens as a result of the trauma because it drives both partners to find a new way of being together that is more satisfying and more loving. Being honest about what you each truly want and desire can kick start and stimulate a whole new beginning for both of you.
If both partners use the affair to create an opportunity to talk about a new monogamy agreement, a healthy sense of separateness can happen in the discussion around how each of you see each other as people with different needs, who can now share honestly how they might have been unhappy before the affair. Now you have the chance to work together to create a new marriage or partnership going forward and there can be a whole new vision of a better life for the both of you.
When doesn’t it work? When one or both of you continues to compartmentalize and live separate lives that you don’t share with one another, or that are secret. Are you having trouble sharing your feelings, do you still keep your concerns private or do you have secrets from your partner that you really should be sharing but you are afraid of rocking the boat? Avoiding a conflict in your relationship by not sharing your frustrations or your needs may not be helping. Communicate your feelings by using “I” statements, keep the focus on your own emotions and don’t point fingers. Let your partner know what you need and create an open dialogue where you validate their experience as well.
You don’t have to agree on everything, in fact you probably won’t. That’s not why you got together in the first place. But if you keep things hidden from your partner the risk is that when those hidden things come out (and they will) your partner will be devastated by your lack of trust in them.
Sometimes an affair is what I call a “can opener.” Which means you or they cheated because you really wanted to get out of your relationship. If that is the case, then be honest and up front and don’t drag it out. Let your partner have a life and break it off now, with integrity.
Cheating can be very passive aggressive. If you are angry with your partner don’t cheat to get your feelings out. It doesn’t work and only causes more hurt to both of you in the long run.
For more information on creating a new monogamy agreement and healing from infidelity, check out The New Monogamy; Redefining Your Relationship after Infidelity, or contact Dr. Tammy Nelson at www.drtammynlelson.com.
Dr. Tammy Nelson is a licensed sex therapist and relationship expert and the author of Getting the Sex You Want and The New Monogamy and working toward global relational change, she can be found at www.drtammynelson.com.