Affairs may be one of the most painful and challenging types of crisis a couple encounters. I’ve worked with many couples where an affair is uncovered. After the shock, the typical questions are: “What now?” “What’s next?” “Where do we go from here?
From my experience, about 80% of couples struggling with an affair make it. The affair causes significant anger, anxiety, and grief, yet the couple manages to take the episode as a time to learn, to understand, and to grow.
For the remaining 20% of couples, the pain is simply too great – the affair blows them apart. The partners cannot get past it. I suppose, for many of these couples where the affair spells the ultimate demise of the relationship, the relationship itself may have already hit rock bottom and the affair was simply the final nail in the coffin.
When I work with a couple where an affair has occurred, I begin by directing the couple to examine their strengths together. We work on this – finding the positives that exist in the relationship. It’s upon these that the couple starts rebuilding with an eye to the future. There will be time later to look at the weaknesses in the relationship.
One critical question that must be considered at the outset is: “Is the affair over?” It’s nearly impossible to work constructively on the couple’s relationship if one of the partners (or both) leaves our couples sessions only to start calling, seeing, or texting their outside lover.
Consequently, the only way to proceed with couples therapy after an affair is discovered is for the partner who went outside the relationship to be absolutely clear in his or her mind and heart that the affair is ended. If not, I encourage individual therapy for that person whereby a decision can be made.
Once couples therapy is underway with a deep commitment on both members’ parts that both want their relationship to succeed, the healing begins and the repair started. Much can be learned. Growth can occur. The affair does not have to wreck the relationship. Not by a long shot.
Is this repair process hard work? Absolutely. It’s a minefield of challenges – feelings of betrayal, lack of trust, etc. Yet good and strong people do learn to reunite. And, in many cases, the relationship is actually better and stronger than it ever was previously.
There are no magic answers or magic bullets that make getting past an affair an easy process. The couple simply has to dig in and get started.