Can a Couple Survive Infidelity?


As a clinical counsellor I do believe that couples can recover from an affair if each person is willing to look honestly at themselves and acquire the skills they need to see themselves through this shattering crisis.

Not all affairs are about sex

Couples tend to define what constitutes an affair for themselves; sometimes that definition may differ even between the couple. A breach of trust depends entirely on what you agreed to or thought you agreed to. Virtually everyone would feel betrayed by a partner who had intercourse with a third person, whether during a one-night stand or as part of a long-term emotional entanglement. But many would also feel betrayed, and certainly threatened, by other intimate behaviours such as a hug or passionate kiss at a party. Another type of affair involves someone who is a sex addict; a person who attempts to counter feelings of low self-esteem with compulsive or uncontrollable sexual activity.

An affair does not have to mean the end of your marriage

With a combination of counselling and a solid commitment to the time and effort necessary for each person to manage their feelings, along with clear shared goals, complete honesty and courage, a couple can recover from the consequences of infidelity to renew and reinvigorate their relationship. The aftermath of an affair is one of the few marital problems where resolution depends on attending to the problems that initially led to the infidelity.

The initial reaction upon discovery of an affair can create an overwhelming need to end the marriage. Before discovering the affair, most people have the belief that they would immediately end their marriage should their partner ever cheat on them. Having discovered the infidelity however (and despite being extremely hurt and overwhelmed with a range of negative emotions), couples do not actually want their marriage to end or their family to fall apart.

For a marriage to emerge successfully from the aftermath of an affair, there are some definite steps that need to be taken. These steps include:-

Seek help: The consequences and treatment of infidelities are too complex to be dealt with just between yourselves. Professional marriage and relationship counselling from a Psychologist or Family Therapist should be sought early to give the relationship its best opportunity to recover. Be mindful when seeking advice and support from friends and family. They are (understandably) likely to be biased which risks an increase in the emotional intensity of your situation.

Have a plan to rebuild the marriage

This can be done together with your relationship counsellor. The following points should be included in the plan;

1. Severing all contact with the ‘lover’ is critical. This is difficult to achieve in some circumstances, particularly when working together within the same organisation. In some situations, at least one person may have to change jobs, and/or even shift states;

2. Learning strategies to manage the intense emotional responses such as anger, hurt, betrayal, the loss of trust, and shame;

3. Develop strategies that address the reasons why the affair occurred so that similar situations do not recur;

4. Understanding the reasons of how and why the affair occurred is important;

5. Develop strategies to forgive and restore trust within the marriage (however, do not attempt to rush the process of forgiveness and trust building – neither is a simple once only action, it is a process that takes time. It is a process similar to grieving where feelings of sadness, hurt and anger will ebb and flow – only with time and effort will the effects diminish);

6. Develop guidelines to renew and reinvigorate the marriage;

7. Recognise how you may have been damaged by early life experiences, and how you can keep these experiences from contam┬Činating your relationship today.

A wake-up call

Turning your back on a damaged relationship may be the simplest or most sensible solution, one that frees you from the tyranny of hope. But it may also be a way to escape growing up, facing some bitter truths about life, love, and yourself, and assuming the burden of responsibility for making your relationship work.

It takes courage to admit that you may still want to stay together, confront how you each contributed to the infidelity, and work to rebuild trust and intimacy. If you choose to recommit to each other, you may in time come to see the affair not merely as a regrettable trauma but as an alarm, a wake-up call. You may eventually discover that you needed something like an affair to blow your previous construction apart and allow a healthier, more conscious and mature version of your marriage to take its place.

“Adapted from After the Affair by Janis and Michael Spring”