Many problems in a couples life can slowly weaken the relationship. But an affair is different. An affair can be catastrophic. Not only does it destroy trust, but it also leaves the one who didn’t cheat feeling traumatized and lost.
While gathering accurate statistics is impossible, infidelity is unfortunately perceived to be quite common in our society. I am reminded of what Jessie James, Sandra Bullock’s ex-husband said after he was caught having an affair.
“I cheated on my wife. Guess what? So do millions of other men.”
This kind of betrayal calls everything you thought about your relationship into question. Were the feelings between you real? Has everything you’ve gone through together been for nothing?
An affair does not have to end your marriage but it is important to consider what you want and where you are going — together.
Understand you have a choice
If an affair has occurred in your marriage, understand you have a choice. If your partner is remorseful and wants to work things out, you are not required to stay. You are also not required to go. You need to take time to consider what you want and need. Your partner may want to work things out, but your decision must be your own.
Generally, immediately after an affair is not a good time to decide whether or not you will end your marriage. Emotions are raw. You may feel intensely angry and at the same time want to cling to your spouse.
Our sense of safety and security comes from our partner. Even if we are successful financially and have a fulfilling social life, as adults, our deepest love and trust, our main attachment relationship, comes from our connection with our partner. When our relationship is working (provided there is no violence or abuse) it is our partner who makes us feel safe when we are scared. Loved when we feel alone.
Take some time to work out your feelings and find your balance before you make a decision.
Take steps to heal
Both of you need to heal. The cheating partner is often left with feelings of guilt and shame. If the relationship has a chance, understanding and forgiveness are necessary. When undergoing the healing process, there are certain goals that should be pursued together.
1. Work to understand why
The cheating partner has their own perceived reasons for what they did. They may have thought cheating was already taking place and thus nothing was lost. They may feel ignored, unappreciated, or insignificant in the relationship. For some people, an affair is an act of desperation. Each partner has their own understanding of what’s happening in the relationship.
Find out what that is.
2. Learn to communicate
Words left unsaid have power. Learn to share what you need and how you feel in the relationship. Just as importantly, learn to listen to your partner.
3. Decide together what’s next
Moving on after an affair is a decision both sides have to make. An affair, once moved past and healed, can lead to a stronger, more stable bond. But this is not a guarantee. Both partners need to be committed to the relationship.
4. Couples counseling can help
Many couples, once they’ve decided they want to stay together find a counselor to help them through this difficult time. Counseling can teach you how to communicate with each other while providing a non-blaming, safe space. If both sides of the relationship are committed, there are many ways counseling can help.
Reach out for help
Stevette Heylinger LPC is a licensed professional counselor in Montclair, NJ. She is passionate about helping couples build strong healthy relationships. If you would like to learn more, you are welcome to call and book an appointment or fill out our contact form and click Send.
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