Affairs represent a profound betrayal, disconnection, and violation of the marital commitment. The moment of truth follows a sudden snap of the bond and the trust is broken. Oftentimes, couples get thrusted into this crisis stage, disoriented, heartbroken and ashamed. However, it is possible to restore a marriage after infidelity. While some relationships result in separation and divorce after infidelity, those couples who desire restoration and healing must be guided through a process of open communication for true reconciliation and renewal to be possible. This article aims to delineate some key points as a roadmap to relationship healing.
Since the restoration requires time, willingness and a lot of work, serious consideration and assessment must be given before you start diving into the restoration work: (a) Is the spouse who had the affair willing to completely and immediately terminate the affair relationship? (b) Are both partners willing to invest in repairing the relationship and move forward? (c) Are there violence involve in the relationship?
Setting the Stage for Change
For couples who decide to stay together, their goal is to build a strong, loving relationship where infidelity is not going to take place again, a real and solidified bond that could whether the storm of life. Therefore, the focus in therapy is not to assert blame or count wrongdoings of each other, because nothing ever gets solved at the level of blame. If we take a judgmental stance, we will not be able to see the pain of either one. While the betrayed partner is deeply hurt, feeling shocked, blindsided, deceived, rejected, and abandoned, the affair partner is also in deep pain, filled with guilt and shame. They may also experience shock and horror about what they did as it may be completely out of character for them.
A genuine apology is the precedent of forgiveness that involved expressing remorse not only over what they did but also over the pain of what their partner is going through. It is more than saying, “I am sorry”. Although the affair partners probably have made multiple apologies already, until they acknowledge the damage that has been done by their actions express true sorrow and regret, accept responsibilities, and pledge to be faithful and do whatever is necessary to repair the relationship that their apologies are likely to remain unsuccessful.
Understanding the role of the affair
Reaching through the behaviors and understanding the emotional needs behind the affair involve unraveling the relationship dynamics and other moving parts leading up to the affair. Sometimes, affairs are driven by existing problems in the relationship, which left one or both partners feeling distant and deprived, starved for attention and connection. It may serve as an escape from the hardship in life, whether it be unemployment, pre-existing marital conflict, challenges in parenting, midlife crisis, or just feeling stuck and bored with the current stage of life. Thus, people look for other sources to seek validation or reinvigorate themselves. Understanding is not justification. Instead, the more you understand, the more missing pieces are brought to the surface and the more you own up your part. The more you own up your part, the more you feel empowered to make changes.
Infidelity is bound to redefine the relationship. Hopeless as it can feel, it presents an opportunity that your relationship will be better than it ever was.
“Secrecy tends to feed affairs, and honesty tends to heal affairs.” – Dr. Scott Woolley
Reference and Further Readings
Fife, S. T., Weeks, G. R., & Stellberg‐Filbert, J. (2013). Facilitating forgiveness in the treatment of infidelity: An interpersonal model. Journal of Family Therapy, 35(4), 343-367.
Reid, R. C., & Woolley, S. R. (2006). Using emotionally focused therapy for couples to resolve attachment ruptures created by hypersexual behavior. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 13(2-3), 219-239.
Woolley, S. R., & Bugatti, A. (2018). Working with Affairs in EFT Emotionally Focused Therapy. We Heart Therapy. [YouTube] https://youtu.be/7twDea3–SI