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Recovering After A Marital Affair

Martial affairs are completely devastating to the couple, the children (if there are any), and extended family and friends. For the couple, affairs undermine the most basic sense of security in the relationship, next to having food and shelter. Marriage partners rely heavily upon the support and security of the relationship. This can be true even if the relationship seems distant and stale.


Can marriage survive an affair?

Yes, a marriage can survive after an affair. But it won’t happen without a lot of work.  Not only does the damage from the affair need to be repaired, but the underlying unmet needs in the relationship must be allowed to surface and be expressed.  The clear prerequisite for healing after an affair is a firm commitment from both partners to have both their feet in the relationship. If there’s ambivalence about whether to be in the marriage, that will undermine the efforts to repair.


Recovering after an Affair

Recovering after an affair can be a lengthy and challenging process, asking both partners to risk a tremendous amount of honesty and emotional vulnerability.  For the marriage to work out, the underlying problems that caused the affair must be attended to with regularity and safety.

It’s difficult to process this alone. The support of a neutral third party, like a couples therapist, can be essential for the recovery of the marriage. But remember, things will never be the same. The affair was a cry for help from the relationship. It’s easy to blame the adulterer as the bad one. And it’s even easier to reinforce that idea from friends and family members who want to protect the person who was betrayed. While the person who did the cheating made choices that has caused untold amounts of hurt and damage, it’s also important to the see the affair as a cry for help from a hurting relationship.


Marriage counseling after infidelity

If you want to deeply recover and heal your marriage after an infidelity, seeing a marriage counselor can make all the difference. Because there are so many potentially volatile areas to navigate through, because there are so many layers of healing, and because there are so many ways to get lost, the perspective and the compassion of a skilled couples therapist is vital.  It is important that you feel safe with the marriage counselor that you choose. You should never feel judged or criticized for your actions or in-actions.


When sex & love addiction are present

If infidelity becomes chronic, then there is most likely the presence of a sex or love addiction as well as a codependent behavior on the part of the partner.  A sexual addiction is an intimacy disorder where there is compulsion around sexual behavior, while a love addiction has compulsion around relationship.

From a systems perspective, the action of an addict are sanctioned by the enabling or codependent behavior of the partner.  The addict and codependent work together to perpetuate the addiction. It is crucial to get counseling services immediately if you think there might be a sex or love addiction.

How to save your relationship after cheating

How to save a relationship after cheating

The person who had the affair must own their actions fully.  They must express the pain and the shame they feel in themselves for having hurt and betrayed their partner so deeply. They must reconcile in themselves the part of them that did the lying, cheating, deceiving, and betraying with the other part of them that truly want to be in the marriage and loves their partner.


Going beyond right & wrong

With cheating, it can be easy to demonize the adulterer and to feel for the victim. Not to say that the person who has been unfaithful should be given a free pass. However, the actions of betrayal, deceit, and lying usually evoke fierce responses of judgement and scorn from the other partner as well as outsiders.  In short, it’s all too easy to hate the adulterer and see the person who has been cheated on as a victim.  It’s all too easy to take the moral high ground and have infidelity become about right and wrong.  Not to say it’s not an ethical issue because it is. Yet, it is easy to stay there and be distracted from seeing the affair as anything else.  The realm of right and wrong is an important phase in the process, however staying there won’t allow deeper healing to happen.


A systems perspective is needed

In order for a marriage to heal from infidelity, it’s crucial to be able to look at it from a systems perspective.  From a systems perspective, infidelity can be seen as a cry for help from the relationship.  The infidelity becomes a symptom of a deeper dynamic in the relationship where something was wasn’t working.

This perspective can be difficult to sustain because it says that both partners are involved in the infidelity, not just the person who did the betraying.  This perspective stays away from the moral high ground of judging the adulterer as acting wrongly.  Rather, it asks, how did the affair function to help the system? With systems thinking, everything is seen with the question of, “how does it help the system operate?”  Often with infidelity, it is the relationship system saying, “hey, there are some deeper needs here that aren’t being met.”

Getting back to the question of how to save a relationship after cheating: it is essential that the underlying dynamic of the relationship be revealed and understood.  It is nearly impossible to do this without the professional help of a marriage counselor.  They are skilled at being able to name that dynamic for what it is.  From this perspective, there is no one to blame. But, only a dynamic to be understood.

Infidelity can be seen as a cry for help for deeper healing and change in the marriage. However, it is not easy because there is now the trauma and pain of the infidelity on top of the deeper problems of the relationship.  That is why repairing from infidelity can be arduous and can take time.


Ambivalence is natural but also holds up the healing process

If both parties are authentically committed to being in the relationship, then that will speed up the rebuilding of trust. If one partner is on the fence about recommitting to the relationship, then it is often difficult to do the deeper work needed to create the lasting healing change that the relationship needs to survive. If a partner is ambivalent about being in the marriage, it creates an atmosphere of instability for the other partner. If the other partner is not feeling safe, then they will not be able to go very deep with sharing their emotional experience.


Exploring the deeper issues that caused the affair

Having both feet genuinely in the relationship is synonymous with creating safety in the marriage. This safety then becomes the way forward for the relationship to be repaired and rebuilt.  This is a slow process.  When the commitment is strong and clear, and the foundation gains solidity, then the couple is ready to delve to the underlying layers of the relationship to understand why the infidelity happened in the first place.

At this phase in the work, the relationship can sometimes feel worse than before. This is because the underlying dynamic that caused the infidelity in the first place is, in all likelihood, still operational. And yet, at the same time, there’s new awareness about it.  This is called this the blessing and cure of awareness. If we have awareness about something that has yet to change, it can be excruciatingly painful.

If you've been betrayed, read this NYT article

If you have cheated or want to cheat, read this

If you have cheated or want to cheat, then read this


It can be a natural impulse to, at times, want to be with someone other than your partner. This desire could be emotionally or sexually. Of course, it’s crucial to realize that acting on it will bring about devastating results to your life and hurt the ones you care most about. But the impulse can be natural. One tool to work with this desire to be with other people is to see your impulse as a warning sign that you are not getting something vital from your current relationship.


Talk with your partner about your unmet needs

Instead of acting on the impulse, try talking with your partner about what you’re not getting from the marriage. Or, if you’ve done that before, then you can seek some professional support like marriage counseling so there can be safety and support in talking about what’s missing for you.

Your impulse to cheat might be an unconscious way of trying to end your relationship. If this is true for you, you might be scared to tell your partner that you want out. Maybe you’ve never ended a relationship before and it freaks you out to think about doing so.   You then have the opportunity to learn how to end a relationship or at the very least, tell a partner that you have doubts and are ambivalent about being in the relationship.  In a healthy relationship, it’s vital to be able to directly and openly talk about your ambivalence or your readiness to end the relationship.

Even though this will probably evoke  pain and discomfort for your partner, as well as for you, it doesn’t even come close to the pain caused by cheating. Just remember that betraying your partner by having an emotional or sexual affair causes untold amounts of damage and pain.


How not to cheat

The key to not having an affair is self-awareness.  Mindfulness is a particular kind of self-awareness that can catch the impulse to cheat before it becomes a reality.

And be smart. If you know that you are attracted to a coworker, and you’re going for drinks after work and he/she will be there, then don’t go, or at least don’t drink. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you might act in a way that you will regret immensely later. Using drugs and alcohol greatly impairs your ability to not act on an impulse.

So be honest with yourself that you are attracted to your co-worker and that by drinking and possibly being alone with them, you might not have the will to resist acting on your attraction. Remember it’s okay that you are attracted to someone else. That is natural. We are human and have sexual desire that can be for many different people.

But that doesn’t mean that you need to act on those desires when you are in a monogamous relationship. Bottom-line is that being married and having an attraction for someone other than your partner can be normal and natural. But acting on it isn’t okay because of the commitment you’ve made to your partner.

In addition, if you are sexually active with some other than your partner, then you’re putting your partner at grave risk not only emotionally but also physically to possibly contract a STD. Use mindfulness before you act.

What if you have cheated

If you have been sexually active with someone other than your partner, then you are putting your partner at risk. This is not safe. It’s an imperative that you tell them immediately so that they can take the step to ensure that they can get tested for a STD and take care of their physical and sexual health.

What if you have cheated and are debating whether or not to tell your partner? Some people find themselves in this challenging ethical dilemma. It’s easy to find a thousand ways to rationalize and justify not telling your partner. Just remember that when you’ve been dishonest, even if you don’t tell the person, the dishonesty negatively impacts the connection of the relationship.

In other words, the initial damage has been done the moment you are dishonest. It’s like there’s been a dent into the connection. Then you have the choice of whether or not to acknowledge that the dent is there.

What’s it like to pretend that the other person knows about your betrayal? Try that for a day and notice what happens. This can be an insightful way to understand how the relationship has already been impacted by your actions, whether you tell them or not.

When you are not in integrity with your actions with your partner and have not been honest with them, then your relationships will atrophy slowly over time. To pretend that they aren’t effected because you haven’t told them is to be blind to the unseen world of integrity.


Get counseling help

Individual counseling can help you get clear about what you’ve done and how to deal with it. Individual counseling can offer a safe space where you are not judged for your actions.  Instead, the therapist can help you disentangle the web of lies and deceit that you’ve created. They can help sort through your shame of not being the person you’d like to be in the world. And they can help you get clear about what’s missing in your relationship that’s causing you to be or want to be with other people. 

→ Couples counseling can help your marriage recover from an affair Call 503-349-2281 to make an appointment Email us