Recovering from Infidelity
Coping with infidelity is perhaps one of the biggest challenges couples face and not all relationships survive the aftermath of an affair. Infidelity violates one of our most basic human needs- the need for safety and trust. Once broken, trust is extremely difficult to repair and restore. However, couples counseling can be extremely effective in helping a couple recover from infidelity and build a stronger & safer relationship based on true mutuality.
In a survey, couples therapists ranked extra marital affairs as the third most difficult problem to treat in a relationship, after lack of loving feelings & alcoholism (Whisman, 1997). As a couples therapist, I can attest to the challenges of managing the aftermath of an affair in couples therapy. Having said that, I also want to emphasize that many couples do survive extramarital affairs and go on to have happier, healthier and stronger relationships.
So what sets apart couples that survive infidelity from the ones that do not? I will attempt to answer that question in this article by describing what it takes for a couple to emerge stronger, healthier and more connected on the other side of an extramarital affair.
Length of a relationship-
Couples that have been in relationships of longer duration are more likely to survive infidelity than the ones in short term relationships. The reason being that the longer a couple has been together, the more things are at stake- children, joint assets & finances, investment of time & energy into the relationship, or anxiety about continuing on with life without their significant other.
Level of commitment-
Not all relationships, irrespective of length, are similar in terms of the level of commitment of both partners. When an affair is discovered in a relationship lacking commitment or is coupled with initiation of divorce or break-up, couples are more likely to succumb to the emotional devastation of the discovery of betrayal.
Level of satisfaction before the affair-
Relationships with higher levels of mutual satisfaction for both partners before the affair are more likely to survive infidelity than ones that are already on the brink of a destructive end. Partners in satisfying relationships are more likely to feel genuine remorse for their acts of infidelity. Greater remorse equals greater success in couples therapy, when dealing with affairs.
Readiness & Motivation to Change-
Partners that don’t match on their level of readiness to save their relationship after an affair or are not motivated to make the necessary changes to repair and restore trust face an uphill battle in couples counseling. At times, when a couple seeks the services of a couples counselor, one partner is already out the door or is unwilling to invest their time and energy into saving the relationship because to them, the partnership has already ended and they are merely going through the motions.
When the partner engaged in the affair, refuses to end it or has ongoing contact with the third party, it is usually a very bad prognostic indicator of the survivability of a relationship. Couples counseling is only effective if the affair has ended and the participating partner is willing to do everything in their power to restore some sense of safety for the injured partner.
Openness and honesty-
Couples that are able to openly discuss the context and content of the affair are more likely to recover from the infidelity. By discussing the antecedents of the affair and answering the questions of the injured partner, the participating partner is able to strengthen the level of safety and predictability in the relationship.
Ownership and accountability-
In addition to the participating partner taking full ownership of their decision to commit infidelity, it is also important for the injured partner to own their contribution to the issues that may have been present in the relationship making it susceptible to betrayal. The goal in couples counseling is not only to help the couple heal from the pain of betrayal but to also examine what was broken in the relationship leading up to the affair. By identifying and fixing what was not working before the affair, the couple can prevent similar occurrences in the future.
Written by: Nagma V. Clark, Ph.D., L.P.C.C. specializing in sex therapy, couples therapy & marriage counseling, premarital counseling, individual relationship therapy & LGBTQQI couples counseling at Tri-Valley Relationship Therapy, Inc. in the East Bay, in Dublin & Oakland.
If you and your partner are faced with infidelity and would like to repair & restore your relationship, couples/marriage counseling at Tri-Valley Relationship Therapy, Inc. in the East Bay can help. Dr. Clark utilizes an integrative approach to help couples strengthen all facets of their relationship.
Call 925-400-3541 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a free 15 minute phone consult or fill out the contact form and you will be contacted within 12-24 hours.