Recently, we again witnessed the dismantling of a celebrity marriage with the exposure of an affair. As always, the world watched, condemned, condoned and debated the question: Can a marriage survive an affair?
The fact is that whether celebrity or not and regardless of what the world thinks–only the couple can decide if their marriage will survive an affair.
In my work with couples standing in the emotional debris of an affair, I have found that if both partners want to recommit to an exclusive relationship and have the courage to trust and reignite their love – they can rebuild a marriage.
Difficult Beginnings are Understandable
Rebuilding sounds good but at the beginning – it is not easy. Often, no one is sure of anything but the wish to make the pain “go away.” Emotionally, the feelings of devastation, anger, betrayal, guilt and blame, don’t just go away.
In face of this, the couple needs to give themselves permission and time to deal with the situation in their own way and heal together.
Here are some important steps towards this goal:
An apology is a verbal, sometimes written, expression of guilt that conveys remorse or sorrow for having injured or wronged the other. In the aftermath of an affair an apology is a way of bearing witness to the pain of betrayal one partner has caused the other.
An apology is neither a “get out of jail free card” nor a “ license to kill.” It is not the preface to blame, excuses or retaliation. A true apology after an affair sends the message that no matter what the reason – violating the bond is never the answer.
An apology is important because it repairs a sense of safety between the partners – it promises change.
For a couple to move on there has to be recognition of the apology and a willingness to forgive. In many ways this is a mutual process that implies a belief in the other’s willingness and capacity to change – sometimes it is a leap of faith worth taking.
Forgiveness is not incompatible with cycles of emotion and upset. Much like any other trauma, one or the other partner may react from the triggers that remind them of the affair.
The betrayed partner may be thrown back into feelings of anger, hurt or rejection. If the betraying partner recognizes this as understandable to the healing process, it is very productive to validate their partner’s pain and upset. This is much more effective in reducing the feelings and creating a sense of reassurance than become angry with the return of the feelings – “I thought we were past this?”
The worst that happens is for the tables to turn and the marriage to become an endless scene of “crime and punishment” toward the betraying partner. Rarely will that support the re-building of a marriage bond. Instead, it locks the partners into the roles of perpetrator and victim.
Re-setting the Trust Point
In the aftermath of an affair the greatest symptom is mistrust. Because verbal exchange has been compromised by lying – the truth now has to be expressed. Often the betrayed partner needs to know the story of the affair. They need to make sense of reality and their perception of what has happened, who their partner is, who this “other person was,” and who they are now to each other.
Although the request for information may come at different times, the clarification is important. HOWEVER, clarification is different than endless ruminating, obsessing or interrogating the partner. I have told partners who continue to interrogate their partner that – they are now the one “keeping the affair going.”
One of the most effective steps in recovery is the non-blameful examination of what the state of the relationship was before the affair. This does not equate to condoning betrayal. It is an honest self-reflection by each partner and a mutual exchange of what each was giving and getting in the relationship, what issues each was dealing with and what each wants and needs now.
Help Along the Way
New Partners to Each Other
Essential to the process of rebuilding a marriage is becoming new partners and new confidantes to each other, by leaving the affair behind. For most couples, building new memories with new experiences together, as well as trying out new interests or challenges invites sharing from a different perspective and invigorates interest and intimacy.
Dealing with the Loss- Appreciating the Gains
As with any trauma, healing together in the aftermath of an affair involves mourning loss.
One word frees us all from the weight and pain of life: That word is love.
For Further Reading:
Glass, S. P., 2003, Not Just Friends: Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity after Infidelity. Free Press: New York
Photo by Quinn Dombrowsky, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.
This post currently has
You can read the comments or leave your own thoughts.
From Psych Central's World of Psychology:
Best of Our Blogs: June 3, 2011 | World of Psychology (June 3, 2011)
Can a marriage survive an affair? | (June 3, 2011)
From Psych Central's website:
Infidelity Keeps Us Together- Really? | Healing Together for Couples (July 13, 2011)
Giant Comfort » Can A Marriage Survive An Affair? (July 18, 2012)
From Psych Central's website:
How Different Are the Private and Public Versions of Your Relationship? | Healing Together for Couples (September 20, 2012)
Last reviewed: 4 Jun 2011