Leandie Buys Realtionship Therapist & Clinical Sexologist

Finding your way after infidelity

Not only does an affair have a devastating effect on a marriage, but it also affects the emotional, physical and psychological health of everyone involved.

Affairs bring out emotions like anger, denial, grief, resentment and lead to a loss of self-esteem. If you have been the victim or instigator of an affair, remember, you are not alone! There are always two sides to the story and a lot of emotional baggage to deal with after an affair.

Even if a couple wants to divorce after an affair, it is still extremely important that each individual works through its emotional and psychological effects, otherwise it will influence all of their future relationships.

Working through an affair is not something that should be done alone

It is possible to re-build a relationship and self-esteem after an affair, but it takes a lot of hard work and dedication from each partner. It is important to have the support of a professional relationship counsellor and family and friends.

Couples seeking to rebuild their relationship should consult a professional relationship counsellor who can teach them good communication tools. It is also important to have an impartial, clear-headed person around when working through emotionally-charged issues.

It is important that issues around insecurity are dealt with. When trust is betrayed, the betrayer will need to reassure their partner constantly in order to rebuild that trust over time. Clients often get frustrated with this part of the process. “Why can’t she just believe that I’m sorry, and it won’t happen again?!” “Why must I get interrogated every time I walk out the door?” “Why does he have to SMS me all the time to find out where I am?”

If you want to rebuild your relationship, you will have to rebuild the trust, and that takes time. You may need to reassure your partner 20 times a day, but if that is what it takes, then that is what you will need to do.

There will also be loads and loads of questions…

The betrayer needs to take responsibility for helping their partner deal with the loss of the relationship as it was. Their partner will work through this process by asking many questions. They may want to know details about ‘the other person’. They may constantly ask questions about what they did wrong. They may bring up the same issues over and over again until they have really processed the loss.

It is also extremely important for the couple to be aware of each other’s feelings. From frustration to rejection to love and excitement, every emotion should be discussed. Open communication is key to any relationship, but is absolutely vital when restoring a relationship after an affair.

An affair is a symptom not a cause

An affair is always a symptom of deeper issues in a relationship. It is not the cause of issues in a relationship. It is a wake-up call to both partners involved. If they want to stay together, they must realise that the relationship will never be the same again.

However, I have seen success stories where the relationship can be healed and taken to a much higher level of intimacy and communication. Where couples find true happiness and contentment with each other following an affair. It is possible.

Who’s to Blame?

If you are the victim of an affair, it is important for you to know that the affair is NOT your fault! There is never ONE cause of an affair. There are usually hundreds of little “reasons” that people add up and use to justify having an affair, but the blame can never be laid completely on either partner in a relationship.

An affair can also never be blamed solely on the third party involved. In order to heal after an affair, it is important to identify the underlying “causes” of the affair, and work through them to ensure they are not repeated in the future.

Emily M. Brown, LCSW, Director of Key Bridge Therapy and Mediation Center, has listed some of the reasons for extramarital affairs: conflict avoidance, intimacy avoidance, sexual addiction and low self-esteem. However, each relationship has its own unique characteristics and therefore each affair will also have its own unique causes.

Affairs can also happen when a couple experiences a major change in the relationship. Becoming parents, extreme work pressure and moving are some of the changes that can lead to a person feeling insecure in their relationship. They will then seek security and intimacy from somewhere else.

Lack of affection between partners, sexual addiction and feelings of sexual entitlement based on gender or status are symptoms of an unhealthy marriage, and are often given as “reasons” for an affair.

Managing the Emotions

In “After the Affair,” author, Julia Cole describes three ways to manage your emotions after discovering an affair. Remember, never “hide” your emotions. It is extremely important for the healing process that you express all of your feelings and hurt.

  1. Mourn for what has been lost
    Sadness, anger and a longing for the more secure past are all associated with grieving. These are natural responses to a difficult situation.  
  2. Assess the damage to the relationship
    Assess what the affair means to each person in the relationship. This helps both partners to deal with feelings of uncertainty and confusion following the affair. 
  3. Understand why the affair happened
    Analyzing the reasons for the affair (whether logical or illogical), will give both partners more clarity on the situation. This is particularly healing for the partner who has been cheated on. This should be done in the presence of a professional relationship counsellor. It is important that blame is not placed solely on one partner, and that each “reason” is dealt with effectively before moving on to the next one.

Assessing the Damage

Julia Cole also describes several ways that you can assess the impact of the affair on the relationship.

If a couple is willing to work through the healing process after an affair, it is extremely important that they assess the damage before re-building the relationship. This shows them which areas will require the greatest amount of effort and dedication.

Make a list

  • Make a list of what would need to change if the relationship were to carry on
  • Some changes may be small, such as “always coming home on time”
  • Some may be bigger, such as “agreeing never to see the lover again”
  • Make sure the list is specific, “I would like to have a kiss when you come home from work” is better than “I want more affection!”
  • Once you have completed your lists – share them with each other.

Decide what you can both agree on and draw up a list of these items. Talk about WHAT will help them to become a reality. Be specific and say “I would like to spend at least two evenings a week together without socializing or watching TV”, rather than “We should spend more time together!”

Think about yourself

  • At a personal level, individuals are likely to be suffering a loss of self-esteem. This usually occurs because admitting to, OR hearing about, an affair causes individuals to doubt what they thought they knew about themselves or their ability to make accurate judgments about people. 
  • NOW is the time to restore self-esteem. Individuals should think about the things that usually help them to feel good about themselves – physical and mental. These should become part of their lives. They should also become part of how the couple interacts with each other. Each partner should help ensure that the other partner experiences things that help to boost their self-esteem.