There’s no doubt that when one partner has an affair, the relationship is severely tested. One of the main things that holds them together, their mutual trust, has been broken, and it’s not surprising that many believe that it is impossible to put it back together again. But it is possible, if both want it.
The response from the ‘non-injured’- partner is often initial anger or disbelief, followed by feelings of grief. For, after all, someone really big has been lost. It can take some time for the betrayed one to feel able to begin to forgive, and they may think that they can never forget. Even though the cheater may be filled with remorse and be repeatedly saying that they are sorry, the hurt one will not be able to hear the apologies.
When the affair is initially revealed there is often huge shock, even if at some sub-conscious level the injured party was aware that something was not right. The truth is that if a relationship is really strong and happy, affairs are unlikely to happen, so the fact that there has been an affair indicates that all was not as rosy at it might have seemed on the outside. Many people ignore the warning signs, however, thinking that the lack of connection and loss of intimacy is something that routinely happens in long relationships.
Once things settle down, though, it’s important to start to think that there can be a new shared future together. If this is what both parties want, then it is possible. The difficulty is that the person who was previously your best friend is now the one causing you pain, and confusion and loneliness can arise. Give it time.
The trick to recovery and moving back into intimacy and trust is to both take ownership of the affair. Both have to refer to it as ‘our affair’ rather than ‘his’ or ‘hers’. It is something that happened to them both, and to the relationship, and it is the relationship that needs to be healed.
Once this has happened, and both recognise that each must have some share of the responsibility, things can move forward.
Often the first step is to go back to basics and acknowledge what you appreciate about each other. Simple statements like ‘One thing I appreciate about you is …’ and ‘when you do that I feel …’ can be hugely healing and connecting. The difficulty is, though, that because the trust has been fractured it can take a long time to overcome the resentment and fear that the affair will reoccur. It is only by joining together to deal with the thoughts and memories, and opening a new phase in the relationship, that repair can happen.
There is no quick and painless fixing after an affair. It takes time, intention and commitment, and recognition that the affair was a symptom that something was not right in the marriage, and that something needs to be changed. Much depends on how secure each partner is in themselves – someone who is fundamentally insecure, perhaps because of a difficult childhood, is going to find it harder to move forward and not feel niggling fear and jealousy in the future.
Once the issue has been talked over, probably with a counsellor or in a structured way with professional help, there comes a time when you need to assure each other that you are committed to a new beginning, that the affair will not be repeated and you are resolved to be closer in future. But it can be the beginning of a phase of new intimacy and closer passion. Perhaps these are the things that were missing and allowed the affair to happen.
There are always lessons to be learned from affairs – to give each other more time, for example, to listen more closely to each other, to ensure that you both get the intimacy you need. It’s only by talking about these things that healing can happen, and if you find it hard to open up and discuss stuff, then do seek a professional to help guide you both. You can feel close and trust each other again, and emerge closer and stronger in your relationship.