‘If my partner had an affair, I would leave.’
That’s what many people say before it happens. But your marriage doesn’t have to end there.
Couples counseling is a proven, research-based approach to healing after an affair.
Your couples counselor has no preconceived ideas about you and how your relationship should develop. The counselor is there to help you find out what you really feel, where you stand in the process of healing after an affair, and what you now want to do, both separately and as a couple.
Relationships are often stuck in unproductive, painful communication patterns that usually existed long before the affair and its discovery. Your counselor will be able to recognize these harmful patterns and unravel them with you. He or she can also teach you new communication skills that will serve you well, whether or not you stay together.
When an affair is discovered, both partners go into shock.
The ‘discoverer’ often feels that their entire life view has been shattered. What was true yesterday no longer exists today. Betrayal, isolation, and fear all pile up into an existential crisis.
The partner who is having (or was having) the affair also feels shock. Their deception is no longer working, and their self-deception has also received a big knock.
While you are both in a state of shock, communication will be extremely difficult. You are very occupied with your own painful feelings.
The counselor can help you recognize what is going on and support you in dealing with these traumatic events.
Is the affair over?
If the answer is yes, the path is clear. Try to understand yourself and each other, and find out what you want to do.
If the answer is no, then couples counseling might be even more urgent.
Do you need distance? Do you need new communication skills (see above)?
Try to be as clear and as honest with yourself as you can.
Why did my partner have an affair?
A question that haunts many, and a question that may never be satisfactorily answered.
Why did I have this affair?
That’s the really urgent question you need to answer. For yourself and then for your partner and for healing after an affair.
Both of you will grieve the end of your relationship as it was before. The past can never come back.
If you are the unfaithful partner, you will also grieve the end of your affair. The loss of your lover. Even if you want to forget it all, you won’t be able to.
The grieving process includes anger, sadness, and denial. Your grieving may clash. Your emotions may overwhelm you.
Guilt, blame, and shame
All three are very negative emotions that prevent us from living life in the present and that poison our relationships with each other.
If you feel guilt for what you did, you need to unravel what this means for you and what you are going to do with the feeling. Don’t put the responsibility to ‘absolve you’ of your guilt onto your partner. It’s yours.
Blaming is very natural when someone cheats on you and of course it is their fault. They cheated. But if you get stuck in blame, nothing can be resolved. Nothing new can evolve.
Shame is a deep feeling that something is wrong with you. Not with what you do, but with you who are. Shame is toxic. You need to address it and find its roots in your deep past.
Secrecy and holding back has not worked. That is now as obvious as it can get. When you work out what you want, tell your partner as honestly as you tell yourself. See if you can move on from there or not.
What does ‘forgiving the affair’ mean to you?
The experience of the affair (both having it and discovering it) cannot be erased from memory. On the contrary, it has changed your marriage forever. So what does ‘forgiveness’ mean and why do you think you need it? What are you going to do with it?
Finally, if you want to experience healing after an affair together, you have to make a decision. This is not a ‘we’ decision, it’s a separate and individual decision by each partner.
The question is simple and very complex at the same time: do you want to stay with your spouse? With this particular person? Right now?
There may still be a lot of love and connection. Sometimes painful revelations can even re-energize your marriage. But if you build your marriage on new deceptions and self-deceptions, you will not heal it.
Couples counselors are very familiar with all of these issues. They are also completely neutral and confidential. Couples counseling may be the best investment you will ever make.