According to The Journal of Couples & Relationship Therapy (Atwood & Schwartz, 2002), approximately 50% of both men and women will have an extramarital affair at some time in their lives.
While we can spend time analyzing, being angry, or feeling hurt about the circumstances of an affair, how physical it was, why you didn’t see it coming, or the devastating effects of broken trust, none of these helps us answer one of the most important questions: do you and your partner still want to make the relationship work?
If the desire for reconciliation is present, counseling with a trained couples therapist can help and should begin as soon as possible.
Affairs Don’t “Just Happen”
Contrary to popular impressions, affairs don’t just happen. And they don’t occur because of sexual boredom. They happen because one partner is no longer attached to, or connected with, the other.
In fact, a number of research studies have indicated that even seemingly happily married spouses have affairs. While this may be disturbing, marriage is far more than a question of contentment and the feelings that spouses have for one another run much deeper than the emotions that readily appear on the surface.
Although numerous situations and factors can lead to an affair, affairs are a symptom of marital problems, not the cause. Therefore, while some couples may agree to merely “kiss and make-up,” doing so isn’t likely to solve the relationship problems that led to the affair.
After an affair, forgetting and forgiving is not enough. If you or partner has had an affair, the first thing the two of you will have to do is determine whether or not you want to do the work necessary to repair your relationship and address the underlying issues that led to infidelity. If you’re both willing to do the work necessary and you both desire to save your marriage and make your relationship the best it can be, professional couples or marriage counseling can help.
How Marriage Counseling Can Help
Assuming you and your partner want to rebuild your relationship after an affair, the first step must be to open the lines of communication.
Couples counseling can help both of you begin talking about the elements that were missing from your relationship and left it vulnerable to infidelity, as well as become aware of one another’s emotional needs. It is only by understanding, and learning to meet, each other’s emotional needs that your relationship will have a chance to recover, strengthen, and grow.
That having been said, opening the lines of communication tends to include rather uncomfortable conversations, including conversations about the affair itself. However, as difficult as this may be, learning more about your partner’s needs and desires is a powerful, positive, and necessary experience if your relationship is to survive and flourish.
Beyond working on your communication, the two of you must also create undivided time together. This time includes time for romance and sex and it can help you create experiences similar to those that existed when you previously met each other’s emotional needs.
Of equal importance is some private space for each of you, in which you can deal with all the feelings that come up during this period. Being able to strike a healthy balance between sharing and internalizing will allow both of you to regain your confidence and feel safe in your relationship.
Should You Seek Couples Counseling?
The often overwhelming pain, anger, guilt, and confusion that stem from the discovery of an affair can easily cloud both partners’ judgment and ability to think and behave thoughtfully.
However, if your partner and you both want to save your relationship and make it better than it’s ever been, a professional marriage counselor or couples therapist can help both of you examine and share your feelings, work through destructive thoughts and behavior patterns, and begin to rebuild the communication, connection, and trust necessary to not only save your marriage but move forward together towards an even brighter future.