Whatever you call it, adultery, betrayal, infidelity, extra marital relationship, cheating, the fact is that the result of an affair is the onset of an emotional storm.
The discovery of an affair is akin to throwing a boulder into a calm pond, there is a huge and dramatic initial reaction but what follows are the ripples that emanate from the centre, these are the doubts, the accusations, the surfacing of long held resentments.
The discovery of the affair and the aftermath often throws a light on the weakest areas of the relationship and can call into question everything we thought we knew about our relationship with our partner and our own ability to judge people accurately.
The reasons people have affairs and betray the trust of their partners is complex and differs with every individual case. Much depends on personal circumstances, individual needs and the state of the relationship. Frequently an affair happens because there was an underlying problem in the relationship that couldn’t be discussed.
Whether you seek therapy as a couple or as an individual relationship counselling after an affair seeks to work through feelings that have arisen by the discovery of the betrayal.
Relationship counselling after an affair: Coping with finding out about the affair
Though not always, discovering that your partner has been unfaithful, cheated on you or betrayed you often comes as a shock, a bolt from the blue. You may have known something wasn’t right, you may have even wondered if they were seeing someone or doing something deceitful but the shock often comes when you are confronted by the reality of the affair.
Did the infidelity happen because they were unhappy?
A common misconception is that the adulterer was unhappy in their relationship, dissatisfied or in some way saw the relationship as lacking, but this is often not the case at all.
Relationship counselling after an affair: Where were the seeds sown?
All relationships have strengths and weaknesses. The strengths we celebrate, we talk about we revel in and by doing so we often make those strengths ‘stronger’ however in contrast we rarely focus on the weaknesses, we shy away from discussing the aspects of the relationship that don’t work, or cause dissatisfaction, or are embarrassing.
Couples often fear shining a light on the weakest part of their relationships for fear of conflict and conflict will often lead to painful accusations and hurt. Undoubtedly there will be hurt, but by addressing the issues there can be an airing of feelings and a start to communication and understanding. Individuals or couples who can work through these often build stronger bonds and a deeper understanding of their partners.
Following the discovering of the affair: Is like a bereavement
The fallout following the discovery of the affair is often likened to a bereavement … you are grieving the loss of the relationship that you thought you had, the loss of the loyal partner, the loss of your ‘ideal’ image of what you had.
Many couples wonder if there is ever a way back following the discovery of an affair, how can the relationship survive such a betrayal?
When one partner feels that they have been betrayed, it can feel that it has changed everything about the relationship and only for the worse. However, both parties can see that the affair has brought out in the open the reality that something was not right between them, it is possible to use that awareness and build from that.
Couples counselling following an affair seeks to rebuild the relationship by drawing out the good elements and why you are together and using the knowledge discovered about the issues to build on and strengthen and so reduce the weaknesses in the relationship.
Relationship Counselling after an affair: Learning to trust again
Whether you come as a couple or come individually, counselling after an affair will seek to support you in your quest to move forward and find a way to rebuild the trust that has been lost. Without trust there is no true relationship, so this has to be a starting point for any individual or couple that want to continue in the relationship.
Relationship counselling after an affair: Where are you now following the revelation?
Whatever your current position in your relationship, counselling following an affair can help you to recover and move forward, whether you are:
- A couple seeking to work through the affair and feelings of betrayal and save the relationship.
- You were the one that was betrayed and are trying to cope with what has happened.
- You were the unfaithful partner and want to learn from what has happened.
Couples Counselling following an affair: Coping with the loss of trust
The result of an affair is a chronic breakdown of trust. Not only trust but also the loss of the idea that you are both each other’s most loyal friend and confidant. It can also be a loss of the person you thought you knew. Couples counselling looks at the issues that led up to the affair, and how to rebuild the trust that has been lost as a result.
Relationship counselling after the affair: The partner who was betrayed
If you were the partner who has been cheated on then firstly you will be processing the shock and trauma of what has surfaced. Whether or not you want to remain in the relationship or if the relationship has ended, you will be working through the fallout of the revelation.
The initial emotional storm then leads on to ‘questions’, ‘accusations’, ‘blame’, ‘doubt’, ‘hyper sensitivity’, ’Hypervigilance’ and the list goes on.
- What did my partner need that I didn’t give?
- Am I attracted to the wrong types of people?
- Can I ever trust them again?
- Can I trust any future partners?
- What if people think I was responsible?
Whether you remain in the relationship and want to work through the issues and build up your trust for your partner again, or if you have separated from your partner and are now wondering how you move forward and whether you can ever find another person who you will feel comfortable with and trust, relationship counselling after the affair can help you to come to terms with what has happened and move on.
Relationship counselling after the affair: The partner who cheated
There is no question, the partner who has betrayed the trust must take responsibility for what they have done, the hurt caused to those around them and the damage inflicted on the relationship. They cannot abdicate their responsibility.
If you were the partner who had the affair, you may want to talk through what happened. You are still responsible for the actions you took and the pain and sadness that you have caused, but you may also want to address why you behaved the way you did towards someone you love or loved.
It isn’t only the ‘innocent’ party who suffers from this emotional storm, the adulterer may also suffer ‘remorse’, ‘guilt’, ‘shame’.
- What sort of person am I to do this to my partner, my children?
- What does this say about me?
- I have always thought I had good morals, but how can I if I could cheat on my partner?
- How do I know I won’t do this again?
Whether you remain in the relationship or you decide that there is no future in it and separate from your partner, you may want to take stock of what happened and explore why it happened and what you could have done differently. Relationship counselling following your affair can help you to learn about yourself and your motivations.
Relationship counselling following an affair: What happens in therapy?
As with all issues brought to therapy, no two situations are the same and the approach will always be unique to each. However, the following are often aspects of relationship counselling following an affair:
- Allowing space to make sense after each person airs their thoughts on what has happened.
- Keeping the flow of opinions even and allowing each party time so feelings of frustration/ anger/ hurt can be expressed.
- Exploring the development of the relationship and the route it took leading up to the affair.
- Taking out the dramatic emotions to understand the feelings behind the arguments.
- Allow both parties to be allowed to ask and be allowed to honestly answer questions.
- Addressing concerns about trust and discussing how to rebuild it.
Relationship counselling after an affair, finding the right person
Research shows again and again that the effectiveness of the therapy or counselling is affected by the relationship you have with your therapist or counsellor. It is therefore important that you find someone who you feel comfortable with and whom you can build a trusting relationship.
Working through the painful feelings surrounding the affair with a qualified relationship counsellor will help by bringing an understanding of what led to it and can strengthen the bond between the couple. Working on your own can help you to reduce your feelings of loss and resentment and help you to rebuild your trust either in your partner or else feel confident that you can find a loving relationship with trust in the future.
Helpful ideas and resource around the subject of affairs and betrayal
Here is Esther Perel giving her TED talk about ‘Rethinking Affairs’, a fascinating and insightful talk.
© Brian Cotsen