It’s a staggering statistic: more than 50% of all spouses are victims of infidelity, which means that one spouse in more than half of all marriages will suffer the greatest marital pain possible at some time during their lifetimes.
Affairs usually begin with an attraction to someone you know fairly well, someone you spend time with each week — your friends or co-workers. Contrary to what you may think, adultery is not merely about sex. In fact, sex is often a bonus to the affair. People cheat for varying reasons, but the most common reasons- probably the vast majority of reasons people have an affair is for emotional connectedness, the feeling of being wanted, needed, understood, important, and heard. They are feelings that are deeply lacking in the current relationship, which cause the cheater to obtain them elsewhere. The unloved and misunderstood wife, or the controlled and endlessly criticized husband- two very common stereotypes that are vulnerable to straying. To those on the receiving end however, adultery is a selfish betrayal of trust that brings with it devastating consequences.
Whether a marriage survives an affair depends on how healthy the marriage was to begin with, how long the affair lasted and the manner in which it was discovered. Research has shown that the couples who have a real chance of making it are the ones who are committed because they really want to be with each other, not because of the kids or because they feel obligated.
The first step is to talk about what happened. It’s important to ask and get an answer to any and all questions. More and more marriage experts agree that couples heal better after an affair if the adulterous spouse supplies all of the information requested by his or her betrayed partner. In one study of 1,083 betrayed husbands and wives, those whose spouses were the most honest felt better emotionally and reconciled more completely, reports affairs expert Peggy Vaughan, author of The Monogamy Myth: A Personal Handbook for Recovering from Affairs, who developed the international Beyond Affairs Network. “I’ve talked with plenty of people who say with pride that they never talked about the affair,” she says. “That’s not healing. You need to reach the point where you can talk about it without pain. If you never, ever discuss it, you cannot recover.
Understand also that although you must turn towards one another to heal if you want to be together, not turn away – you are each dealing with VERY different emotional experiences. While you each need to look within to your authentic desires and longings in your new world – you are likely feeling very different constellations of emotion, grief and pain. Betrayal can be felt as a deep trauma. Shame and guilt can feel paralyzing.
Here are some tips for navigating the flood of emotions that both of you may be dealing with:
1. Give yourself permission to feel. Don’t fight the emotions that you experience, try to identify them, understand them and respect that they are normal.
2. Make room in your mind for feelings. Sometimes people are so busy with day-to-day activities that they really don’t have a chance to reflect on where they are emotionally. It’s good from time to time to clear your head of clutter: physical exercise, prayer or meditation or a simple walk in the woods can help.
3. Don’t dwell. If you continue to get stuck, then something as simple as journaling or talking to a friend can help. If the negativity is unshakable, then it may be time to get professional help.
4. Just as was mentioned earlier, it’s important to talk to your spouse – you may not be able to move forward until you can have meaningful discussions together about what you are going through. If your connection grows after the affair, you may feel comfortable speaking up. If the relationship is still tenuous though, you should not give up on having a heart-to-heart. The best way to get started is to tell your spouse that you want to talk about how you feel, but you only want him or her to listen.
Strong emotions are your mind’s way of letting you know that something outside of the ordinary is happening. You wish the affair had never happened in the first place, but understanding, accepting and processing your feelings will bring you closer to healing. It’s also important to process these feelings with a neutral third party and that’s where counseling can help. Infidelity is not something that occurs in a vacuum. Therapy address the issues already in the marriage that led up to the affair.
By the time infidelity occurs, there are many deep issues that have already been present for some time, and in order for healing to come, these issues must be addressed. Adultery is the culmination of a long trail of unresolved underlying issues; and while it is a serious problem in a relationship, it is not the root problem. Nor does it have to be the end of the relationship. If the couple wants to work through the hurt and betrayal, counseling focuses on communication skills, rebuilding trust, and developing goals for the future to direct the couple providing hope for the future and restored love and intimacy in the marriage.