Couples who have experienced an affair within the relationship often ask me, “Is it possible to overcome this?” The short answer is “Yes!” Their pain and difficulty notwithstanding, affairs have the possibility of occasioning new bonds that can be even more meaningful than couples had prior to their affairs.
Getting to that point, however, takes time and patience. So when a couple comes to my office asking, “Can we overcome this affair?” My thought immediately is, “How much do they want to save this relationship?” I think this because overcoming an affair can be heart-wrenching work. It takes time and money (if you go to a therapist) to save this relationship. It is a big commitment emotionally and financially to reconcile and heal an affair.
An affair is a deep attachment injury. It often cuts at many core feelings of both partners, which can result in the formulation of some core statements about themselves. Some of those core statements can be: “I am not enough,” “I am a failure,” or “I am not worthy of forgiveness or love.”
Getting to those core emotions is essential when healing attachment injuries. To do this, it is important for partners to be able to identify the cycle they get into that causes tension. This cycle is often what leads to the affair. Knowing the cycle and the part each partner plays in the cycle can lead to an opportunity to change the way they respond to each other. This process can lead to the creation of safety, security, and love in the relationship…EVEN after an affair.
It is hard not to be defensive during times of difficulty; however, with counseling, a couple can learn to replace defensiveness with ownership. Anger with sadness can eventually be addressed with empathy and compassion from your partner.
The ultimate goal in therapy is to create a relationship in which both partners feel heard, loved, healed, and accepted. Learning to create both a new cycle and a secure attachment with your lover will eventually allow partners to tell each other what they need. This will allow each partner to look to each other rather than outside the relationship when life gets hard.
A couple who has experienced an affair can never go back to the way things were because things will not be the same. This can be a good thing! The reason this can be a good thing is that the way things were made the couple unhappy and occasioned the affair in the first place. The cycle that caused them to distance from each other is the enemy, but together the couple can learn how to break out of that unhealthy cycle and embark on a cycle that promotes love, security, safety, and trust.
So, is recovering from an affair possible? YES! Is it hard, heart-wrenching work? YES! However, if couples want to repair their relationship, create new memories. and live into new cycles of interacting, their marriage can be the best it has ever been!