Over the years I’ve counselled hundreds of couples through a wide range of marriage conflicts, but I’m convinced that the issue of infidelity is the most painful experience that can be inflicted in marriage.
Once the affair has been discovered, the betrayed partner is often filled with insecurity and uncertainty as to whether the relationship should or could continue.
For many people, infidelity is an absolute deal breaker. They know without a doubt that they cannot, or will not, allow the relationship to continue. They then have to pick up the pieces and move on.
But there are couples that, with the help of therapy, can and do resolve the rupture to their relationship. Of course this involves a lot of hard work for both partners, but can see them move forward into the future with a stronger, more rewarding and greatly enriched relationship.
Forgiveness is not a pardoning of the affair, nor does it mean tolerating or accepting the behaviour. Forgiveness is a choice. Only the betrayed partner can know if they want to continue in the relationship. The decision will be made easier if the unfaithful partner shows deep remorse and fully accepts responsibility for their wrongdoing.
Forgiveness takes time. It is crucial for the unfaithful partner to continually show how important the relationship is to them through their actions and not just their words. Rebuilding trust is a slow process, but it’s the only path to true forgiveness.
Release anger: spend time practicing self-care, self-love and self-compassion.
This is a hard step to move through. Once the offence is discovered it can leave the betrayed partner feeling foolish and like their whole life was a lie. Lots of self-care is needed here.
Time must be taken to work through all the natural feelings of shock, grief, shame and anger. Unfortunately, affairs can uncover any long-held and deep-seated beliefs of not being good enough, or worthy enough.
The trick here is to separate the actions of the unfaithful partner from the worthiness of the betrayed partner. Often people can default to feeling anger when they are avoiding grief. Feel the grief.
Avoid revenge: let go of the desire to retaliate, get even or punish
Releasing anger through the turmoil of betrayal will greatly reduce the desire to lash out at the unfaithful partner. But when the betrayed partner feels insecure they can sometimes go to great lengths to create a sense of security – albeit a false one.
Retaliation can involve seeking an affair to prove to themselves and their partner that they are still desirable and attractive to others. Alternatively, the betrayed partner can become cold and distant towards the unfaithful partner who is trying to show remorse and prioritising the relationship.
The betrayed partner may end up controlling the unfaithful partner by demanding to know the whereabouts, passwords and other specifics of the unfaithful partner’s daily routine. When used as an agreed strategy this can restore trust between the couple. But if taken to the extreme as a way to feel secure in the relationship it can cause even more difficulty down the track.
While the intentions behind these behaviours are understandable, they don’t address the core issue at hand and only serve to hinder the relationship in the long run.
Find motivation: seek more positive ways to recover the relationship
Firstly, it must be said, you do not have to continue in the relationship to forgive.
But for those who are able to move through the stages of betrayal to forgiveness, there can be a strong desire to recover the relationship.
In this space the betrayed partner may start to realise that the betrayal is a symptom of something much bigger than themselves.
They might start to realise their partners motivation was more complex than just an act of betrayal. Perhaps the greater aspects of the relationship – all the good things – are worth more than the need to separate.
Whatever it may look like for each individual couple there is hope after infidelity. With time, and therapy, there is a very good chance that the relationship will actually be deepened and enriched. It’s a choice.
What are your thoughts on infidelity? Is it a deal breaker for you or would you be willing to work through it? Perhaps you have your own story of forgiveness?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.