How to fix your relationship after an affair
Think the damage has been done? Staying together after an affair is possible
How to fix the damage
If asked at the altar, most men and women would state that monogamy in marriage is a must, and that an affair is a deal breaker. Until it happens to them. In reality, more than half of couples who experience an affair stay together. Rather than break up, those couples make a new deal, and some marriages end up stronger for the experience. If your relationship has been rocked by an affair, how do you begin to save your marriage? Here's how to start.
1. Determine if you're both committed to rebuilding.
Research indicates that it is more difficult for men to forgive their wives a sexual affair than an emotional one, and more difficult for women to forgive their husbands an emotional affair than a sexual one. So remember, what seems less impactful to you may be devastating to your spouse. It will take some time to work through the impact. Together you must determine whether this is the end of your marriage, or the beginning of a new phase in it. You need to deal with the emotions honestly and without resorting to verbal warfare. One of you feels hurt, betrayed and choiceless: "This happened to me and now I have to deal with it." The other feels confused and ambivalent because there are just too many choices - the spouse, the lover, and the endless possibilities for sex and love that the Internet buffet promises. They may love two people, and feel guilty and torn between their options.
I know, I know, this has become a cliche; but trust me, it needs to happen. Listen to each other at length, without interrupting. Both sides need to be heard and respected. Remember, understanding is not the same as acceptance; you may not understand the views of someone from another culture, but you can listen and try to accept their way as meaningful to them. So it is with marital communication. Emotions are fine; anger, grief, shame and fear are natural parts of the process. The trick is to express them without blame, name-calling, verbal abuse or threats of abandonment. If you can't manage that alone, get some professional help.
3. Build a new foundation.
Once you have started to defuse this emotional bomb together, you can set to work clearing the area and laying a new foundation. This can mean a lengthy period of working though the affair's implications for both of you. The million-dollar question is whether you will choose to stay married. Don't rush this decision. The more you understand what led to the affair, and the role you each may have played in it, the better you will be able to either let go with grace and kindness, or move forward together with wisdom and renewed commitment.
4. Sex: Have some.
After an affair, some couples have hungry sex: the betrayed spouse seeking to reclaim their mate and the person who had the affair seeking to reconnect. Others avoid sex altogether, and that's a bad idea. The longer you wait, the bigger its spectre can become. Make love. Utilize your bodies, your vulnerability and your willingness to risk, as steps on the road to healing. But don't expect it to be easy. The one who had the affair may miss the novelty, heat and taboo excitement of sex with another person, and find the marital sex lacking in passion. The spouse who feels betrayed may have resistance and anger, or they may find themselves unable to respond sexually. Keep making love, until love starts to heal the wounds.
We've all heard the saying "forgive and forget." Well, in my clinical opinion this is bad advice when it comes to an affair. Why? You can't forget. You can, however, forgive. As for trust, I wholeheartedly disagree with the popular opinion that trust must be earned. Trust can never be earned; it can only be given. We take our heart, and drawing gently on the wisdom gained in our life so far, we choose to hand it to someone. Perhaps we give it for the first time, before any hurt has happened, and perhaps we give it again to the person standing before us who broke it. But we can choose to give it. We can choose to love again.