There is raw agony of finding out you've been cheated on.
There are not words to describe the level of hurt.
Traditionally, an affair was considered sexual intercourse with someone other than a person's committed partner. However, there are other forms of relationship infidelity which can occur which are also incredibly painful:
- Many would say that a non-sexual, but loving emotionally open and intimate relationship with someone other than a partner iss infidelity. Some even will say, "If she had just slept with him, it would hurt, but she gave her heart to him over time."
- Online dating can create secretive relationships of intimacy with a person they might never have even actually met.
- Others are seduced by the fantasy and attraction of a relationship that doesn't have bills, body odor, and other baggage.
The shock of discovering or being told of an affair is something that rocks a marriage. There is often a time of decision making--to determine whether relationship repair is evening possible. While betrayal is horrifying to all, previous experiences of betrayal contribute to response to the current betrayal. Cultural factors, life stage, and family history all contribute to how the relationship responds to infidelity. There can then, be a time of counselling which isn't actually yet working on recovery, but rather helping a couple determine what each of them is prepared to do in moving forward, and exploring whether recovery is possible.
Recovery from Infidelity
If a couple makes a decision to move forward with a process of recovery from infidelity, the therapist then begins the slow process with them. Generally, the process takes longer than a couple wish it would...I sometimes describe the process as "inconveniently" lengthy, as shattered trust takes a long time to build and is very fragile.
The process can involve:
- developing strategies that begin to rebuild trust. There can be more immediate strategies, and long term ones that need to be maintained.
- working through the devastation of the affair in the immediate sense. The betrayed spouse grieves. This is appropriately expressed to the partner, with the betraying spouse responding. This can be a multi-step lengthy process that often includes an apology and some restitution at some point.
- looking at the situation in the marriage which existed prior to the affair. Often, the affair is not only "the problem", it is also "a symptom of the problem" which underlies the infidelity. Improving the relationship, and addressing the vulnerabilities within the relationship or within a spouse is important. This helps to ensure that the infidelity does not reoccur.
- there are times when the spouse that has the affair needs to process the end of a extramarital relationship. Although the partner may be committed to the marriage, there may still be grieving in letting go of the affair, because of the role the relationship played in his/her life.
Working through infidelity can feel overwhelming. But, there is hope for those that are committed to making their relationship work.
Couples can emerge from the experience stronger than previous, rather like a broken bone being stronger at the site of the repair.
This work is difficult, and a therapist can be a powerful mediator/guide/clarifier/facilitator through that process.