Statistics may vary but according to one of the most recent studies, as many as 37% of married men and 20% of married women have been unfaithful. In the United States, 1 in every 2.7 couples – more than 21 million – is touched by infidelity. Statistics only help you to consider that affairs are common, and you are not alone. Here are a few things to keep in mind before starting couples therapy to heal from an affair:
No Ongoing Affairs: You can start couples therapy a day, a month, or a year after an affair but couples therapy is not recommended when there is an ongoing affair. A continuing affair, without the consent of both partners, perpetuates the dysfunction in a relationship. If you are an unfaithful partner who is serious about reconnecting, you need to end the affair before committing couples therapy. You may even need to grieve the ending of the affair, which is appropriate work for individual therapy, but not for couples therapy.
Accountability: Couples therapy is helpful when each of you accept individual responsibility for what went wrong. Rather than assigning blame, therapy encourages each of you to confront those parts of yourself that led to the affair, and to change in ways that rebuild trust and intimacy. That doesn’t mean therapy holds you equally accountable for the affair – no one can make another person stray. But therapy asks you both to be accountable for whatever space you created that made room for another person to come between you.
Decision Making: Therapy invites each of you to explore your unique reasons for having or giving up an affair partner, for choosing or refusing to recommit. Your decision should be deliberate and well-considered, not based on feelings alone. Your feelings, in fact, may betray you.
Here are Janis A. Spring’s three stages of healing after an affair that guide me with my work with couples who are healing from affairs:
Stage 1: Normalizing Feelings: Often the hurt partner overcome by a profound sense of loss, and the unfaithful partner overcome by conflicting choices and emotions. Therapy helps you to give a language for your feelings. It reassures you that you are not crazy or unstable, that others have experienced the same pain and confusion, that you are not alone.
Stage 2: Deciding Whether to Recommit or Quit: Before your emotions can settle down, you need to confront your ambivalence about whether to stay or leave. Therapy explores your options and helps you to make a thoughtful decision based on your circumstances and needs. Some of the questions come up at this stage of the therapy are: What can I expect from love? Should I trust my feelings? How can I tell if my partner is right for me?
Stage 3: Rebuilding the Relationship: If you decided to recommit, therapy reviews strategies to restore trust and intimacy. Therapy gives you the tools to decipher the meaning of the affair and accept shared responsibility for it; communicate what you need to trust again; talk in ways that allow your partner to hear you and understand your pain; listen in ways that encourage your partner to be open and vulnerable with you; recognize how you may have been affected by the early life experiences and how you can keep these experiences from contaminating your relationship today; manage your differences and dissatisfactions; become sexually intimate again; forgive your partner and yourself.
Couples can survive infidelity. If you want to explore the possibility of rebuilding your relationship after an affair, please contact me to schedule couples therapy.
Spring, J. A., & Spring, M. (2020). After the Affair, Third Edition: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful (3rd ed.). Harper Paperbacks.