Articles by Jacqueline McDiarmid, Break ups, Children

Can a relationship survive an affair?

An affair is a betrayal. A violation of the original agreement between two people who have committed to each other to the exclusion of all others. It is
often an unexpected shock. A deep relationship injury. A significant trauma to the person who is injured.

So great is the trauma that in a great majority of couples I see where an affair has occurred, the injured person is experiencing P.T.S.D. type symptoms
– constant flashbacks to either real or imagined images of sexual acts, hyper vigilance, compulsive phone and email checking, anxiety, depression and
feelings of worthlessness.

On the other side the person who has committed the affair is usually ashamed, embarrassed and in pain watching the pain their partner is going through.
Too often I hear, “I just wished I had never done it”. Most people who enter an affair just don’t think through the price they will
also pay on discovery of it.

Everything changes for a couple when an affair is discovered. The story the couple have made together becomes tarnished and unsavoury. Trust is broken.

 There are roughly three groups of people who choose to stay together post an affair.

  1. The couples who stay together for the sake of children, finances or shared history and largely put it behind them – although never transcend it.
  2. The couples who stay together but stay caught up in the pain of examining the affair over and over again – often over years.
  3. The couples who choose make sense of the affair – to understand what in their relationship led to the affair. To use the affair as a catalyst for change.

It is group three who I would say they have survived the affair. They are the ones who have made sense of the affair and why it happened.
Believe their relationship is a stronger place because of the work and changes they have made to their relationship post the affair.

There are a few processes that need to take place in order for a couple to survive an affair:

  • Both people need to be patient – it takes a long time to work through a trauma of an affair
  • Each need to be able to tolerate each other’s pain and listen to each other’s truth
  • Empathy is key to moving past individual pain and developing understanding as to why the affair occurred
  • New behaviours need to occur around communication and intimacy with each other
  • Each person needs to suspend the relationship history and work instead on creating new memories in a new relationship e.g. a lot of couples choose
    to change their living environment or work environment
  • The couple need to work with relationship or marriage counsellor to help them view the affair in a different way. Affairs often happen because the
    couple have not developed other resources to sustain the relationship through difficult times – e.g. communication skills

Along with the relationship work the injured person often needs to be supported through the trauma impacts – some people require medication to stabilize
anxiety and depression symptoms.

Ultimately it is deciding whether there is enough love in the relationship to invest in this work. And making the decision to start a new relationship in a very different kind of way with your partner.


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