When an affair occurs there is a profound break in trust. The discovery of an affair throws a couple into an emotional crisis whose intensity is like the crisis following the death of a loved one. In fact, the feelings raised when an affair is discovered are very much part of a grieving process. There is the grief over the loss of the relationship as it was known. There is grieving the loss of trust that existed before the affair.
Many couples wonder if it is possible for their relationship to survive the impact of an affair. There is no question, an affair changes a relationship profoundly and there is a deep wounding. However, working through the painful feelings raised by the affair can strengthen the connection and bond between people. This is no easy task. It takes strength, courage and motivation. As the Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh points out, ‘’Just as there is no lotus flower possible without the mud, there is no understanding and insight without suffering.’’
Many couples are hesitant to address sensitive issues in their relationship when it appears things are ticking along fine. The hesitation may continue even when the sensitive issues become obvious problems. There may be the hope that by avoiding dealing with a problem it will go away on its own. Very likely there is the fear of raising sensitive issues, as almost certainly conflict will follow, and hurt follows conflict. No one seeks out pain and we tend to do everything we can to avoid it.
When an affair is discovered, it changes everything and it feel like all the change is for the worse. However, if a couple is able to see that the affair has brought out in the open the reality that something was not right between them, it is possible to build on that awareness and understanding.
An affair or betrayal is a relational issue. It happens within the context of a relationship. Something has happened in the relationship that has led to the affair/betrayal. One way of looking at it is, as an attempt to solve a relational problem that for some reason was not able to be talked about in the relationship.
There is no question, the partner who has betrayed the trust must take responsibility for what they have done, the hurt caused and the damage done to the relationship. But this alone will not lead to an awareness and understanding about how such a betrayal could happen. It will not enable the couple to move forward together in their relationship, if that is what they want to try to do. A key part of working through involves both partners beginning to look at what they could not speak about with each other that led to the affair.
This is not easily done and many couples find professional support in exploring their relationship vital to being able to move through this process.
Relationship counselling/couples therapy can help couples work through and begin to understand the reasons behind an affair in some very important ways.
- Giving space to make sense of what has happened
- Slowing down interactions so feelings of anger/hurt can be expressed
- Understanding what was happening in the relationship that led to the affair
- Detoxify arguments and understanding patterns
- Addressing concerns about trust and what to do
- Re-building connection and trust