Infidelity is horrible – there’s nothing worse than that; it’s devastating. – Jessica Capshaw
Relationship counsellor Lauren Sokolski says, “I think of infidelity or an affair as any sort of extra-‘marital’ relationship that detracts from either the emotional or physical/sexual relationship you are having with your significant other. What I mean by detracting from the main relationship is to do with the energy and attention that is being invested into another person at the expense of the primary relationship.”
When infidelity arises in a relationship, our emotions can get the best of us. We may want to yell, scream and cry, but that isn’t the best, or most mature, course of action. There are ways to deal with infidelity in a relationship that doesn’t include letting yourself give in to your emotions. It may feel like the relationship and trust is forever broken, but that doesn’t always have to be the case. While things may feel impossible, it’s important to take a deep breath and focus your energy on what to do when adultery happens in the relationship.
Here Are 5 Ways To Handle Infidelity In A Relationship
1. Identify the problems in the relationship
Infidelity doesn’t show up in relationships out of nowhere – not usually. Sometimes we can pinpoint it to someone’s poor personality and lack of respect for their partner, but that isn’t always the case. When infidelity occurs, a key reason is that there is something wrong in the relationship.
“… If there is a sincere change in behavior, and if the problems that led to the infidelity are addressed and corrected, and both parties approach the problem with a sincere wish to discover what went wrong and fix it, then forgiveness is an important part of the healing process, whether the couple stay married or not,” says psychotherapist and author Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D.
Taking the time to identify what these problems are will mean that the couple will be able to move forward with healing, rather than just wallowing in the pain and guilt of the infidelity. Both partners need to be willing to listen about what the problems and difficulties are.
“I’ve talked with plenty of people who say with pride that they never talked about the affair. That’s not healing. You need to reach the point where you can talk about it without pain. If you never, ever discuss it, you cannot recover,” adds author Peggy Vaughan.
2. Create opportunities to connect
Shutting your partner out is a snap decision for many people struggling with a partner who committed adultery in the relationship. In order to deal with an infidelity with maturity, not allowing yourself to give into the instinct of shutting your partner out is important. Both partners need to be given the opportunity to speak and connect with one another, which includes the partner who sought out the extramarital affair. In order to do this, you need to be able to spend time together talking about both painful topics, as well as spending time without discussing them as well.
“If you’re serious about fixing the problems in your relationship, it’s crucial that you both begin to face each other honestly and openly…. It’s time to take an honest look at what went wrong…. it’s the only way to repair the damage done. Be willing to make the changes that will fix them,” adds Dr. Tessina.
3. Accepting responsibility
As the offending partner, accepting responsibility is paramount to being able to move forward in the relationship after an affair. The person who had the affair is both responsible for their choices as well as their behavior. Trying to point fingers and say that there’s something in the relation that “made” them become unfaithful is not going to help move past it, nor is that dealing with it in a mature fashion.
“The wounded partner will feel the stirrings of new faith only after multiple proofs of trustworthiness. Atonement cannot occur if the cheater insists that the victim take partial blame for the affair,” says Dr. John Gottman in his book titled ‘What Makes Love Last?’
The only way to deal with infidelity in a mature way is to accept responsibility for the things that you have done.
“Forgiving each other doesn’t mean condoning what happened, or that it would be OK if it happened again. What it does mean, is that you’re willing to close that chapter and move on. Your therapist can help you understand and create mutual forgiveness,” concludes Dr. Tessina.
4. Cut off contact with the affair partner
This is important if the end goal is to reconcile the original relationship. The offending partner should not be continuing to have contact with the person that they had an affair with. To begin rebuilding trust, this is the first and foremost rule. Not only this, but the offending partner must be willing to tell their partner where they are going, so as to help rebuild the trust that was broken by the affair.
Accepting that the trust was once broken and now needs to be rebuilt is important in moving the relationship forward.
5. Therapy or counseling
To move forward from an affair, both partners must be willing to accept help. Some people tend to shut down when therapy or counseling is suggested, and they find it hard to be truthful and open. However, going forward with trying to heal from an infidelity can fall apart without a trained professional to help guide you forward.
“Therapy can provide the opportunity for couples to address feelings openly and honestly in a safe place in order to be able to make some changes in their relationship,” says registered social worker and therapist Lauren Sokolski.
The mature way to deal with an infidelity is to accept help where it is needed, and allow someone to guide you through the steps to help heal. A counselor or therapist can be key, due to being an unbiased and outside observer to the relationship who will not judge either partner.
When a couple faces an affair in their relationship, it can be something that tears a couple apart. The rift in the relationship can easily grow larger if the affair is not dealt with in a mature manner. Giving into your basic instincts to fight and shut down will only break the relationship further.
“The couple needs to let go of the parts of their marriage which were not working, and then move towards creating a new dynamic in the relationship. Couples can emerge from an affair with a better sense of who they each are and what they want from their relationship,” says licensed marriage and family therapist David Klow.
Accepting responsibility, allowing yourself to connect with your partner and identifying the problems in the relationship will allow the couple to move forward and heal.