It’s common for people to ask me whether or not their relationship can survive an affair, and my answer is yes. It is entirely possible with these three steps.
Step One: Prioritize Your Relationship
The first step is a mutual agreement that the relationship is important enough to attempt to heal from the trauma. Consequently, both partners must recognize the role they each played in the breakdown of their relationship. Dr. Harville Hendrix says that in all his work with couples, he has never encountered an affair where only one partner was guilty. He says that, if you look below the surface, you will find that the ‘victims’ were having ‘affairs’ of their own, but their ‘affairs’ were more socially acceptable. Partners can have ‘affairs’ with their children, their work, their extended family, their friends, their pets—any area of your life that takes precedence over your intimate, committed relationship can be considered an affair. However, in most cultures, an intimate, sexual affair with another person is considered far more despicable than devoting too much time to one’s children or work. Society approves more of these distractions, thus vilifying the partner who had an intimate affair with another person.
Dr. Hendrix says, “Infidelity is a co-creation designed to regulate intimacy by acting out their anxiety in ways that involved them with other people… There are always two affairs. They are always co-created.” If your partner had an affair and you consider yourself the ‘victim,’ you may want to take some time to determine if there was anything you were prioritizing over your relationship. This is not to place blame on you, but merely to distribute the responsibility for what happened more evenly, therefore equalizing the efforts for repairing the damage. If you want your relationship to survive this affair and grow stronger, then sharing responsibility for the affair is a healthy first step.
When you both accept your responsibility in the co-creation of the affair, are truly interested in repairing the damage done, and make saving the relationship your priority, then you have taken the first step. Whenever you experience doubt, fear, or anger along the way, remind yourself of your highest goal: repairing your relationship.
Step Two: Correct the Behavior
When you have accepted responsibility for your part in the affair, the next step is about corrective action. For the person who had the affair, this means ending the illicit relationship. For the other partner, it means making the committed relationship a priority over whatever else was taking precedence. If you are committed to your relationship, you will consciously and consistently make your commitment to your significant other a priority, regardless of what your partner does.
This is not time for a tit-for-tat situation. You don’t want to hold back action, waiting to see what your partner contributes; this would likely result in a stalemate. Once you have determined that you really want to get your relationship back on track, you don’t want to let anything get in the way of your ferocious determination to change whatever patterns of behavior lead to this situation.
If you were the one involved in the affair, end it with no thoughts of maintaining contact with the other person. If your partner is having difficulty trusting you, then be open about everything with him or her in an attempt to allay the fear. Aim for transparency in the relationship. Allow your life to become an open book.
If you were the partner engaged in a socially-acceptable affair, then you must reprioritize your life so that your partner and your relationship become of paramount importance. Cut back on the time you spend working. Ask for assistance with your children if they are monopolizing your time. Reduce the time you spend on other things and recommit to your primary relationship with your partner.
Step Three: Forgiveness
The third step is forgiveness. Recognize that neither of you is perfect and you are both capable of making hurtful mistakes. The affair does not have to become the one event of monumental importance in your relationship. The person who had the affair needs to become more forthcoming with information about his or her activities. The person who was the victim needs to stop punishing his or her partner through guilt and blame and, instead, begin to trust again.
People have been taught to believe that trust is a commodity to be earned by others. Once your partner has passed certain tests, you feel safe to extend your trust. I would like you to entertain the idea that trust can be used as a verb, rather than a noun. Whether or not you trust has so much more to do with who you are as a person than it does with whom your partner is. When you are secure in yourself and know that you are worthy to receive love, it is natural to trust, even if that trust has been violated.
Deciding to trust again means you must stop punishing your partner. We punish in several ways, and oftentimes with our emotions: We are angry, hurt, jealous, and insecure. These emotions are all designed to send a clear message, trying to elicit guilt from your partner. “Look what you did to me.” This is the worst form of punishment. Create the self-talk necessary to get through the rough spots.
Let go of the wrong that was done. Trust in yourself again, and trust in the Universal Spirit to always and forever provide you what you need when you need it. You will discover a sense of peace and calm that will sustain you through the challenging times.
Do you need some help working through an affair? Attend my Secrets of Happy Couples Retreat in San Antonio, TX.