Unfortunately, I often hear about affairs in my work as a couples therapist. It is a difficult situation for both parties to cope with and the healing process is not easy. The first part is identifying what constitutes an affair. In an article called, “The State of Extramarital Affairs” a couples therapist, Karen Rushkin, states “We are in a relationship revolution, trying to figure out what even constitutes an affair. From a marriage therapists perspective, it’s the secrecy and the intimate connection with another human. A betrayal can be as simple as a sext.” This article, which was written in in 2013 by Melissa Schorr for the Boston Globe explores lots of aspects of affairs, what constitutes cheating, what are common triggers and how to heal afterwards. By the time my couples come in to my office, the affair has typically gone in to full swing and both partners are reeling.
The most widespread misconception is that affairs happen for sexual reasons. Most often I think betrayal happens due to disconnection and a loss of faith in one’s partner or in the nature of the connection. Marriage takes many skills that most of us are not taught. “It’s the one area of life that has more potential to make us happy, and we don’t bother to get educated, we think we should just know how to do it”, Brecht says. I think many people who see good marriages feel particularly bereft when they are not able to re-create that in their own lives. Finding the right person is a process and maintaining a healthy relationship is a journey that is best undertaken with lots of skills, patience and love.
There are many difficult aspects of coping with an affair. Not only does one lose faith in their partner, one often loses faith in themselves and their ability to trust what is true and good. There are lots of ways to cope with infidelity: there are support groups out there like survivinginfidelity.com. There are several great books out there on the subject: “Getting Past the Affair”, by Snyder, Baucom, and Coop Gordon and “Back from Betrayal”by Schneider and “Mending a Shattered Heart”, by Carnes.
Ultimately I think couples therapy is the best treatment for anyone coping with an infidelity and/or considering staying in the marriage. “Slightly more than half of men and women who admit they had an affair will end up divorced”, reports 2012 study in the Journal of Family Issues. What makes someone stay and commit to working on the marriage is also multifaceted, a big part may be when people realize that though their partner took action to step outside of the marriage they may have played a part in causing the disconnection that led to the infidelity. This is extremely hard work in or out of therapy but if a couple is able to work through it, I believe they may be able to create something strong and meaningful on the other side.