Few things harm a relationship more than an affair. Whether the affair is emotional, a ‘one night stand,’ long term or a cyber-affair, the betrayal delivers a life altering blow. Will the injury to the relationship prove fatal?
In my experience as a relationship counselor there are some essential steps a couple must take for there to be any hope the relationship can survive an affair. If done wisely, there is hope the relationship will come through the ordeal stronger than before.
1) End the affair immediately. Kindly, completely, utterly. This has to come first if you are serious about reconciliation. ‘Friendship’ is not an option.
2) Re-commit to the relationship. If either of you aren’t sure about staying together then, for God’s sake, say so! Confusion is OK just don’t let that be an excuse to avoid talking about the reality.
3) Full disclosure. If your partner wants to know the details you owe them the details. Help them understand the reality because believe me, as bad as it is, it isn’t as bad as what your partner is imagining. Sometimes they really don’t want to know. Fine, let them tell you that directly. Don’t assume it.
4) Stop running and face the pain. Avoiding pain is often what led to the affair in the first place. Facing it is terrifying but necessary. Just shut up and listen; take courage and talk.
5) Walk on hot coals. Express your remorse and sincerely say that you will do whatever it takes to re-focus on the relationship. Then do it.
6) Take responsibility. Resist assigning blame. The affair is a symptom of something very wrong in the relationship. Both parties need to dig deep to discover and accept their share of responsibility. If the real issues aren’t addressed nothing has changed.
7) Forgiveness. Everyone involved needs forgiveness in order to heal. Both parties are injured, both parties are grieving, both parties need forgiveness.
A good relationship counselor can help you negotiate these steps, and more, steps that may be unique to your particular situation. This is just the beginning. To fully heal you need…
8) Time. Once injured, trust is like those tiny flowers that manage to live in the harsh environment of the tundra. Protect it, cherish it and with time something that once appeared so vulnerable will turn into something beautiful and incredibly strong with deep, sturdy roots.
Photo courtesy of Robert in Toronto