30 Sep How Partners Can Recover After An Affair
Can partners recover after an affair? In short, yes.
Working with a married couple after one of them had been discovered having a recent affair, I was listening carefully when one of them said:
“I just want things to go back how they were”
It was a wish to “wipe the slate” clean, and totally understandable given that this couple had over 20 years of marriage behind them, a marriage until now free of the challenges that an extra-marital affair inevitably brings.
However it was also a naive wish, and totally impossible, because the relative innocence of their pre-affair marriage simply did not exist anymore.
Given that it was a comment made by the partner who had the affair, you might imagine how it was received by the “innocent” other. It didn’t land well. Nor should it. Relationships can’t go back in time.
After an affair, the only way is forward. Relationships can and do change for the better after all sorts of challenges, including affairs.
For couples choosing to repair after an affair, there’s work to do. They need to face what happened and allow healing and new relationship growth to occur. The work will be different for different couples, but for all couples, the future of their relationship hinges on them doing it well.
Here’s what I’ve seen is important for couples wanting to recover after an affair:
By the “offending” partner who had the affair:
Immediate and complete termination of all forms of contact with the third person
Acknowledgement of what happened, but not necessarily in great detail
Commitment to “look inward” and uncover personal hidden motivations for the affair
Willingness to listen to their partner without defensiveness and with patience and empathy
By the “innocent” partner who did not have the affair:
An opportunity to safely share how he or she was affected by the affair
An opportunity to ask necessary questions, and to know which questions to leave unasked
Willingness to review the relationship as a “system” and to be accountable for his/her part in it
Request for accountability from partner, including transparency with social media and mobile phones
By both partners:
Make and accept apologies where needed
Avoid toxic communication behaviours, including name calling, criticism and contempt
Commit to learning about each other through the experience
Grieve for the “pre-affair” relationship that’s been lost
Look to the future and start creating the next chapter together
Pamela Pannifex is a psychotherapist, marriage therapist, and naturopath and founder of Sunshine Holistic Counselling on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. For over 20 years she has been helping people create personal wellbeing and relationships that thrive. Contact Pamela here.