Can A Relationship Thrive After An Affair?

download36When a relationship has been plagued by an affair, there is tremendous fallout. Suspicion, the loss of trust, blame, humiliation, intense anger, hurt and grief all follow as natural results of relationship or marital betrayal. Infidelity is any act which brings a third person emotionally or and sexually, into an exclusive or covenanted relationship. Whatever motivated the affair, the wronged party, will begin to self-doubt and question the genuineness of the relationship. In the case of a wife being a victim to infidelity, these thoughts may extend away from her own marriage to focus on the external party, causing a barrage of understandable questions. Was she better in bed? Was she more loving and attentive to my spouse? Is she really a “whore” with no moral compass? Is she a threat to my long-term happiness?

While these questions may never be completely answered, their existence reveals a trend, found especially among women affected by infidelity; the tendency to project outwards away from their partner to enable them to blame the other woman. This is especially true of women who are considering letting their man off the hook by overlooking the real source of the affair. Apportioning blame to the other woman can become a vital part of what I shall call “the psychology of acceptance”. If a woman can convince herself that her partner’s cheating ways are not entirely his fault, then she can permit herself to either accept his waywardness or accept him again post-affair. This trend of thinking may also cause her to justify confronting the other woman. But is this ever a good idea?

In order for a marriage to “benefit” from infidelity, if I may be allowed to use that term loosely, the infidel must be willing to accept total responsibility for his act of indiscretion. He will not be encouraged to do this, if his partner, in an attempt to fix things, rushes off to put the other woman in her place for messing with her man. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with being territorial with one’s partner in the face of an external threat, a man who has erred must have the courage to face the music of his own making. His wife should stay away from jumping into the fray as his saviour but should allow him to feel the full weight of his actions. Does this mean letting the other woman off the hook? Well not entirely; she of course is also responsible especially if she knew that the man was involved in a relationship.

Confronting her to my mind is, however, conditional. If she is a close friend, an acquaintance, work colleague, family member, member of the same church or organization, then there is some scope for direct confrontation regarding her involvement in the affair. Confrontation is understood within the context of this woman having had a prior relationship or association with the wife. A prior relationship with the wife means that her sense of betrayal will be double-edged; and this is a difficulty she may need to reconcile in her emotions, with respect to coming to terms with the infidelity. If the woman is a stranger, however, such confrontation is ill-advised and the wife may well spare herself the pain that such a meeting might cause.

In any respect, a woman’s desire to move on in her relationship may also be hinged on her ability to forgive or “let go” the other woman, whether or not she is known to her. Affairs can create a context for relationship introspection and ultimate improvement. Repair and restoration, however, lie first within the purview of the infidel. Honest evaluation of why the relationship was vulnerable or an explanation as to why the cheater acted on its vulnerability should be forthcoming. If this is perceived as an honest attempt to explain his actions, then this can open the door to deeper understanding. Taking the initiative to repair the relationship, accepting responsibility or admitting to individual weakness also shifts blame from the other woman and can convince the wounded partner that a man means business and is ready to grow up.

Forgiveness after infidelity is desired for both personal and relationship growth; it should not, however, be viewed as an instant one-shot action. At best, it is a process involving active dialogue which should lead to a decision to forgive. This is an act of the will and not a feeling. Engaging the grief and forgiveness process after an affair is a mutual act required for healing. Vocalizing apologies in clear terms and setting conditions for fresh accountability in the relationship, are all needed steps towards eventual relationship renewal.

Why Women Cheat

couple-lying-in-bed1While there is still plenty of debate about who cheats most, it cannot be denied that women’s changing social and economic circumstances have perhaps widened the opportunity for cheating to occur. We rationalize that women become vulnerable to affairs because of loneliness and a lack of emotional intimacy with their partners. Women are our mothers, sisters and social nurturers so we feel uncomfortable blacklisting them in the same way we do men and often try to provide excuses. Examining some of the more unconventional reasons why this cheating occurs should, therefore, be instructive.

Sexual Independence
The idea that women cheat for emotional connection while men cheat for sex, is a common stereotype and perhaps misperception. The fact is that today, we live in a society which is far more self-focussed. We want more education, better jobs, healthier bodies and yes; better sex. Women are encouraged to go after what they want and to define their lives on their own terms. In the sex department, this has led to some women seeking out men who they believe will meet their sexual needs in a way not currently being met by their partner. Admittedly, some men aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be in the sex department. Men can often have a very scripted, formulaic approach to intercourse which can drive any woman looking for sexual creativity around the bend; you know the usual two minutes of breast fondling and two minutes of vaginal groping, before setting out for candy-land. This boring and predictable approach to sex can influence a woman to seek sexual diversity elsewhere especially if she feels that she does not have a voice in her relationship. She in essence uses the affair as a way to speak or claim what she wants sexually because unfortunately, this may be easier than opening up to an insensitive spouse.

Empowerment
Does every dissatisfied woman just get up one morning and decide to cheat? I think not. For the most part, women do tend to have a greater sense of being responsible for the health of their primary relationships. There are, however, also several factors which may cause a woman to divert from this trend. Her age, sense of financial security, and the extent to which she may feel that she has been cheated out of relational happiness and fulfillment can also influence her infidelity. On the other hand, a woman who is financially dependent on a man and feels closeted and controlled by him, may also cheat as a means of attempting to reclaim her personal space and autonomy. Such a woman has an affair to have “one up” on her partner. She is secretly doing something of which, for all intents and purposes, he is totally unaware and this can cause her to feel that she has a greater sense of control in her life. The affair may seem like the one thing over which her partner has little say and she pursues it to feel a sense of personal empowerment. A constant need for novel experiences or a need to recreate the thrill of a new romance can also lure a woman outside the boundaries of her relationship where she begins to feel that she is finally getting all that she deserves both emotionally and sexually.

She Wants More
Sometimes a woman steps out because she just wants more. There can be a deep sense of emotional or spiritual dissatisfaction which she experiences and which she is hoping that her intimate relationship will fulfill. When her primary relationship fails to heal her damaged emotional state, she opts for an affair hoping that such will do the trick. Very often she discovers that more sex, expensive gifts, more orgasms and loads of attention, does not accomplish this. She may have been scarred emotionally and is struggling with self-esteem issues. Her sexual relationships are therefore an attempt to make her feel more desired and valuable as a person. Because her core issues are never exposed, she can become trapped in a lifestyle of serial affairs.

As commonplace as cheating has become among both men and women, it continues to offend most of us.  Whatever the reasons given, it is a serious act of relationship dishonesty and disloyalty which is not to be excused. The desire for commitment and sexual exclusivity is a core need which many of us share. Unravelling the reasons why cheating occurs has to be the starting point towards relational healing.

Denise J Charles is Director & Counsellor/Coach at Better Blends Relationship Institute e mail betterblends@gmail.com

Bouncing Back From An Affair

sexless-marriageThe idea of “bouncing back” from an affair actually doesn’t sit very well with me. It seems somehow to suggest a happy, cheerful recovery period and belies the stress inherent in dealing with the aftermath of infidelity. When I think of the movement past an affair, I tend to think more of a difficult, painful, reluctant crawl back to wherever that couple was before or hopefully to an even better place.

When a relationship which is designed to be sexually exclusive, is threatened by a third party, then that relationship runs the risk of becoming unglued at the seams. Sex with an “outside” partner, threatens the core of what marriage stands for; the idea of forsaking all others. While there are a variety of reasons why people cheat, if a coupe desires to move beyond the affair, then there is the need for honest reflection, to determine why the affair happened.

The source

People cheat for a variety of reasons including relationship neglect, boredom, sexual dissatisfaction, emotional disconnection, sexual greed, unhappiness, low self-esteem, and this list goes on. This knowledge of “why” is critical because it identifies the relationship’s weaknesses. If the couple intends to go forward, this information will be necessary to preserve relationship health and to safeguard it against future threats. This of course assumes that the underlying issues are exposed and remedied through honest and open communication.

Responsibility

While a knowledge of what made the relationship vulnerable to infidelity is great, the reason for cheating should not be used to excuse the act. In other words, the partner who understands why he/she cheated must also be willing to assume responsibility for the affair. It is therefore never kosher to intimate that your partner made you do it. The guilty party must own up to a moment of weakness, bad judgment, a lack of integrity, selfishness and the like. Admitting where you went wrong is critical to the experience of forgiveness.

Forgiveness

Forgiveness should be seen as a mutual, active process and not as a one-time event. The words “I forgive you” must never be forced or said prematurely. The victim of infidelity needs to be given time to grieve the relationship which was. This grieving process is experienced differently by individuals and may be evidenced by emotional and sexual withdrawal, depression, anger, rage, crying or sessions of screaming and throwing things. Whatever the case, it is critical that the victim of infidelity is allowed to vent before there is even am attempt at “fixing” things.

This venting is also often a process and not a one-off event which is characterized by the convenient forgetting of all that has occurred. An affair forever changes a relationship and even though healing is possible, what was lost can never be regained and as painful as this might be for both parties to accept, it must be, if there is to be true progress. This process may be assisted through counseling, therapy or personal pursuits like journaling which help to clarify difficult emotions.

Redefining

Redefining the damaged relationship is necessary and should be seen as an on-going part of the healing process. Deciding together how you want your new relationship to look is going to be a major step in getting your couple groove back. Since an affair involves a fair amount of deceit, then coming clean about all aspects of the affair will be critical to moving forward. This means a new commitment to honesty and accountability, in an attempt to rebuild trust. Questions are to be expected and should be answered candidly.

Since rekindling a healthy sex life is likely to be more challenging, the guilty party should take the cue from his/her partner. While sex itself can be a great healer, it should never be forced prematurely. At the same time, carving out special time together for meaningful communication, attentiveness, romantic gestures and the like, are useful strategies for reconnecting as a couple.