In the research above, of the 20 per cent of us who have had an affair, only 17 per cent actually had sexual intercourse. This shows that some of us now see an affair as much more than just sex.
At the end of the day, it’s up to you and your partner to discuss and be very clear with each other on what you see as fidelity, and what constitutes infidelity. If these definitions are not clear between you it can cause endless trust problems.
Why people cheat
photo by JD Mason for Unsplash
It’s easy to declare an affair happened because he/she ‘is a selfish idiot’. But that sort of one-swipe blame never leads to resolution or healing.
Affairs don’t happen out of nowhere, they are cumulative and complicated. And relationships involve two people, both of whom are making choices, even if that is just to stay, or not communicate.
It’s unrealistic and unhelpful to think you can just forgive someone for an affair. Or for them, alternately, to think they should just have to say sorry and be forgiven.
There is no use in pretending to forgive someone if it’s not what you truly feel. It’s better to instead be honest with your partner about where you are at, and to take time to process your feelings honestly. Let them know if you want to forgive them and intend to do so with time, but don’t pretend. Otherwise your real feelings are more than likely to come out in an explosive way in the future.
Why is it so hard to get over a partner cheating?
Affairs are a betrayal of trust. When someone does something that damages our ability to trust, we can feel like our entire idea of what the world is, and what is and isn’t safe, is now on the chopping board.
Trust is such a primal instinct. From the moment we are born we instantly look to trust our caregiver, for example. So when our belief we can trust others is challenged, we can left feeling that life is dangerous. Or it can trigger old childhood pain. We are then not just dealing with the fallout of the affair, but a snowball of old hurts re-exposed. We might remember every partner that ever did us wrong, or even a parent betraying us.
The person who has been the victim of the affair can experience many negative emotions, including anxiety, low confidence, humiliation, jealousy and guilt. They may find it difficult to let go of the memory of the event and find themselves going round in circles with thoughts of how it happened.
The injured partner may find it hard to believe that the affair won’t happen again. They may find it hard to resist the urge to check their partner’s emails or Facebook page for reassurance, and might become distressed if their partner is late home or breaks a promise.
How to move on
If both partners decide that they want the relationship to continue, both will have to agree to work at rebuilding trust and establishing a fulfilling partnership together.
Forgiveness and acceptance take time. Small steps and a lot of communication are what’s needed to help the relationship to survive. Bumps and emotional outbursts are bound to happen along the way, so it will require long-term vision.
How can couples counselling help after an affair?
Although an affair is a deeply personal experience for both parties, this does not mean dealing with the emotions alone. Counselling can be instrumental in helping both partners to address a number of issues, both separately and together, to help repair the relationship.
exploring the dynamics of the relationship before the affair
remembering that at one point things were working
learning how to communicate again
remembering what was the relationship like before things went sour
identifying the real (not assumed) issues that led up to the event
recognising what needs and wants were not being met.
It can of course be a painful process, but your couples counsellor can help to mediate any difficult emotions and encourage open communication.
Doesn’t a couples counsellor force you to stay together?
Not at all. A couples counsellor is there to create a safe space for you to communicate with each other and find the best solution for both of you. If that is breaking up, a therapist can make the process of ending a relationship healthier and kinder. Given how long bad breakups can go on and fester, that’s not such a bad investment!
Andrea M. Darcy is a mental health and wellbeing expert with training in person-centred counselling and coaching. She often writes about trauma, relationships, and ADHD, and works as a consultant helping people plan their perfect therapy journey. Find her on Instagram @am_darcy