Recovering from a partner’s infidelity is one of the top reasons that brings couples into relationship counselling. The partner who’s cheated may feel remorseful for what they’ve done, and/or ashamed that they’ve been found out. The one who’s been cheated on may still be very hurt and angry about what happened, and anxious to know why. Trust has been eroded, and it can feel like a steep uphill journey to recover what’s been lost between them.
Yet an affair need not be fatal for a relationship. As couples counsellors, we don’t judge what either partner has said, thought or done. The relationship is our client, not the individuals within the relationship, and so we work to uncover the dynamics of the relationship and what may have led to the affair in the first place.
People can have affairs in all kinds of different ways: it may have involved a series of secret trysts behind the partner’s back, it may have been a one-off fling, or it may have simmered in cyberspace for months or years. Affairs don’t always involve sex, either: some infidelity can be more of an ‘emotional affair’ where the intense connection between two people can become way more than a friendship, but they just don’t want to step across a line and make it physical. But all affairs can hurt.
Why people cheat
However the affair manifested, in relationship therapy we seek to understand the reason why one partner cheated. In our experience, people generally have affairs for the following reasons:
- Boredom: The relationship may have gone stale. The frequency and variety of sex may have dipped significantly. They may have been together for a long time and just want to try something new to help them feel sexy, alive and wanted again.
- Curiosity: Someone takes their fancy and they just want to have fun. This is often the case with one-off flings, especially when there is little chance of the partner finding out.
- Resentment: This reason is slightly more complex, and may indicate a level of toxicity in the relationship. The partner who cheats may feel disregarded, taken-for-granted, or even mocked or ridiculed in the relationship. Having an affair with someone who appreciates them can feel as though they’re taking revenge on their ungrateful partner.
- Fulfilment: There’s a part of the person that doesn’t feel fulfilled in their life, work or current relationship. The affair can make them feel as though they’ve met their soul mate who ‘gets’ them in a way their partner doesn’t. The person they have the affair usually has entirely different qualities from their partner. This type of affair can feel like wish fulfilment and may reside in fantasy only.
How an affair can save a relationship
If the affair has been discovered and the couple want to work on their future relationship, we’ve found that moving on from an affair can help the relationship in these ways:
- A chance to renew boundaries in the relationship and set out new, healthier and more exciting ways of being with each other.
- It can jolt people out of inertia or boredom or taking the partner for granted.
- Getting to know each other again may help to rekindle desire and remind them why they fell in love in the first place.
- Partners can become more conscious and mindful of how their actions can impact on the other. Their behaviours and choices can continue to put the relationship first rather than their individual needs.
- Building trust brick-by-brick can help establish stronger foundations for their future together.
If the affair doesn’t get discovered, then we often work with the individual rather than the partner. Sometimes someone will come to therapy because they feel guilty about having an affair but actually feel happier now there’s an extra person in their life. The new person can fulfil the fantasy side of their life, and allows them to explore new avenues in their thinking and feeling. Having an affair, whether short or long term, can help them be more committed to their relationship because they’re not lacking excitement, and they don’t feel as though they are missing out on anything in life. In short, an affair can keep their main relationship intact if they choose not to tell the partner and keep the affair secret.
As we said, relationship therapists don’t judge. We do help couples and individuals work out what they really want, however.
Couples may choose to work through their issues in therapy together. But if it emerges that the affair is a symptom of deeper malaise in the partnership, couples counselling can also support the partners as they work through their feelings about separating and/or divorcing. An affair can sometimes turn out to be the exit card that one partner wanted to play but feared the consequences of doing so. An affair can sometimes set both partners free from a relationship that has run its course.
If you would like some support with your relationship, get in touch with our team. You can book a session with one of our couples counsellors by calling 020 8673 4545 or emailing [email protected]