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When a spouse/partner is unfaithful it may seem like the end of the marriage/relationship is inevitable, but this does not have to be the case.
When an affair is discovered or comes to light it is a huge trauma for the spouse/ partner who was unaware of its existence. It can also be a traumatic experience for the partner having the affair. In some circumstances the disclosure or discovery of an affair can be a relief to the partner involved..
Challenges for couples after an affair
One of the first challenges for any couple in the immediate term is to try to re- establish some sense of equilibrium, a way of being together in a calm and measured way both for themselves and their children.
Role of a counsellor working with a couple after an affair
The expertise of a marriage/relationship counsellor can be vital in the aftermath of an affair. The counsellor can help the couple to re-establish a safe environment which enables them both to express their feelings and needs, and listen to each other. The role of the counsellor is not to give advice or to direct the couple to a particular solution, but to help the couple to examine the nature of the difficulties they have as a couple, explore all of the choices available to them and to help them to reach a resolution that is acceptable to both.
Rebuilding the marriage/relationship?
Couples can be very confused in the aftermath of an affair as to whether they wish to continue in the marriage /relationship or not. After the initial anger a spouse whose trust has been betrayed can often want to rebuild the marriage/relationship. The spouse/partner who had the affair can often also be overwhelmed by the potential loss of the marriage/relationship and want to rebuild it. There are many instances of couples rebuilding relationships after one spouse/partner has been unfaithful. Some of the factors that can influence the outcome for the marriage/relationship after an affair are:
- the quality of the relationship in the first place,
- the feelings the couple have for one another,
- the level of commitment of both partners to remaining in the marriage/relationship and to doing the work involved in rebuilding it.
- the length of time the affair has been ongoing for
- whether the affair has completely ended or not
- the degree of hurt felt by the person whose trust has been betrayed
- whether or not the person whose trust has been betrayed feels able to risk re-committing to their partner.
- whether or not there have been previous affairs
Expectations of counselling after an affair.
When couples present for counselling in the aftermath of an affair they can both have different expectations of what might happen in the counselling process. The spouse /partner who had the affair can present as being very contrite and guilty. He or she usually wants to move on from the affair, does not want to talk about any aspect of it, the reason, the person involved, the activities involved, and in particular the sexual and emotional aspects of it. However the partner who had the affair must realise that the affair cannot be erased from memory in the immediate term and that he/she will have to answer some questions from his/her spouse/partner. In addition he/she will have to make every effort to rebuild trust. This will involve being transparent and accountable to his/her spouse/partner about phone conversations, emails, text messages, and out of home activities and travel for the foreseeable future not as a punishment but to help their spouse/partner to build up trust again.
The spouse /partner whose trust was betrayed can present in the counselling room wanting to focus exclusively on the affair, the reason for it, the person involved, what they looked like, what they did, what they said, where their spouse/partner went with them and did with them, and particularly the emotional and sexual aspects of the relationship.
The spouse/partner whose trust was betrayed has to realise that no reason whatsoever could excuse their spouse/partner for having an affair and it can be futile trying to figure out the reason. The reason for the affair lies with their spouse/partner and the spouse/partner whose trust was betrayed did not cause an affair. There is no acceptable reason for any individual to have an affair when they have already committed to having an exclusive relationship with their spouse/partner. If the spouse partner who had the affair was unhappy in the relationship the option of discussing their dissatisfaction with their partner was available to them at all times. Unhappiness in a marriage/relationship does not give an individual license to engage in an affair.
A marriage/ relationship that survives an affair can change for the better. Couples can develop a new awareness and understanding of themselves as individuals, as a couple and of their marriage/relationship. Their understanding of each other’s needs and fears can be explored and can reach a deeper level. Their expectations of each other and their responsibilities towards each other can be discussed and teased out in depth and they may both be clearer about and committed to building and sustaining an open, honest and nurturing marriage/relationship. The spouse/ partner who had the affair will realise that he/she should never be dishonest or unfaithful in the relationship. This increased level of awareness of each other's needs, expectations, vision for the future can help a couple to stay focused on each other as loving companions on life's journey, keenly aware of what has happened in the past and determined to avoid a similar fate in the future