Your partner has committed adultery. Possibly the worst betrayal you can imagine. Your marriage is in deep distress and you are rocked to your core. Your partner says he’s sorry, but it isn’t enough. You both decide counseling is in order and you spend a few weeks or months in therapy trying to weather the crisis. You know you have to rebuild trust in your relationship, try to forgive, and begin to be a couple again. Essentially, you have to reboot your relationship.
Some couples survive this crisis better than others. Some even thrive. Basically, it depends on how well you can get past the trauma of infidelity. Once you do, your marriage will probably fall into one of thee patterns.
1) Picking the Scab. There are people who just can’t move forward. They are so hurt that even months or years later they think of yet another aspect of how aggrieved they are. They continue to replay that sad tape over and over in their heads. Their bitterness knows no bounds.
And their partners—even if they committed the adultery—contribute with their own recriminations. “If you were more responsive I wouldn’t have had to go somewhere else for sex,” is a good example. Some people decide to remain together, yet forever pick the scab of the wound, ensuring it will never heal.
Sometimes the wounded party takes the moral high ground, using her hurt to feel superior to her partner. This constant reminder that he is flawed and committed a sin against her is her consolation, but it never allows the wound to heal. In fact, while it may provide temporary solace, it’s an attitude that guarantees long-term unhappiness.
Making love is a perfect bonding experience, yet sex is sometimes difficult. “If I had sex with him, all I would be able to think of would be him with another partner. Did he do the same things with her? Did he have the same expressions? Did he enjoy it more with her than me?” Another problem with post adultery sex is that it signals that all is well between partners when all is not yet well. “I can’t have sex with him because he would think everything is okay. That he can have sex with someone else and then turn around and have sex with me. It’s like giving him the stamp of approval, and I can’t do that.”
2) Soldiering On. Some people want to get back to the way life was before infidelity. They try to smooth things over. They just keep on keeping on because they can’t devise a better solution. Maybe addressing the situation directly is just too painful—many people avoid confrontation like the Plague. Maybe they have a perfunctory talk without truly understanding the root causes of the affair, or making any improvements in their relationship. These couples move past infidelity, but nothing assures them that another affair won’t happen. Their marriages are not changed for the better—they just continue on as things were. They maintain a peaceful, if fragile, truce.
3) Reinventing the Relationship. The most successful couples navigate the turmoil and finally come to a point where they can think about their relationship differently. Because it will never be the same. But it could, with some soul searching, become even better. These are couples who have experienced remorse. The party who strayed is truly sorry and demonstrates it often. The aggrieved party finds it in her heart to forgive. Enough time passes for the hurt and anger to subside. They begin to think of themselves as a couple again. And they think of the infidelity as something that happened to both of them. A crisis that they weathered together.
Couples who have a second chance at reinventing themselves have found a way to trust again. They look upon the experience as one that is shared—it happened to them both. And now they are working together to rewrite their lives—to reinvent a new way to be together. They’ve learned from their experience and going forward they are going to be better than ever.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: https://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact