Marriages fall apart for many different reasons, but one of the most common and most challenging to overcome is the discovery that one partner has “cheated” on the other.
Though most often it involves explicit sexual acts with someone other than one’s spouse or committed partner, there are also couples torn apart by a partner’s use of pornography, a purely emotional relationship with no sexual contact, virtual affairs, even just ogling or flirting with someone.
According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, national surveys indicate that 15% of married women and 25% of married men have had extramarital affairs. The incidence is about 20% higher when emotional and sexual relationships without intercourse are included. As more women began working outside the home, their chances of having an affair have increased accordingly.
The good news is, depending on what caused one partner to have an affair and how determined a couple is to remain together, infidelity doesn’t have to result in divorce. In fact,
Esther Perel, New York based psychotherapist and author of The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, and other marriage counsellors have found couples who choose to recover from and rebuild after infidelity often end up with a stronger, more loving and mutually understanding relationship than they had previously.
Michele Weiner-Davis, a psychotherapist and author of “Healing from Infidelity” says: “people who’ve been betrayed need to know that there’s no shame in staying in the marriage — they’re not doormats, they’re warriors,”
“The gift they provide to their families by working through the pain is enormous.”
Perel concedes that “some affairs will deliver a fatal blow to a relationship.”
But she wrote, “Others may inspire change that was sorely needed. Betrayal cuts to the bone, but the wound can be healed.
“Plenty of people care deeply for the well-being of their partners even while lying to them, just as plenty of those who have been betrayed continue to love the ones who lied to them and want to find a way to stay together.”
Perel says most affairs result from dissatisfaction with the marital relationship, fueled by temptation and opportunity. One partner may spend endless hours and days on work, household chores, outside activities or even social media, to the neglect of their spouse’s emotional and sexual needs.
Often betrayed partners were unaware of what was lacking in the relationship and did not suspect that trouble was brewing.
Or the problem may result from a partner’s personal issues, like an inability to deal with conflict, a fear of intimacy, deep-seated insecurity or changes in life circumstances that rob the marital relationship of the attention and affection that once sustained it.
But short of irreversible incompatibility or physical or emotional abuse, with professional counselling and a mutual willingness to preserve the marriage, therapists maintain that couples stand a good chance of overcoming the trauma of infidelity and avoiding what is often the more painful trauma of divorce.
Weiner-Davis points out that “except in the most severe cases such as ongoing physical abuse or addiction,” divorce often creates more problems than it solves, an observation that prompted her to write her first book, “Divorce Busting.”
Weiner-Davis readily admits that recovering from infidelity is hard work and the process cannot be rushed. Yet, as she wrote in her new book, “many clients have shared that had it not been for their partner’s affair, they’d never have looked at, discussed, and healed some of the underlying issues that were broken at the foundation of their relationship.”
Both she and Perel have found that, with the benefit of good counselling, some couples “divorce” their old marriages and start anew with a relationship that is more honest and loving.
It is important to find a therapist who can help the couple weather the many ups and downs that are likely to occur in working through the issues that lead to infidelity, Weiner-Davis said. “If they expect setbacks and are willing to work through them, the odds are good that they’ll end up with a healed marriage.”
“Infidelity is a unique situation that requires unique therapeutic skills,” she said.
She suggested that in selecting a therapist, couples ask if the therapist has any training and experience in treating infidelity and how successful the therapist has been in helping marriages heal.
New York Times