I read an article this week about the effects of affairs on relationships where there are kids involved. It was an article on Parents.com which is why the article focused on affairs and kids but the points made seem pretty true even for those who don’t have kids. You can click here to read it. Affairs are a hot topic. Everyone seems to have an opinion on the “right” way to deal with them. It is also a topic where lots of people, especially those who have never experienced an affair, believe there is only one “right” way to deal with it. I think the reason people become so attached to their position is because it makes them feel safer around the whole topic. Truthfully there are many injuries in relationships that people often react to as though they are contagious. Affairs, divorce, open or polyamorous relationships. Our reaction is often fueled by fear but instead of getting curious we become rigid. I am not stating that we all need to become more open to the idea of being in a dishonest relationship, rather I think we need to take a moment to realize that there are many things we can’t actually know until we have that specific experience. The other thing to consider is that there are many different kinds of affairs that can happen in a relationship: Physical, Emotional, a one night stand or an entirely separate life.
In my practice I have worked with lots of individuals who both have cheated or have been cheated on. Many of the people I have worked with who have been the ones to cheat on their partner are still good people. They have engaged in dishonest, and therefore unhealthy and unfair behavior, but they aren’t necessarily “evil” as many people like to believe. Contrary to popular belief, many of them still love their partners but can get caught up in the intoxicating escape of someone outside of their primary relationship who attends to them in a way that their primary partner either doesn’t or hasn’t in a long time. On the flip side, there are people who cheat because they don’t have the courage to be honest and believe they should be entitled to have it all. Obviously when this happens, it is incredibly destructive and self-serving.
The common response people have when discussing infidelity is that the relationship has to end. For many this is true and is the only healthy way forward. Many people who have been cheated on, however, still choose to stay in their relationship and try to make it work. Doing so doesn’t make them “weak” or “insecure” but rather committed to a relationship that they believe still has potential to be fulfilling and happy. The biggest determinant is making sure both people are willing to do the work it takes to make the relationship and themselves emotionally and mentally healthier so that the relationship can exist in a more honest and connected way. Esther Perel, a psychologist who writes about affairs frequently says to couples where infidelity has occurred “your first marriage is over. Would you like to create a second one together?” You can’t keep things the same and expect to have a healthy relationship with yourself or each other going forward.
Deciding what to do after an affair is a really personal decision, one that has to be made by both people and one where both people have to be aligned on what they want in order for it to work. As with most things in relationships, there isn’t a one size fits all approach that we can take when faced with highly emotionally charged matters of the heart. If you are going through this, what matters is taking the time to listen to what feels right for you. Get honest with yourself and ask your partner to do the same. Try to drown out the noise of other people and instead invest in your own healing so that regardless of the outcome, staying together or splitting up, you can be okay.