Staying with a partner who has been unfaithful is by no means easy, but if you both want it to work, you can rebuild your relationship. By Rebekah Kendal
Being betrayed by someone you love turns your world upside down. Think Humpty Dumpty after he fell off the wall.
You start to question everything: the life you’ve built together, your partner’s love for you, perhaps even your own self-worth. Things that once seemed so sure and steadfast now seem farcical. You feel like a fool. You feel angry, sad and confused. How can you put it all back together again?
Be true to yourself
When it comes to making a decision about whether to end the relationship or try to make it work, there is no right answer. You may be feeling pressure from your partner, friends, family or even society to make a certain choice, but ultimately you need to figure out what’s right for you, and only you.
‘There could be many reasons for staying with a partner after an affair,’ clinical psychologist Taryn McGowan says. ‘A couple could be reluctant to separate due to the emotional and financial impact on their children and so choose to stay together and work through the crisis. Every relationship is different, with its own dynamics, so processing your feelings regarding the betrayal may help you make a decision.’
Taryn suggests asking yourself the following questions, and answering them honestly:
• Do you think your relationship can be repaired?
• Are you both willing to work on the relationship in an open way?
• How would staying affect you?
• How would leaving affect you?
• How much commitment do you have to each other, as well as for the relationship?
Processing the infidelity
We all deal with betrayal differently. Perhaps you feel compelled to hear every sordid detail; perhaps you want to know nothing more than that it happened. However, it can be useful for couples to examine just why the infidelity occurred.
‘Was it a result of poor impulse control and a spur-of-the-moment decision, or a search for emotional intimacy with another person? The rationale behind the behaviour can lead a couple to address a deficiency within the relationship and look at ways to repair and strengthen their bond,’ explains Taryn.
For this process to take place, your partner must be willing to discuss the affair in an open and honest manner, and you’ll need to be willing to examine the role you play in the relationship and how this may have contributed to your partner seeking someone else. It won’t be easy and it is bound to stir up a lot of unpleasant feelings.
‘It’s important to acknowledge every emotion and discuss it with your partner. A crucial aspect of the process is for the individual who had the affair to listen – really listen – to the emotions that have been elicited by the betrayal.
‘Pain, resentment, anger, frustration and shock are a few of the feelings that may be experienced, and allowing a space for the partner to explore and express these is very important to the healing process,’ says Taryn.
‘Although one or both partners may be eager to move forward, this is an integral part of constructing a new foundation for your relationship.’
Moving forward together
Although, at this point, it may be hard to imagine that you will ever trust your partner completely again, that trust can be regained if both partners are committed to restoring the relationship. Taryn points out that it is essential to negotiate how your partner can help you in rebuilding this component.
‘Discuss what you would expect from him or her and negotiate certain “rules” that will help. Recovering from an affair is not a linear process, but rather staggered with ups and downs, facilitated by honest communication between both parties.’
Taryn explains that an affair can be looked at as a symptom of an underlying illness in the relationship. You cannot expect the relationship to work if you both carry on exactly as you did before the affair. You need to start building a new relationship. ‘This can be achieved by asking each other what you both can do to meet the other’s needs, as well as the potentially destructive actions that should be avoided. The key, once again, is communication.’