On discovering an affair
Discovering an affair usually rocks more than the foundation and can leave you feeling physically sick, disorientated, completely unsure what you should do, Here are some thoughts based on my experience as a counsellor:
1. TALK to your partner - particularly if you have children. If you decide to separate, you will still need a channel of communication.Even in the face of the strong negative feelings. your children need you to conduct a polite relationship. So talk, calmly, and find out the facts.
2. ASK what you need to know. This is particularly true if you are trying to heal the breach. Tell you partner they should answer you honestly, even where they might think truthfulness would hurt (‘yes, I did see her on your birthday’) - because knowing the facts will help you process. It also establishes honesty for the future. Finally, tell you partner that they have been aware of the truth for a lot longer than you have, so you need to ask questions to ‘catch up.’
3. BEAR IN MIND that the reason affairs hit you so hard is because you have invested your most primal desire for security in the relationship - so you feel like the kid in the shopping mall who turns round and realises mum and dad aren’t there.’Im lost!’ Your partner has triggered deep, unconscious material in you.
4. CONSIDER why people have affairs. It is not because a marriage has failed, or even that sex has become infrequent. it is usually because the person who had the affair reconnected with a lost sense of romance and eroticism, usually through someone showing an interest in them. Everyday life in a long-term relationship fundamentally undermines eroticism, and keeping both love and desire going is really hard work.
5. REMEMBER when your partner says ‘but I still love you’ that is probably true - the affair wasn’t about love. Neither was it just about sex - it was about a romantic desire unburdened by the weight of the everyday. They DID break the agreement between you; and they didn’t bear your feelings in mind. BUT - they didn’t intend to hurt you. And they can mean it when the say they love you.
6. ASK YOURSELF whether the normal jealousy you are bound to feel may be
partly envy - ‘how come YOU get to break the rules? - don’t you think I would have liked to thrown off every-day life, and escaped into a romantic
dream?’ Actually, a lot of people have tit-for-tat affairs, and you can understand why. One of the effects of an affair is to make you question if you are still desirable. So, you find someone to show you desire. (But not really recommended if you want to keep things as simple as you can).
7. DECIDE that you will use this as a time for renegotiation. Have YOU really been happy? What do you want in the relationship - or want back? Has the love and security side felt friendly, warm, respectful, safe and companionable? Has the romantic side offered you energised, intimate conversation, playfulness and (at least occasional) hot sex? What needs to change FOR YOU? Will you listen to what needs to change for your partner? Or do you think the relationship has run its course?
8. TRUST that you can rebuild trust. Not blind trust: a trust based on the knowledge of each other’s human frailty, and on the difficulty of long-term relationships. You can offer ACTIVE trust - make it your partner’s business whether they want to accept, and stick to, your new contract.
9. TAKE HEART that millions of couple have trodden this path before. You can survive it: and you can also leave with dignity, even if you have children, Get yourself out of the victim position and realise this is your choice.
10. Finally, TRY relationship counselling. It works - 80% of couples who tried it report that it improved their relationship. It opens up safer,more productive ways of communicating.
Reliable sources estimate that well over 50% of long term relationships involve infidelity. That might say we are pretty bad at keeping promises. But perhaps it makes us really impressive, in trying to make long-term relationships work, despite the difficulties. For better or worse, this is a very normal human situation, however painful. Even if you feel, ‘I never thought it would happen to us.’ It happens to the majority of couples.
One of the biggest problems after an affair is this feeling of a lost ideal, not being able to see the other person as a ‘good person’ anymore, or the relationship as ‘perfect’. Perhaps if there is one positive thing that comes from this process, it is the understanding that you can be strong again together as real, but flawed, individuals - and, in time, this can create a stronger bond than any idealisation.