Repair or Run the Other Way? My partner had an affair, Should I Stay or Go?
If you or your partner has recently discovered an affair has been happening in your relationship, in this moment you are likely trembling, a blurry fury of agonizing hurt, the entire relationship now may feel foreign to you. As a couples counselor affairs and their tempestuous aftermath are ironed our my office couch. Both parts of the couple struggle to make sense of the betrayal and its costs, couples seek aid and asylum to find the answers to questions such as; should we stay together or separate, will our relationship ever regain a sense of normalcy, ‘am I weak or foolish for thinking of staying?’ ‘how can we fix this?”
A relationship is founded and grows upon a platform of trust, without the reinforcement that trust provides, the person who was victimized by the affair will be thrust into a state of panic, questioning every action and motive of their life and partner. An affair is a trauma to the relationship, often people who have learned of, or been told about an affair from their partner, suffer from symptoms similar to PTSD or Acute Stress Disorder. Sleeplessness, anxious and intrusive thoughts and images, fear of it happening again. Within the wake of this mountain of emotional upheaval they create their next course of action, remain together or disassemble their lives. Use this guideline to weigh the options, keeping in mind the decision is one that must be made by ones self, as it is personal, intimate, and an infinitely complex choice to make.
- Is the partner who committed the affair being accountable? There must be a high level of accountability if the relationship will be repaired. This means that the cheating spouse accepts responsibility for his or her actions. If instead your partner is blame shifting or gaslighting, by saying that the affair is your fault or someone else’s fault, or if he or she is trying to minimize the impact or the hurt this will not work. The relationship must have truth to begin the healing process. It can be very frightening to own up, and some personality types that are antisocial, psychopathic, or narcissistic will likely use more defensiveness when met with the truth and or will struggle with empathy for their betrayed partners hurt. Under these circumstances it won’t be possible to work thought what happened in a healthy way.
- Has communication been cut off with the paramour? If communication is on going with the alternate partner there is no chance that the relationship can heal from the betrayal. There are people who will try to stick it out and court their partner while he or she tries to figure out which partner to choose. This is not a recipe for healthy connection, jumping around doing the “pick me dance” will likely lead to a major impact on self esteem and an internal sense of anxiety and profound sadness. Many couple’s therapists will not treat a relationship when there is an active affair happening.
- Is your partner willing to have greater transparency with you? This means giving you the codes to his or her phone, email, and social media accounts. Even with the codes and access to your partners interactions, it will take a herculean effort to restore any sense of safety or trust. This is a good first step in letting ones partner in and pushing the affair partner out.
- Do you want to do the work or forgiveness? While it is true that the affair is often symptomatic of deeper issues, the aftermath puts a tremendous strain on both parties. Deciding to work through and forge forgiveness is a toll which most heavily gets heaped upon the person who has experienced the betrayal. If you have learned that an affair has happened in your relationship and that you want to work on repairing it, you will simultaneously actively be committing to forgiving, this will be exquisitely difficult. After enough time has passed, you will be required to work through the process of handling anger, hurt, sadness, resentment, jealously, insecurity, all in the name of staying with your partner. Keep this in mind as it may not be for everyone which is ok!
All of these grim facts in mind, there is hope, if the above questions can be answered with certainty then there is a path to be forged toward forgiveness. Not an easy one but it is possible to have a connection which is stronger after an affair. Trust is a formula of consistency over a time, trust can be rebuilt if the formula is followed. With understanding, truth, and commitment, love is a robust and golden vessel which proudly contains the tender blossoms of our lives. A vessel that is able to withstand complete annihilation and be recreated to become gleaming and full again, or sometimes it is best to pluck our precious contents and replant somewhere anew…
In love and care,
Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh and Monroeville
Stephanie Wijkstrom MS, LPC, NBCC