To heal a relationship where there has been an affair, or even to move on and separate, is a hard and painful journey. After all, trust is at the heart of a relationship and it is not a quick process to regain this after a betrayal, especially given the number of lies told.
So, how does a couple face the aftermath of an affair and what can help?
Remorse is Key
A couple of things seem essential if a couple are to recover after an affair. The first is true remorse from the partner who had the affair. This is not saying ‘sorry’ repeatedly and being stuck feeling ‘guilty’. Guilt is all about that individual feeling bad and not about empathising with the experience of their partner on whom they cheated, so does nothing to mend trust.
Real remorse is about empathising with what they have put their partner through, hearing and being with their partner’s pain, hurt and anger, and the impact of their actions. It creates a connection that can be felt by their partner as they feel seen and heard, and over time can create a new trust that their partner would not want to put them through this again.
Joint Ownership for the Relationship
Alongside remorse, it is vital that both partners are honest and own what was missing and not being addressed in their relationship before the affair. It is easy for the partner who has been betrayed, who is feeling shocked and hurt, to blame their partner for the relationship failing, as well as the affair. However, most often there is a shared responsibility for the relationship breaking down, and in many cases the affair is a symptom not a cause.
Pulling apart the responsibility for the affair and its impact from the joint responsibility for the health of the relationship prior to the affair is revelatory in a society where we tend to blame and move on rather than own our part. If a couple dare to explore this, they are likely to be more able to trust and be intimate again, whether in the next phase of their relationship together or with others following a separation. And if your partner won’t explore it with you, you can still explore this for yourself to help you move on.