This is the third article in my series on infidelity, in the first article I wrote about Infidelity: Is it the Problem or the Message. And in the second article in this series I talk about messages I have received in my therapy sessions from people who have been unfaithful. In this third article I’m sharing with you how couples have been able to go on to have a successful marriage after an affair.
When dealing with infidelity in a relationship, it is totally up to each couple whether they want to heal and stay together or break up. As a therapist, I need to honor whatever each partner decides to do.
Still, I have had tremendous gratification helping couples not only heal but also have a stronger, deeper relationship after the affair. This happens as they begin viewing the affair as a symptom of a deeper problem that needs to be looked at. As a couple deciphers the meaning and message of the affair, they can find alternative and more creative ways of solving the “problem” that the affair “solved” with a whole lot less negative consequences!
Success story # 1 involves a couple where there was an affair. The husband was discovered cheating by the wife and after coming in as a couple, she decided to give the marriage another chance. He then came in for individual therapy for a series of sessions where he realized that he had a great need for affirmation. He was feeling inferior to his wife because of her emotional and social skills as well as her excelling ability to make money. He found a woman who seemed to look up to him and he sabotaged his marriage just to get that feeling again of being good enough and masculine. He realized that he always had a very critical voice inside his head as well as a habit of feeling inferior and guilty.
We explored how his mother would evoke guilt which led to him constantly give up his true self to please her. The problem was that he could never please her for long because of her neediness. He was able to learn how to deal with his own inner critic and see himself as an equal to his wife. He eventually forgave himself for his infidelity and as his wife saw his internal changes, she was able to forgive him as well. Six years later, their marriage is strong and stable.
Success story # 2 involves also a man who cheated (however women cheat about as much as men these days), but for a totally different reason. This man was married to a very sweet, quiet woman. They settled into their marriage and stopped communicating. They lost their “we” connection that they had when courting and mostly did their own thing. When they did come together, it was either for infrequent and lukewarm sex or watching TV without touch or dialogue. She did get pregnant during one of their infrequent sexual experiences. While pregnant, he met a woman at work who showed excitement to be with him. He experienced feelings he had not experienced since the early days of his relationship with his wife. They had an affair and this relationship gave the husband that “we” feeling again. The wife found out about their 9-month affair when the baby was 3 months old.
This sure looked like a relationship and family headed for disaster. They actually came to see me for a short time and then stopped coming because he would not give up his affair. They separated but about 3 months later, he gave me a call. His words were, “I do not want to lose my family. I have made a mistake and want to correct it and if my wife is willing, I would like to come back to couples counseling. She was understandably reluctant and resentful but in a few weeks, she agreed, feeling like she just had to explore this process before totally walking away from the marriage.
- This time, without an extramarital relationship to deal with, they started new communication habits. They learned from me how to locate and express their deep pain, feelings and desires.
- They learned how to listen and be receptive to each other.
- They started to feel like a “we” again as they kept the commitment of communicating for at least 10 quality minutes a day.
When his wife said, “How would I know if he was cheating again?” I said that there are no guarantees. Then I said, “However, if he continues to communicate as he is and you reciprocate (which was so different than what happened between them before the affair), the chances of him cheating get significantly lower.” I told her that she had to decide to take a chance on him or not but that if she did; it was also her chance of having a loving relationship with her husband as well as an intact family. She put her full heart into it as did he and to this day, they are emotionally and sexually connected and raising their family.
These are two examples among many others of couples who successfully healed as well as learned from their pain. They deciphered with my help the message of the infidelity and had the courage to take the steps to create a thriving intimate relationship.
Not all relationships work out and as the couple I worked with on Oprah Winfrey’s show “Unfaithful,” sometimes couples can still heal from infidelity even though they decide to get divorced. Forgiveness allows the forgiving person the freedom to not hurt anymore. Whether couples work it out as the two I mentioned or couples are not able to work it out, all partners can learn more about themselves and their (ex) partner by understanding what purpose (no matter how painful) the infidelity served.
Need more help?
- Check out my resource page on infidelity here: http://toddcreager.com/surviveinfidelity/
- Here’s another resource I’ve created to help couples heal from infidelity – 10 Steps to Healing From Infidelity, get a copy and find out the 10 steps that will help you or a loved one start healing from infidelity today.
CLICK HERE to get your FREE copy today!